History That Never Was

Home of Dawn Vogel: Writer, Historian, Geek

When Media Portrayals of Writers Go Wrong

Writer at work on a typewriterI got hooked on Riverdale from the get-go, and I really enjoyed the early seasons of it (as I talked about here). But as can be the case with shows, they lose some of their magic as they go on. Now in season 5, beginning with the fourth episode, Riverdale has undergone a time jump to seven years after the plucky characters graduated high school, and now they have all sorts of Adult Problems rather than Teenage Problems.

To no one’s great surprise, Jughead Jones became a writer. And this is where the show started falling apart for me. A lot of the portrayal of Jughead relies on tired tropes about “Real Writers”(TM), which I feel do a disservice to people who are working as writers.

Jughead’s first appearance in the time jump has him smoking and drinking (extra weird flex for the child of an alcoholic who hated that his dad was an alcoholic, but that just leans into the generally bad writing of some of the characters) as he struggles with writer’s block. He was wildly successful with his first book, and hasn’t been able to write much since. And sure, that happens. But it just keeps getting worse and worse. His girlfriend dumps him because he’s bringing her down AND getting them evicted from their likely pricy Manhattan apartment. He goes to the bar and hooks up with a random woman, who turns out to be a HUGE fan, and of course, wants him to read her novel and show it to his agent.

Maybe if they’d stopped with some of the horrible tropes after this first episode, I would have accepted it and moved on. However, they keep at it with Jughead drinking and chasing weird conspiracy theories trying to get his muse back in gear. And while the latter part of that might be the key, the inconsistency of his character, plus the old stereotype that writers are all alcoholics is a little bothersome.

But it gets worse. Jughead becomes convinced that the only way for him to get over his writer’s block is the same trick that he apparently used to write his debut: get high on magic mushrooms. And … maybe it works for the character? That remains to be seen because that happens in the final episode in the first half of the season, and now there are no more episodes until July.

Suffice it to say, while there may be some authors out there who thrive on drinking and drugs and sketchy hook-ups to get their muse going, it’s really not what works for most writers. And every time they show Jughead doing “writer things,” I can’t help but roll my eyes at both the changes in what used to be my favorite character and the “Real Writer” (TM) tropes. I know I’m particularly bothered by this portrayal because of my fondness for this show and this character, but I really feel like this entire arc is a disservice to aspiring and active writers. At best, it’s a cautionary tale of what not to do. At worst, it will inspire some young writers to try potentially dangerous methods to get unblocked. Regardless, I hope that when the season comes back, Jughead might have regained his senses. And his muse.

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