From his leather jacket to his scuffed skin, Sprouse's character hits the nail on the head when it comes to male stereotyping. (Illustration by Julianna Renk, University of California, Berkeley)

Jughead Jones and Toxic Masculinity in CW’s ‘Riverdale’

Anyone with fond memories of Cody Martin, look away.

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Anyone with fond memories of Cody Martin, look away.

After returning from an acting hiatus, Cole Sprouse is back on the big screen in CW’s popular teen drama “Riverdale.” In contrast to the quirky and goofy Cody from “The Suite Life of Zach and Cody,” Sprouse’s new character has him playing a drastically different role.

Sprouse’s character, Jughead Jones, doesn’t represent the lovable Cody from your mid 2000s childhood. The TV star no longer plays a geeky, silly and slightly feminine kid, but rather, a tough, dark and emotionless young adult.

Jughead Jones is a steely teenager, displaying all the characteristics of an outdated mode of masculinity, one of which is a disregard for rules and, as a result, reckless behavior. Many would call his behavior textbook toxic masculinity, as he appears aggressive, emotionless and heteronormative down the line. Instead of promoting the “be yourself” mantra to the relatively young audience of this sitcom, Jughead conforms to expected male image.

Here are three ways in which Sprouse’s character demonstrates this conventional masculinity.

1. Appearance

Jughead’s appearance resembles that of a stereotypical bad boy. Even his everyday attire, consisting of a black beanie, a leather jacket and dark pants with dangling chains, contributes to his overall vibe.

But the character’s clothing says more than just bad boy. On the back of his leather jacket, for example, there is a painting of a green, venomous serpent, which is representative of his gang, the Serpents. The Serpents refuse to conform to social norms, and their biker-like appearance is enough to intimidate anyone.

Regardless of what he’s wearing, the bad boy always walks with an unwavering swagger, like he can impose his dominance on anyone. At times, Jughead has cuts and bruises on his face, suggesting that he must have just fought someone, like a true tough guy would. To some degree, this may be the image of men that the writers of “Riverdale” are trying to sell: strong-featured, aggressive and not afraid of anything.

2. Emotion(less)

Jughead is reserved and cold, and he rarely discusses his emotional health. In the beginning of the show, he and another male protagonist, Archie, refurbish their relationship, but Jughead responds very awkwardly to the situation. He even rejects the custom hug that friends exchange when they make up after a fight.

In this case, he asserts his masculinity by repressing his emotions and any mushy feelings toward relationships. Like the stereotypical male, Jughead acts like he has no emotions (when he obviously does).

Jughead is romantically involved with a female character named Betty Cooper, who serves as his primary love interest in the show. The two are a terrific example of opposites attracting. Betty’s sweet, innocent and emotional persona contrasts her boyfriend’s tough exterior. Nevertheless, the couple has great rapport.

Jughead’s toxic masculinity, however, disrupts their relationship. Like the stereotypical sex-driven male, Jughead frequently wants to have sex with Betty. But when things get emotional or the couple faces a bump in the road, he refuses to talk it out with his partner.

In one scene, during a rocky portion of their relationship, Jughead brushes off an “I love you” from Betty, completely ignoring her emotions. After she pours her heart out to him, the heartless boy looks at her stone cold, mutters a couple words and walks away. Emotions are hard to muster for Jughead. His thoughts and emotions remain a mystery, even for those who are closest to the hardcore gang member.

3. Rugged Personality

Jughead is the kind of dude who wears “no craps given” across his face. Take, for instance, the episode when he refuses to follow school rules and disobeys his high school principal, who strictly forbids student from wearing anything that displays gang paraphernalia on it. No matter the consequences, Jughead’s mentality is unwavering, so he saunters down the hallways with attitude, swagger and his serpent jacket.

Sprouse’s character defies authority figures, like his principal, as well as his classmates and peers. In one instance, Jughead refuses to back down against the brawny character, Reggie, and his squad of jocks, after he mocks Jug for wearing the jacket. The only thing that held back a fight was the help of Jughead’s buddy Archie, who restrained Jug to prevent the brawl.

But in the eyes of the toxically masculine Jughead, help and protection is seen as weak. Thus, in response to Reggie’s protection, Jughead serves his friend with a glaring look.

In another instance, Jughead punches a burly guy named Chuck at a party for calling out his girlfriend Betty. He so often resorts to violence that he keeps a knife in his pocket for extra intimidation.

Despite his cold personality, Jughead is a well-respected leader among his gang, the Serpents. When his girlfriend is held captive by rival gang members, Jughead and his gang come to her rescue by breaking down the door and threatening the bikers with razor-sharp blades. He pressures his rivals with the sharp blade, shining it in their face to show that he is not afraid of anyone.

TV characters and their depictions can certainly sway perceptions about how to behave. In our copycat world, young and old audiences alike often see characters as a model of how they “should” act. With as many hyper-masculine characters across TV today as there are, here’s to hoping there might be more Cody Martins in the future.

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