Series recommendation #1: ‘Daria’, with feminism, the 90s, high school and Sick Sad World

Hi earth friends, and welcome to the Talking Egg!

Today I would like to talk about one of my all time favourite shows, Daria. For a show that was a relative hit in the United States where it originally aired, Daria was not as popular of a show here in Europe. It aired on some late night MTV slots in the early 2000s, but other than that period of time, I have never been able to find this show on any streaming service. Which, honestly is the saddest thing ever. Daria is an amazing show, with an amazing main character. She’s the badass, unapologetic high school nerd that we have all wanted to be: witty, sarcastic, and smart, she is quite the pioneer for her time (the 90s) and dare I say, a witchy feminist.

Watching Daria as a teenager, I learned that it was okay to be nerdy, and that there was nothing shameful about being smart and outspoken. She gave me the courage and the voice as a woman to read what I wanted to, speak of it, and question out loud the emptiness of popularity and the difficulties tied with personal development and identity at high school. She was also however, a teenager with her own insecurities which also made her incredibly relatable (e.g. all the times she’s shy and embarrassed around Trent, her crush and the times when she questions whether she really is that comfortable in her sarcastic high school hating skin), making her just a really intelligent, resourceful woman, a female character that we rarely saw on screen in the 90s, even in the early 2000s.

Daria really stood out for its time, considering shows like Friends and Seinfeld were being aired in parallel, covering little or none of the rich themes and topics that Daria did. Let’s be real, Chandler would have been an amazing gay man with a fun queer parent if the writers didn’t just leave him to be a straight white man in love with Monica (after they get married that seems to be pretty much all that defines him and that is left of his character development, which is such a bummer) – not to mention the awkwardness of the extremely queerphobic jokes they make about his parent. The 90s really weren’t a great decade for representation on the screen (where was the diversity? Accurate representation?) – and female representation that happened to be on screens was often extremely sexist and stereotyped. Taking this into consideration, watching Daria today, you realise how well the show has aged compared to old hits like Friends.

The best part about Daria is not only the main character, but also the secondary characters that were given a lot more character development and spotlight than secondary characters tend to be given in mainstream media. First, Daria’s best friend Jane, a creative spirit with all the alternative funk you dreamed of seeing in a woman: Jane spends most of her time with Daria making snazzy social commentary on high school life, watching their favourite trashy TV programme ‘Sick Sad World’ and eating copious amounts of pizza. Their friendship involves a good balance of creativity/free spiritedness and cynicism/sarcasm: Jane keeps Daria in check by making sure she’s still having fun and enjoying herself, taking her out to social events and making good chat. Daria keeps Jane thinking and reflecting on particular conversation topics that Daria may have an interesting take on, and more widely on morality and Daria’s notion of what Daria thinks should be. It’s the friendship that we all dream of – in some ways. They give to each other what they lack in themselves/what they seek, which honestly is the basis of any healthy relationship. Their friendship is strongest when they collaborate and mix crazy art with critical thought, something we can see during a few occasions when they collaborate on school projects.

Then there’s Jodie. My there is so much to say about her. And her amazing chemistry with Daria. Jodie represents Black Girl Magic to the max – even before this expression was established! She is one of the smarter students at school, similar to Daria, with an extra layer of intersectional identity which we all love and admire. Fearless, brave and outspoken, Jodie is one of the best characters in the show. On one of her more famous moments (have a look at the screenshot below), she speaks with Daria about the reason for which she keeps her ‘public’ image and attitude a ‘socially acceptable’ level of pleasant, explaining that she not only feels pressure from her parents, but also a generally larger pressure from her peers. She tries her best to maintain her image as Jodie, a role model not only for teenage girls but more specifically for young black women. Her statement is extremely poignant on how WOC (women of colour) constantly feel social pressure to impress, not only because we are women, but also having a racial component added to our identities. WOC are often invisible, not only in mainstream media, but also in the way the world views our societies and construct them – and when we do happen to be visible it is always within the lens of certain racial stereotypes mixed with the stereotypes that exist because we happen to be women. It is a complicated position to maintain, as we do not want to be trapped within that narrow vision and want to show that our identity can exist in many fluid, passionate forms; creating also a certain level of pressure to ‘maintain face’. Any false move, and small mistaken and a tumbling amount of stereotypes and accusations on how we are the way we are because we are women, especially WOC can come so quickly, contrary to all the time and effort it may take to build a positive image. Then on the other hand, no matter how much effort and hard work we put in, we seem to always be seen as the WOC, not simply just another woman. Hence the idea of the ‘token POC’. It’s tough, and is somewhat an eternal struggle – which Jodie in Daria seems to understand, and expresses in her own way throughout the show.

The other characters on the show are also extremely interesting. Many of them may seem empty headed and superficial on the surface (and some of them are) but turn out to have deeper levels in their own ways. Even characters like Daria’s sister Quinn, and her friend, Stacy have moments of self-reflection and revelations on what may be the more critical issues in life – and are shown bonding with other characters that may not belong to their shallow group of friends they initially exclusively stick with. Ultimately the show real puts forward the idea that a character does not have to simply be one side of a coin, one way, and that they are more like prisms perhaps, shining different colours and sides of themselves depending on the situation.

Other than the amazing characters and the themes the show touches upon, Daria holds plenty of references to pop culture, witty social commentary and raises questions not only on high school life but also on adulthood, which we have a peek into with Daria’s parents as well as the adults at Laundale High (the high school Daria and her friends attend). It just is overall a very well rounded show.

If I had to point out one disappointment, it was the last story arc in the series where Daria gets her first boyfriend. I won’t get into too much detail as it may be a spoiler, however, I will always hold the opinion that the way she starts dating him is completely out of character, super unfeminist. They also do not really suit each other in terms of personality and mentality, but well, that’s just my two cents. Perhaps I am just disappointed that such a badass female would fall for someone so… Plain and boring. Especially after her crush on free spirited Trent (ooh shade). I guess the writers of the show are the only ones that would be able to explain this decision – however, whatever the case, Daria will always be Daria in my heart.

For satire, dark humour, clever social commentary and more, go watch Daria, now!

“Only today, on ‘Sick Sad World’.”

Na na naaaaa na na,

Meena.

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