Watching From The Future: I Really Like Daria

Daria episodes are all over Youtube right now.* MTV has done the right thing by humanity and make it all available for our free appreciation (freepreciation?). A true throw back of character driven animated television , Daria aired from 1997 to 2002… Damn… 20 years ago…. You’re probably amazingly awesome and sexier than ever if you remember it.

As special a show even for it’s time that still has yet to be duplicated OR rebooted (thought they cold be forthcoming), Daria is actually a far more dense experience than my teenage brain could appreciate. Far from feminist back in those days, I originally tuned into Daria , because she was animated (that’s seriously about all it took and still takes for me to watch something), and came from a one of my favorite shows, Beavis and Butthead. Even then, Daria was one of my favorite shows thanks to the biting sarcasm of its main character and the even more biting cynicism at the culture of the very network it was feature on.

What I’m saying is that it was a hell of show.

Going back and watching today offers several interesting and brilliant bits the writers tossed in that went well over my head at the time. My favorites usually center around the only Black female student at Lawndale High, Jodie Landon.

In the episode Gifted Jodie and Daria get invited to a prestigious preparatory school with their respective parents to check the place out and decide if they want to attend. Jodie, forever positive and socially conscious, tries to convince the closed and cynical Daria to open up and give people a chance. However, when one of the snooty prep kids attacks, Jodie defends herself verbally breaks him apart. As her classmate ventures over to Daria’s usual dark side, the rare smile that stretches across her lips is priceless.

Priceless….

It’s a fabulous moment, but it’s later, when Daria goes to check on her outside that Jodie opens up in a way you still don’t see on television all that often even in the extremely progressive and “post-racial” 2017 when she says,

At home I’m Jodie. I can do and say whatever feels right, but at school, I’m queen of the negroes. The perfect African American teen. The role model for all of the other african american teens at lawn dale… Ooops! Where’d they go? …believe me… I’d like to be more like you.

It’s not just the racial identity stuff that hits, it’s also the combination of a popular, positive, well liked person confessing to the unpopular, cynical protagonist how nice it would be to also be that way. Jodie manages to extol the virtues of being an introverted loner with a bad attitude, coveting the absence of her own brand of pressure to be accepted and succeed. That’s spectacular to me... and not just as someone who spent a great deal of time trying to be a “model african american teen,” but also a person who took over a decade to articulate that feeling in myself and appreciate introverts as they are. Growing up, we were taught that extraversion and positivity were the gold standard by which to approach life which led to a lot of mirror lies, bad deals, and mental breakdowns.

Daria, Quinn, and Val — Which one is NOT in high school?

My other favorite Jodie moment comes in an episode called The Lost Girls in which Daria wins a magazine writing contest (through no effort of her own) only to win the prize of a entire day with the “jiggy,” “edgy,” egomaniacal magazine editor named Val who makes a constant and monumental effort to seem 20 years younger than she actually is. After getting bored sitting in class, (75% of what high school actually is), Val takes over English class, launching into an impromptu Q and A with the students. Jodie, being wonderful, asks Val why her magazine isn’t interested in promoting a more multi-ethnic, less brain dead point of view, only to be brushed off by being told she has “great sassy energy.” I didn’t get it at the time but she may as well have called Jodie a “charming negress” and sent her back to the kitchen to fix food before the boys get back.

While it’s unlikely that even the Daria writers could be so woke in ’99, the usage of “sassy” to describe a young Black woman is just so expertly highlighted that watching from the future it at least feels the writers knew exactly what they were doing. If you don’t know why “sassy” and Black women is significant, I encourage you to find a Black woman and call her sassy to see what happens.

Finally, coming back to Daria after 20 years has also given me an opportunity to appreciate Daria’s mother, Helen. A driven, competitive attorney with a penchant for treating her family like employees to the point of buying their compliance, Helen remains fiercely protective of those she cares about… whenever she remembers to be anyway. On the episode It Happened One Nut, Daria is forced to work a humiliating job at a stand in the mall. In order to make up for accidentally bringing Daria’s crush to the nut stand, Daria’s best friend Jane decides to solve this problem by calling Helen, and spinning a yarn about how Daria is being mistreated due to her gender. Furious, Helen immediately marches down to the mall and yanks her daughter out of the “oppressive yoke of patriarchy.” Everybody gets fired and everything goes back to normal.

As much as love it, the interesting thing in this instance wasn’t Helen being Helen. There was something about Helen going from high powered attorney to protective, feminist mother figure in the same breath reminded me of a more recent character I’d seen.

It was another fierce, determined, attorney, who is also egotistical, selectively principled, and over focused who can also turn on the protector inside of herself though it takes a bit more prodding for her to get there. Helen Morgendorffer is Jeri Hogarth, attorney to the rich, powerful, and Jessica Jones. Don’t you see! Jeri Hogarth IS Helen Morgendorffer!

Daria is amazing, and I hope you own a box set and watch it twice a year. Definitely watch it from the future, because it’s filled with good advice that you just didn’t take:

My goal is not to wake up at 40 with the bitter realization that I’ve wasted my life in a job I hate because I was forced to decide on a career in my teens
— Daria Morgendorffer

It’s ironic when you think about it.

*The Daria episodes are down now… Damn… now how am I going to procrastinate? Rick and Morty breakdowns I guess…