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Pop Smear

You Are My Candy Girl

“Betty” vs. “Veronica” is a subjective measure of womanhood, as inabsolute as yin and yang. Benazir Bhutto shades to Veronica when you compare her to Aung San Suu Kyi. Placing Anita Berber next to Josephine Baker makes the latter Betty it up. And Marianne Faithfull scorches the paint off most Veronicas, but standing her next to Anita Pallenberg reveals her true Betty nature.

Between Nicki Minaj and Lil’ Kim, who’s Betty-er? That’s easy, even if you didn’t hear the hair-pulling match evinced in bookend diss tracks Minaj’s “Roman’s Revenge” (Betty to Veronica: You ain’t all that) and Kim’s “Black Friday” (Veronica to Betty: Shut your piehole). I forget who usually wins in Archie comics, if Betty’s sweetness-and-light ever defeats Veronica’s $cheming, but here Minaj’s voice swells and undulates from an Ann Cole growl to a Mae Questel gasp, as flexible as the tumescent ooze in a lava lamp. Lil’ Kim’s lamely menacing rebuttal “Black Friday” thuds in comparison, her rhymes leaden with matching end couplets (“That’s cool, I was the first one wid’ it/ You’s a Lil’ Kim wannabe, you just hate to admit it”) where Minaj’s sparkle with multisyllabic flourishes and daffy free-associations (“I see them dusty-ass Filas, Levi’s/ Raggedy-ass, holes in your knee-highs/ I call the play, now do you see why?/ These bitches callin’ me Manning, Eli!”).

But both women flail in the dust next to Minaj’s Archie, her collaborator Eminem. His syllables skitter like squirrel claws spiraling around a tree, his words a rain of curare-tipped darts. “Yeah, right, still hungry, my ass / You assdicks had gastric bypass / Ain’t hot enough to set fire to dry grass / And ’bout as violent as hair on eyelids (Eyelash!).” Despite the familiar unvarnished misogyny of the content of his words, the McLuhanesque medium of his message is unerringly feminine. Girls talk talk talk talk talk, and here Eminem beats two of them at their own game. Maybe his still virulent homophobia is all jailhouse posturing, the swollen language center of his brain another girlish signifier (along with bedroom eyes and a Botticelli pout) leaving him vulnerable to the attentions of unpicky men. What is internal rhyme but prose’s vaginal orgasm? (What does an English professor call multis? “Feminine rhyme.” Enough said.)

Kevin Keller is just as pretty as Eminem, but less conflicted. If you haven’t heard of him, he’s Riverdale’s first gay character, introduced this September in Veronica No. 202: blond and personable like Betty, as fond of shopping as Veronica, as happy to eat and eat and eat as Jughead. (No comment.) Of course, Veronica goes ape over him. “Betty! I beg you!” she pleads in one panel, before she realizes she’s barking up the wrong tree. “This is the guy for me! I just know it!” (Oh, Ronnie, I feel your pain.)

To Riverdale’s credit, no one ostracizes Kevin. The crank in me can’t ignore that, in the Archieverse, “gay” means “not interested in women,” as opposed to the truth of being interested in men, but then again . . . is anyone in Archie comics actually interested in women? Jughead likes burgers, Reggie likes humiliating Archie, Veronica likes Archie, Betty likes Archie, and Archie likes . . . I dunno, can you honestly say he likes Betty? Or Veronica? Can he tell the difference between them? Can you? They’re drawn to be utterly interchangeable, the same St. Louis arch of their eyelashes, the same triangular smudge of a shadow under the nose, the same white expanse of dental enamel between their plump lips that’s less like human teeth and more like the chinitous scrapers in mollusk mouths. How dense do you have to be, Archie, to be the subject of a tug of war between femininity’s two most primal archetypes—devourer and nurturer, Theda Bara and Mary Pickford, Kali and Kwan Yin—and act like it’s a choice between Coke and Pepsi?

Ironically, the most chivalrous guy in this equation is Eminem, the angry dude spitting “I tied her arms and legs to the bed/ Set up the camera and pissed twice on her/ Look, two pees and a tripod!” (Though to be fair, Eminem’s not referring to a literal woman but “dumb blond white broad” as metaphor for capricious fate, but let’s be honest, once you’re rapping about videotaping yourself urinating on a bound female that’s just splitting rhetorical hairs.) Not once in my memory has Archie scolded Veronica for slighting Betty in pursuit of his attention, or vice versa, but Eminem singes Lil’ Kim with the unambiguous “Go take a flyin’ leap of faith off a fuckin’ balcony/ ’Fore I shove a falcon wing up your fly ass!” He even saves a compliment for Minaj, describing their partnership as “high class meets white trash,” an “I’m too good for you” acknowledgment that’s more humility than that entitled schmuck Archie ever made about either of the women in his life. I never thought I’d hope for the day Archie ties either woman (or Kevin) to the bed, but when it happens I’ll take it as evidence of a Ms.-style click! revelation in Riverdale.

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