watch

Riverdale’s Jughead Is the Ultimate Indie Jerkboy

Jughead Jones is an important writer, and he wants you to know it. Where the Jughead of Archie Comics is a happy-go-lucky, food-motivated sidekick to his friend Archie, Riverdale’s version of the character is a brooding, pretentious writer who serves as the series’ narrator. As a less-than-macho intellectual, Jughead can be incredibly annoying, but is that actually what we like about him?

Transcript

Jughead: “I’m weird. I’m a weirdo. I don’t fit in, and I don’t want to fit in.” - Riverdale, 1x10

Jughead Jones is an important writer, and he wants you to know it. Where the Jughead of Archie Comics is a happy-go-lucky, food-motivated sidekick to his friend Archie, Riverdale’s version of the character is a brooding, pretentious writer who serves as the series’ narrator. As a less-than-macho intellectual, Jughead can be incredibly annoying.

Jughead: “I’m the damaged, loner, outsider from the wrong side of the tracks.” - Riverdale, 1x10

But that’s what we like about him. Why? Jughead is part of a longer tradition of obnoxious, indie guys in movies and TV who serve to make the rest of the cast look good by comparison, and give us someone we love to hate. But in Riverdale’s case, Jughead’s artistic pursuits also ground some of the bigger flights of fancy on the show, ranging from the many literary and cinematic serial killers dogging Riverdale to the structure of the universe itself. Here’s our take on why we love Jughead Jones precisely because he’s so obnoxious.

The Unlikeable Writer - An Intellectual Tradition

Jughead: “I’m gonna sit alone. Just, you know, finish my book and brood.” - Riverdale, 2x03

From the beginning of the series on, Jughead is a writer with a capital “W.” He frequently tosses off references to writers he likes, including H.P. Lovecraft, Philip K. Dick, or Stephen King. During his senior year of high school, Jughead transfers to elite prep school Stonewall Prep, which takes special pride in its history of producing successful writers. At Stonewall, Jughead meets characters like Bret Weston Wallis, named for author Brett Easton Ellis, and Donna Sweett, named for The Goldfinch writer Donna Tartt. After he transfers back and graduates from Riverdale High, Jughead moves to New York, becomes a successful writer with a novel that thinly disguises his experiences in high school, then becomes a sleazy, self-mythologizing drunk suffering from writer’s block, running away from debt collectors. It’s perhaps the most hateable he’s ever been, especially when he compares himself to canonical writers – who were also miserable people – in order to justify his alcoholism.

Samm Pansky: “You drink too much.”

Jughead: “So did Kerouac, and Hemingway, and Fitzgerald.”

- Riverdale, 5x04

It’s not just that Jughead puts his artistic interests over his personal ones: he wants to be disliked and alone, to the point where he hates his own birthday.

FP Jones: “There’s one thing that Jughead likes less than surprises, and that’s his birthday. Kid’s never even had a party, never wanted one…” - Riverdale, 1x10

In making himself so unlikeable, Jughead joins a long line of self-serious guys on TV and in movies who grate on us with their sense of superiority and cultural obsessions. Dan on Gossip Girl was pretentious to a fault, focused intently on the idea that he was some great, unsung genius (even though it turns out he spends most of his time producing a vicious gossip blog). In some respects, Gossip Girl agreed with Dan: the stories he did write somehow got him published in The New Yorker while in high school. There are even jokes about this on the new HBO Max reboot of Gossip Girl.

Writer Jack Berger on Sex and the City is perhaps the most notorious of Carrie’s exes – with the popular “Every Outfit on Sex and the City” Instagram calling him “the worst man that Carrie dates, hands down.” Berger’s fragile masculinity and low self-esteem lead him to angrily shut down when Carrie makes one lighthearted critique of his book. And when Carrie gets a big advance for her book, his resentment at having just been dropped by his publisher leads him to take it out on Carrie –

Carrie: “I’m not sorry I made that money. I worked really hard for it, and I never thought you would be the type of guy that would have a problem with that.”

Jack: “Well neither did I. But I guess I do, don’t I?”

- Sex and the City, 6x05

– before he breaks up with her in the most cowardly, affected way possible.

Kyle in Lady Bird – almost a parody of the too-cool, faux-deep hipster boy – catches the protagonist’s eye in part because he seems to not care about anything, smokes, and reads Howard Zinn. But in the end, he exists to clarify that Lady Bird’s “real” important relationships are with people who do care. When she gets understandably upset with him, he deflects by absurdly claiming her pain isn’t as important as major world events.

Kyle: “You have any, like, awareness of how many civilians we’ve killed since the invasion in Iraq started–”

Lady Bird: “Shut up. Different things can be sad, it’s not all war.”

- Lady Bird

It’s not just that these guys all happen to be both pretentious and coincidentally rude to the people around them; it’s that they prioritize their own intellectual pursuits over everything, including just behaving semi-decently to people, and they even imply they have to act like bad people because they’re so “talented.” For Lady Bird and Sex and the City, the point of the character is for the female protagonist to grow beyond this bad apple’s failings. But for other pretentious guys, the series wants us to want to follow them, even when – maybe especially when – they’re awful to the people around them.

The Outsiders and How He Use His Friends

These self-serious guys aren’t just annoying. They frequently use their art – and their supposed outsider position – as an excuse to be cruel to their friends and family. But though Jughead is pretentious, he’s also from, by far, the poorest background of the four main characters and is literally unhoused at the beginning of the series. His father, FP, is the leader of the Southside Serpents motorcycle gang, and the series gets a lot out of the contrast between FP’s life and Jughead’s talents and aspirations.

FP: “You’re the first Jones man to get into college. You’re going to college.” - Riverdale, 5x03

This contrast mirrors the background of Dan Humphrey, the “Lonely Boy” who doesn’t belong in the glitzy world of the Upper East Side – though his family can afford a huge apartment in Brooklyn – but manages to fight his way in through his writing as Gossip Girl. Kyle is an inverse version of this: he positions himself as uninterested in wealth and status, even though he actually possesses a lot of both.

Kyle: “I’m trying as much as possible to not participate in our economy. I don’t like money.”

Lady Bird: “But doesn’t Catholic school cost money?”

- Lady Bird

Jughead is, in some way, the most authentic version of this trope; he doesn’t necessarily want to be part of high society in the way that Dan does, but he also wants to find success through his writing and through his art. When he achieves that success, though, it merely creates additional problems for him. And though Jughead frames his writing as about the pursuit of artistic integrity, he ultimately reveals himself to be primarily interested in his own glory, at the expense of his relationships with his friends and family.

Jessica: “I don’t know what you need, Jones. But I’m definitely not it. Good luck with your book. It’s the only thing you care about anyway.” - Riverdale, 5x04

When Jughead returns to Riverdale, years after moving to New York and publishing his book, he’s shocked to learn that people are angry about his portrayal of the town.

Jughead: “Are you guys actually upset about my novel?”

Toni: “You made the Serpents look like fools in it.”

- Riverdale, 5x05

This is ironic, considering he prides himself on being an “outsider” who can tell the truth about everyone around him. And it’s pretty predictable that his subjects would be mad, but Jughead is condescending to the point of ignorance; he’s genuinely surprised people were able to decipher his not-particularly-subtle character names. Nowhere is Jughead’s exploitative tendency more apparent than in his relationship with Betty. Though in Archie Comics, Jughead traditionally has little romantic interest in anyone – and in recent comics, he’s openly asexual – in Riverdale, he’s become a surprisingly compelling romantic lead. And for years, Betty is an enormously supportive girlfriend, encouraging Jughead’s dreams to the point where she tells him to transfer away from Riverdale and to Stonewall.

Betty: “You should go to Stonewall Prep, Jug. I hate saying that, but it’s the chance of a lifetime and you should take it, okay?” - Riverdale, 4x02

But after they break up, she becomes another target for his work. In the voicemail Jughead leaves for Betty on the night of his book release party, it’s clear that even he doesn’t believe that his book is really fiction – it’s his very one-sided, callous way of processing his relationships, and showing what he really thinks about all of the people in his life.

Jughead: “You’re a cold, fake, duplicitous bitch. And once people read my book, everyone’s going to see that.” Riverdale, 5x11

Though Jughead later tries to apologize, his comments to Betty are part of a broader pattern: for all that he claims to want to be a loner, separate from him everyone else around him, he does want real connection – yet he keeps sabotaging himself so he can’t actually have it.

Jughead’s novel places him in spitting distance of the literary success he craves, but he finds himself back in a state of unrest, an outsider to the literary world, as well. Eventually, Jughead’s agent suggests more explicitly taking advantage of Riverdale’s class issues, and the suffering of its residents, for his own material benefit.

Samm Pansky: “Apparently there’s a huge market right now for tragic Americana: Dying community, all of the miserable people who live there. You know, we’ll call it Elegy for a Small Town. What do you think?”- Riverdale, 5x05

Though Jughead rejects this offer in a show of claiming to have principles, he’s fooling himself: this kind of exploitative writing is all he’s ever done. And if his novel was any indication, it’s the only type of successful writing he’ll ever be able to do. This again mirrors Dan Humphrey, who spends years publicizing his friends’ secrets and putting his own interests above their lives in his secret identity as Gossip Girl, which he then uses to accelerate his own career as a writer. The Gossip Girl reboot’s confirmation that Dan became a successful and famous novelist is proof that he won: Gossip Girl is ultimately the story of how Dan uses his writing talents to worm his way into the elite world of the Upper East Side, become a character in the ongoing saga of the rich and powerful, and eventually, marry the ultimate “it girl” Serena Van der Woodsen.

Dan: “If I wasn’t born into this world, maybe I could write myself into it.” - Gossip Girl, 6x10

Just as Jughead claims to not want to hurt his friends and neighbors while privately admitting that’s what he’s doing, Dan similarly acts concerned about Gossip Girl, but in his secret life, gleefully takes the opportunity to destroy the lives of everyone he loves, including his “true love” Serena and his own sister.

The Power of Stories

So why do we continue to watch Jughead? What makes him so compelling as part of Riverdale’s world? Jughead is ridiculous, over-the-top, and easy to mock – much like Riverdale itself – and gives the show the opportunity to indulge many of the qualities that make it such a guilty pleasure. The sixth season of Riverdale leans into that absurdity and clarifies why Jughead is so important. The season begins with a five-episode event titled “Rivervale” which takes place in a parallel dimension, allowing the show to fully give into its wildest Sabrina-adjacent supernatural impulses. Throughout these episodes, Jughead appears both as himself – including a plot where he sells his soul to the literal devil in order to be able to write – and as a Rod Serling-type narrator, framing everything on “Rivervale” for the audience.

Jughead: “There is a town that exists at the borderland: a place of nightmares and dreamscapes.” - Riverdale, 6x01

After being murdered by undead Archie, this narrator version of Jughead discovers that he can keep “Rivervale” alive through the power of imagination. He acts as a literal engine for the story, allowing the writers to do pretty much anything they want and continue the series.

Introducing overt horror elements wasn’t really that much of a stretch for Riverdale; the show thrives by balancing soapy melodrama against increasingly baroque serial killer plots. If Archie and Veronica are going through a rough patch, it needs to be paired with Betty and Jughead tracking someone like The Gargoyle King, a murderer who takes on the persona of a mythical creature and villain from the legally-distinct-from-Dungeons-and-Dragons game, Griffins and Gargoyles. These plots are rarely just crime stories – they include a supernatural, metaphorical, practically spiritual component.

Jughead: “The way that Ethel, Ben, and Dilton talk about it, it’s like a religion.”

Betty: “Yeah, or a cult.”

Jughead: “And every cult has its king.”

- Riverdale, 3x03

The lurid crime that underpins Riverdale often manifests through Jughead’s writing and story-telling talents: the Gargoyle King plot forces Jughead into the role of game master, telling a story about the other characters. As ridiculous as something like the Gargoyle King appears to be, it also gives us something to look forward to, a structure that holds together a season of the show and adds higher stakes beyond whether Veronica will win her business duel with Hiram or whether Archie will “save” Riverdale by opening a boxing gym or starting a volunteer fire department. These sillier components of the series are crucial to why we enjoy the show. Jughead: “San Francisco had the Zodiac. New Orleans had the Axeman. Add to their ranks Riverdale’s very own psychopath, the Black Hood.” - Riverdale, 2x04

Jughead has also had to investigate the history of The Baxter Brothers, a riff on The Hardy Boys, as well as the work of a stalker, originally named The Voyeur and then The Auteur, who makes elaborate recreations of events from the series and spies on the main characters. Though The Auteur never outright murders anyone, they’re still a primary villain for much of Riverdale’s fourth season – something that becomes difficult for Jughead to handle when The Auteur turns out to be his own sister, Jellybean. The series’ need to have an over-the-top, campy villain is literally mirrored by and embodied in Jellybean, who becomes The Auteur in an effort to keep Jughead in Riverdale and maintain the status quo of the series.

Jughead: “She wanted me to stay. The big brother she had just gotten to know was already leaving to Stonewall, and then to college. She’d figured the best way to keep me in town was a mystery.” - Riverdale, 5x02

On some level, Riverdale the show remains campy and enjoyable because it needs to live up to Jughead’s standards. His urge to theorize about Riverdale’s monsters is one of the primary engines of the series.

Jughead: “I’m both inside and outside of the story. In the end, the universe knew I’d be the only one capable of saving it.” Riverdale, 6x05

And ultimately, the operatic horror of Riverdale highlights why, in spite of ourselves, we do have affection for characters like Jughead. We’re watching precisely because we like this kind of story and are interested in the people who tell them.

Conclusion

It’s impossible to deny that Riverdale the series is often as ridiculous as Jughead himself.

Alice Cooper: “They discovered that you have the MAOA and CDH13 genes. Also known as…”

Betty: “The serial killer genes.”

- Riverdale, 4x05

Beyond the serial killer drama, there’s the storyline of teenage Veronica opening a non-alcoholic speakeasy, the competing motorcycle gangs, and Cheryl maintaining her brother’s corpse. But we keep watching in part because this over-the-top quality is grounded in something real. Pretentious, writerly guys are all over the real world, and they’re a type for a reason – for all the obnoxiousness, they can often be genuinely charming. And in embodying this archetype, Jughead is also able to marry Riverdale’s many melodramatic qualities, including romance. In the same way that Carrie gets over Berger and Lady Bird grows past Kyle, Jughead serves as a foil for Betty – a female character capable of one-upping him, and matching his “inner darkness.”

Betty: “I’m all about the beast within.” - Riverdale, 1x10

Ultimately, as much as we may claim to dislike the Jughead Jones and other indie jerkboys of the world, their behavior is so disagreeable precisely because they have a certain type of power and appeal – one that we can both fear and laugh at.

Sources

@everyoutfitonsatc. “LEATHER WEATHER.” Instagram, 9 Sept. 2018.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BngmF1aHLWi/?hl=en

Riesman, Abraham. “Archie Comic Reveals Jughead Is Asexual.” Vulture, 8 Feb. 2016.

https://www.vulture.com/2016/02/archie-jughead-asexual.html