Daria Devotion

Posted on January 3, 2011 by

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Or, why are there pictures of Daria all over this website?

By Melea Dau

ArtSTALK has only been alive for a mere three days, but the questions are already pouring in:

Just another day in the ArtSTALK office for editors Meryn Fluker (left) and Melea Dau (right)

It may come as a shock, but my co-editor and I are actually real life human beings. The animated avatars you see are our small tribute to a show that played a formative influence in our lives – a feminist force that was our first insight into the power of pop culture to empower and inspire far beyond the medium itself. This is why we feel it’s our duty to pay homage to the critically acclaimed MTV cartoon “Daria.”

Is that Daria Morgendorffer? No, it's just an incredibly awkward middle school Melea.

In retrospect, it may seem inexplicable that the television network that now hosts the plastic, vacant stares of residents of “The Hills” and celebrates the spoiled wishes of 16-year-old brats was once home to Daria Morgendorffer and her acerbic monotone from 1997 to 2002. But for those of us coming of age in the ’90s, struggling to find our feminist footing between Susan Faludi’s backlash and the Spice Girls’ call for girl power, “Daria” was a sardonic breath of fresh air.

As a young outcast more interested in reading alone in my room than joining the girls’ soccer team, I looked up to Daria’s ability to ignore (and make fun of) popular opinion. With her thick brown hair and big dorky glasses, I told myself we even resembled each other, and I tried desperately to adopt her signature sarcasm and emotionally removed demeanor when my peers made fun of me for always knowing the answer in class but never wearing the right pair of jeans in the schoolyard.

The cast of "Daria," combat boots and all. Thanks to fuckyeadaria.tumblr.com for the image.

Although Lawndale High’s halls were paved with stereotypes – the dumb cheerleader and her dumber jock boyfriend, the reigning clique of queen bees, the nerd, the goth, the over-achiever – Daria reveled in complexity. She may have signified the token outsider, but she used her self-imposed separation as a tool to analyze the sick, sad world around her, shrug her shoulders and go about living her own life as she saw fit.

Perhaps Daria cultivated her ‘live and let live’ attitude from her unlikely animated beginnings in the boys-only clubhouse of “Beavis and Butt-Head.” Although she appeared as only a minor character, show creator Mike Judge has made no secret that Daria was brought aboard to serve as the intelligent female foil to the boys’ idiocy. The dimwitted duo may have laughed, wittily calling her “diarrhea,” but Daria consistently outsmarted them in the end.

Daria gave us the power to dream big - about turning our intolerable high school experiences into Emmy gold. Photo courtesy of readplatform.com.

But after her departure from the boys, Daria’s true triumph was in securing her own spin-off series. One of the rare strong female leads in the animated world, Daria proved that it’s okay to be smart, it’s okay to be a misfit and it’s certainly okay to wear combat boots. During its five seasons, “Daria” succeeded beyond the average clever cartoon by allowing space for its characters to grow up. Daria’s superficial sister Quinn begins to question her shallow persona, Daria’s best friend Jane gets a boyfriend (who ends up with Daria) and the entire cast must navigate their impending graduation and figure out how to embark on their uncertain futures.

Daria’s position as a feminist role model, however, has never been in question. While Quinn loved using her looks to get ahead, their mother, Helen, exemplified the kind of overworked superwoman Betty Friedan cautioned against in Second Stage. Left to navigate the space between, Daria exuded an unapologetic criticism for the sophomoric school establishment that barely stood around her – a desire to question the norm and yield only to her own moral compass. She refused to sell a hypoglycemic woman chocolate during a fundraiser despite pressure from Lawndale’s principal. She kept an eye on her sister around conniving boys and a fake modeling agency that targeted high school girls. She never played dumb and she was always seen reading the Arts section of the local newspaper.

Daria may have signified the token outsider, but through her astute observations, feminist sensibilities and keen intellect, she created a sign for all of us outcasts that it’s okay to be whoever we wanted to be – even if that means always wearing combat boots.

Melea Dau

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