Posted in TV

The Kids Are Not Alright: The Student-Teacher Relationship Trope Needs to Die

We’ve all seen some iteration of this plot: older person and younger person, doomed love, triumph over adversity, and acceptance. Sometimes, it ends badly, sometimes, it ends in a wedding. It is a problematic, destructive plot device that needs to stop being portrayed as sexy and cool. In some cases, it’s a crime, in others, merely immoral or unethical. However, the May-December romance between young adults and teens being portrayed as hot and dynamic only perpetrates relationship norms that hurt young people.

One of the best instances of this trope being played out is on Pretty Little Liars, with the main characters Aria and Ezra. Their relationship begins when Ezra supposedly does not know Aria is underage, though it is later revealed that he did know. He is also her teacher. While they acknowledge that their age difference is only six years, it is made clear that their relationship must remain a secret, or Ezra could go to jail. The thing is, the show wants you to root for their relationship. The fans loved it, and the creators built on that. Never mind that Ezra had other serious relationships before Aria, and she’s a sixteen year-old-girl. Never mind that he is a college graduate, and in a position of power over her. The show makes their love something you want to root for, and there’s the problem. Ezra could have easily been an excellent villain- their relationship isolates her from her friends and family, because she has to lie about it. Aria comes from an unstable family, with parents mostly tuned out of her life. A strong connection with someone older and stable would be very tempting to someone like that, even with strings attached. Young men and women from broken homes are also more likely to engage in risky sexual and romantic behavior. Aria was an at-risk youth, and she got taken advantage of. The fact that the show validates their relationship by literally having them get married at the end is horrifying. In the books, Ezra is rightfully run out of town in shame when their relationship is exposed.

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More recently, season one of Riverdale had its own student-teacher romance. Ms. Grundy, a young music teacher, had a summer fling with the main character, Archie Andrews. Again, Archie is a young person looking for his place in the world, and for validation. It is expressed that Archie “got hot” over the summer working for his dad’s construction crew, and Ms. Grundy is the first person to express interest in his new physique. She also fulfills his need for recognition when she nurtures his musical talent. The writers couldn’t seem to decide how we were supposed to feel about this relationship. Betty, Archie’s childhood friend, thought it was wrong, but when she tried to snoop, she was condemned by her friends. Obviously, breaking into someone’s car is bad, but the show tried to make us feel sympathy for Ms. Grundy by revealing that she had been a victim of domestic abuse. Their scenes together are lit rosily and underscored with romantic music. Here’s the problem: the whole subplot could have been easily made less problematic with some subtle changes. Ms. Grundy, having escaped an abusive situation, is looking for relationships where she can be in control, i.e. minors. Being the adult in the relationship gives her the power, and that could have been made more overt. Ms. Grundy is murdered, so it could be argued that the writers and the show were condemning her predatory behavior, but it was still a bad story-line, and this time, the fans did not approve.

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Another instance of this ick factor is in the relationship between Lex Luthor and Lana Lang in Smallville. Unlike the other story lines, I don’t think this one was in any way salvageable. The entirety of it made me want to throw up. There is a significant age difference, Lana is only fifteen when she meets Lex for the first time. He is also a business associate and friend of her aunt’s. At the time of their meeting, Lex was twenty-one. When they begin their relationship, Lana is about nineteen or twenty, as she would have been starting her sophomore year of college. Lana is the poster child for abandonment, and it shows. She seeks out stable, loving relationships with commitment. This wouldn’t be a bad thing, except that in season four she begins a relationship with Jason Teague, a sophomore in college, so between nineteen and twenty. With Lana still in high school, and Jason later getting an assistant coach position at said high school, their relationship was incredibly questionable. Jason picks up and moves to Smallville without consulting Lana, and this puts pressure on their relationship. He also lies to her, manipulates her, and isolates her from her friends. Sound familiar? Lana claims to be a mature adult, but her relationships are actually incredibly volatile, and Lex is no exception. There are multiple points in the season where Lana clearly doesn’t trust Lex, and it’s also clear that she clings to him because of the stability he represents. He has a home, a job, a life. Lex is an adult, and that’s what Lana likes about him. He also loves her, while she doesn’t love him, which gives her a kind of power in the relationship. Lex manipulates Lana, lies to her, and controls her life through a couple different ways. Once she moved into the mansion, it becomes worse. He monitors her comings and goings, puts a camera up in her room without informing her, and even fakes a pregnancy in order to trap Lana into being with him. Lex is in his mid twenties, he’s rich, he’s powerful, and he uses those assets to control his girlfriend. While Lex does not try to separate Lana from Chloe or Lois, his relationship with her is isolating. She can’t confide in her friends, because she knows Lex is manipulating her.

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Unhealthy relationship dynamics in TV are interesting, but the mentor-mentee or student-teacher relationship becoming romantic is not. It’s gross, it’s immoral, and it’s creepy. Let’s hope creatives can find some new taboo to write about.

Posted in TV

Which “Riverdale” Parent is the Worst?

Ordinarily, parents on shows geared at teens aren’t known for being the best. Having bad parents, or parental figures, is a great way for the viewer to empathize with the protagonists. However, as it does with everything, Riverdale takes the bad parent thing up to eleven. It says something that there are multiple competitors for worst parent who have institutionalized their kids for stupid reasons. For the purposes of this list, we will be only including the parents of the main characters, Archie, Betty, Cheryl, Jughead, Veronica, Kevin and Josie, and only the parents that have had multiple appearances. As she has yet to appear and has no name, Kevin’s mother has been excluded from this list. Honorable mentions will appear at the end of the list. Also, pretty much every kid in Riverdale has seen enough to need therapy, so we’re going to disregard the fact that none of these people have gotten their kids help.

Fred Andrews

Obviously, Fred is the best parent on the show. He’s supportive of Archie, while he tries to keep him out of harm’s way. He respects his son’s choices, and does his best to protect him and his friends. He also is a surrogate parent to pretty much every kid on the show. While he has his moments of benign neglect, and certainly more supervision would have prevented some of Archie’s worse exploits, like SCREWING A TEACHER, Fred is far and away the best parent in Riverdale. He will be sorely missed.

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Sierra McCoy

The former mayor is certainly a good role model for her daughter- she’s strong and independent, and she is decisive about what she wants. She gets out of a bad marriage and into a healthy relationship, which is something parents in Riverdale seem to have trouble doing. Like many Riverdale parents, she’s benignly neglectful, so she looses points for that. She does, however, encourage her daughter to follow her dreams and do what she wants to do, up to and including leaving Riverdale, which is probably safest.

Mary Andrews

Archie’s mom hasn’t had a ton of screen time yet, but she’s pretty great, overall. She isn’t as unswervingly supportive as Fred, but Mary loves Archie and cares deeply about his well-being. There is one obvious problem, that Mary left her fourteen year-old with one parent so she could go to Chicago and follow her dream. While Fred is perfectly capable of taking care of Archie, usually divorced parents move a couple miles away, not a couple hundred. It’s not awesome to leave your kid behind so young, when they really need you. Granted, Archie doesn’t seem to harbor any resentment towards his mom, so maybe she keeps in touch and does a good job of being a mom from afar.

FP Jones

FP Jones starts out as the shadiest of dads- he runs a gang, he allows his kid to live on the streets, and he can’t hold down a job. We have seen him develop into a stable father who has a place in the community, and can provide for his family. He does endanger his family by having a blind spot for Gladys, but I think his current position of stability overshadows his past neglect. He is also one of the purest dads- while he allows Jughead wayyy too much autonomy, he shows a lot of trust in his son, and Jughead’s abilities and his drive to do the right thing. He wants what’s best for his kids, and he’s finally on the right path to getting it.

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Tom Keller

While he isn’t the most observant or involved parent, Tom Keller is a decent guy. Obviously, he’s not winning husband of the year for obvious infidelity reasons, but he’s a good dad. He accepts his son, and loves Kevin for who he is, without reservations. That isn’t exactly a high standard, but it’s a good step forward in the story we tell as a culture about gay teens and their relationships with their parents. The Keller men are close, and talk about stuff, and have a good, if occasionally dishonest, relationship. The former sheriff also has a quasi-parental relationship with Archie, acting as his boxing coach this season. Tom looses points for allowing his son to join a cult- it should be pretty clear to any responsible adult that the Farm is a nutbag organization, and you shouldn’t let your kids join it. Kevin is one of the only kids who goes to the farm who has a supportive parental system, and so it’s pretty garbage of Tom to not protect Kevin from the Farm people. Like, his underage son had a serious medical procedure and somehow his dad, formerly a law-enforcement officer, allowed this to happen. Not great.

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Gladys Jones

Gladys is shady AF- dealing drugs, lying to her husband, running illegal operations, and serving as the intermediary for Hermione Lodge’s shady drug buyer. She threatens Jughead, and manipulates him. She also abandons him to some extent, when she takes Jelly Bean and moves to Toledo. It is also her actions that lead to JB getting kidnapped. It’s best that she leaves town, but if I were FP, I would really want a divorce, stat. She did buy the Cooper house for her family, but she definitely did it with blood money, so that doesn’t buy her much leeway.

Hermione Lodge

Hermione Lodge makes life very difficult for her daughter- first of all, she isn’t prepared for emergencies, making Veronica’s life very unstable when her father is arrested in season one. She also puts her daughter in the position of having to lie to her father multiple times, in order to protect her. Hermione endures an abusive marriage, which is bad, but is also a bad thing to show her daughter. Veronica has a strong personality and good character, which saves her from a lot, but Hermione puts her in danger consistently. Also, in attempting to kill Hiram, she endangers Veronica and then alienates her from her father, albeit unintentionally.

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Alice Smith (Previously Cooper)

Alice is very hot and cold- she has at times stood up to evil and at other times been the bad guy. She has definitely committed unforgivable sins in season three, but she’s always been morally gray. She almost never believes what Betty tells her, which is a huge problem because Betty is often on the trail of the Big Bad stuff in Riverdale. She forces both of her daughters into the Sisters of Quiet Mercy, neither for good reasons. She allows Polly to run away to a dangerous cult, and then joins herself. She abandons Betty, shuts her out, and allows her to be manipulated by the Evernevers. Alice does love Betty, at least, which is, again, a laughably low standard, but she neglects and abuses both of her daughters. She also puts them in danger by allowing Chick into their home, and siding with him when Betty points out that he’s dangerous and sketchy. Alice also lost a lot of points with me for giving away Betty’s college money. We got a cop-out at the end of the season, as it turns out that Alice is working as a confidential informant for the FBI, but she still did do all of those things, and abandon Betty. Plus, she was controlling and manipulative starting from season one. Bad, bad parenting.

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Penelope Blossom

Mama Blossom is obviously a prime candidate for worst parent in Riverdale- in any ordinary show, she would be unquestionably the worst. She is emotionally abusive to Cheryl from a very young age, giving a new meaning to the phrase “bad home life.” Penelope heaped abuse on her daughter that continues to cause her emotional pain, even into her young adulthood, and outside of her mother’s control. Penelope had Cheryl committed for conversion therapy, possibly the worst thing in the long list of abuses that she’s inflicted on her daughter. She appears to have loved her son and wanted what was best for him, but also wanted to control him and make decisions for him. Penelope is definitely in the running for worst mom, if not worst parent. Being a manipulative, murderess psycho is just another strike against her.

Hiram Lodge

Hiram has a long rap sheet- his crimes have made his daughter a pariah, and well as put a target on her back. He has also manipulated her, lied to her and committed fraud. He has used her, and treated Veronica as a pawn in his empire. He also has tried to force her into adult roles too early, wanting her to be a part of his enterprises before she is even legally an adult. Not to mention, attempting to kill her boyfriend multiple times. Hiram has not only attempted to kill Archie, but also Jughead, who isn’t close to Veronica, but is significant in her life. Hiram has lied, cheated, stolen and killed, and put Veronica in a very dangerous position, many times in her young life. He might be the most dangerous of the Riverdale dads, if not the worst.

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Hal Cooper

Hal is a serial killer, plain and simple. He’s also abused everyone in his family, financially, physically, and emotionally. He’s a dangerous man, and just having a dad this bad is enough to require a lifetime of therapy. Notable is also his attempt to force both his wife and daughter to have abortions they didn’t want, rather then allowing them to choose what was right for them. Psychologically torturing Betty is apparently the order of the day in Riverdale, but trying to force her to kill him is pretty darn bad.

Clifford Blossom

Clifford Blossom is a bad guy- he kidnaps and kills his own son, threatens Archie, deals drugs. He’s a bad dad, and a bad person, with no redeemable qualities. He is motivated only by greed, money and prestige. I think it’s safe to say that if he had lived past season one, he would only have done worse.

Honorable Mentions

  • Polly Cooper is a terrible parent for bringing her children into a cult and allowing them to almost be adopted by a crazy controlling cult leader
  • Myles McCoy is a good parent for the most part, he can clearly be dismissive of his daughter’s talents, but it’s great that he supports her enough to bring her on tour and get her out of Riverdale.
  • Rose Blossom is a bad parent for adopting a child to be her son’s wife. That’s crazy.¬†She is a good parent for loving Cheryl and taking good care of her and Toni.

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