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‘Riverdale’ Brought Cruising, And the Myth of Dangerous Gay Sex, to Primetime

Wednesday night’s Riverdale reminded straight America that there was a life before hookup apps for many gay men. Last night’s episode saw character Kevin Keller cruising in the woods, a familiar place for anyone who’s been looking for their very own nighttime tryst.

And what prompted Kevin to go into the woods is a universal experience: with all his friends paired off, Kevin was lonely and looking for some affection.

“Kevin has pent up a large amount of loneliness and he’s in a lot of every other character’s drama up until now,” Cott said about the episode toBustle. “He just needs to feel something and he’s trying to find someone in whatever way he can and that leads to this really risky, dangerous situation we find him in in this episode.”

As Kevin goes into the woods (without regret, the choice is made, the task is set), so to does a killer called the Black Hood. The fact that Kevin’s search for sex comes with the threat of murder echoes a popular trope in popular media of the 1980s and 1990s: the link between death and gay sex.

In 1980, director William Friedkin released Cruising, a murder mystery set among the S clubs of New York’s Greenwich Village.

Gay columnist Arthur Bell said the film had the potential to be the “most oppressive, ugly, bigoted look at homosexuality ever presented on the screen,” in the Village Voice, according to The Independent. Members of the queer community pestered the production as it shot. They pelted crew members with bottles and cans and shouted anti-Cruising slogans.

Kevin gets admonished for his cruising by his gay friends and occassionally pushes back against their urges to use “Grindem,” a hookup app in the Riverdale-verse. =

“Nobody is who they say they are online,” Kevin says. “At least in real life, what you see is what you get.”

Online reactions to the episode varied. Some people had to look up what cruising is, while others were happy Riverdale spoke openly about something that the straight world probably knows little about.

Reactions show the tightrope that this particular scenario walks. It both advocates for cruising as a valid form of tactile sexual adventure while depicting the physical act against a murderous backdrop.

While there is an illusion that online spaces dominate hookup culture, IRL hookups, bathhouses and cruising are still very much a thing. It’s fine to talk about and depict them, but it might be best to disassociate the act with danger and death, lest these stereotypes persist another generation.