sick sad world

May 12, 2010

so Daria finally comes out on DVD this week. I have been waiting for this for years. I long ago downloaded pirated copies of the entire series, but the quality on many of them is pretty crappy. this didn’t stop me from rewatching all of them every once in a while, but it did make me pine for DVDs. and they’re finally here, and so of course people all over the internet are suddenly talking about the series. i found this one, from salon, particularly interesting.

the author, Latoya Peterson, argues that Daria provided not just a funny and complex satirical world, but also a role model and sense of reinforcement for smart, awkward girls. unlike Peterson, I don’t know that I ever thought about the show in concrete terms or gained a sense of reinforcement from it. i was 15 when Daria first aired, and I watched it throughout high school. I loved Daria, and I certainly saw aspects of myself in the main character, but mostly I just enjoyed the show as funny and smartly written.

what really strikes me about this article, though, is the way that Peterson compares Daria to the other major television show for girls of her (and my) generation: My So-Called Life. Peterson argues that “Other shows during that era were beloved, but only those two had the courage to show adolescence for the messy, insecurity-laden time it truly is.” And this is true, to an extent, I suppose. and thinking about it now, it’s kind of odd that I don’t really connect these two shows in my mind, despite similar subject material and air dates. But Daria was always comedy, always satire: the characters, while well-defined and well-written, still inhabited a world that was half reality and half exaggerated caricature. MSCL, by contrast, took place in a brutally realistic world of miscommunication and teenaged awkwardness.

Unlike my intense-yet-casual relationship to Daria, my relationship to MSCL was simply intense. From day one, I thought about this show in complicated ways.  I felt like I was Angela Chase: attempts to change horses mid-stream, newly red hair, the crazy friends you love and find exciting but who are also kind of frightening, the thrilling lure of bad boys, the introspection and social awkwardness. Even at 14, I knew this show was different and special. I just happened to be at that same point in life as the main characters, and I felt it made sense of my life in ways and words that I couldn’t. Peterson writes that Daria provided girls like her an epiphany, a realization that their quirks weren’t character flaws but part of being intelligent; MSCL did something similar for me. it made me feel like I wasn’t alone as I flailed about in the confusing waters of high school.

I also related to these shows differently in a public sense. when I think back to watching MSCL, my memories mostly seem dim and lonely. no one else in my family liked the show; when it was first on the air, it came on Thursdays at 8, and my brothers and I had to trade off weeks between MSCL and Friends, which was also in its first season. I mostly recall watching the entire series repeatedly in syndication on MTV while I was home alone (in fact, I’m pretty sure I was watching a marathon of the show while writing the final paper for my senior project; and no, I don’t know why I remember such a random detail). MSCL was mine and mine alone; it was an intense and private relationship.

on the flip side, when I think of watching Daria during high school, I remember that episodes used to come on on Saturday afternoons (new or repeats, I have no idea). my mom would come in from doing laundry and sit down to watch the show with me. my mom loved Daria; apparently, Daria reminded her quite a lot of me, and she found that entertaining. in this way, Daria is less a high school show for me and more one of a specific category of TV that my mom and I watched together. she enjoyed Absolutely Fabulous, which I started watching when it was first imported to the US in the mid-90s. the absolute best, though, were the years when Mystery Science Theater 3000 was shown on Saturday afternoons. if I wasn’t watching Daria when she came in from doing laundry, I was watching MST3K. and something like 75% of the time, my mom would walk through the living room, stop and watch the movie for a moment, and then tell me that she’d seen it. in her own high school days, she’d watched a lot of really terrible late night movies, the kind of movies that end up being mocked by Mike or Joel and the robots.

and, ultimately, i have a completely different relationship to these shows now. MSCL is like a visual Catcher in the Rye: I can rewatch it a million times and always get something new from it. it’s always going to be about high school and my feelings on that time change as I age and grow. but at the same time, it will always take me right back to those days. it will always have a special place in my heart; when I watch Angela Chase struggle, I feel a fondness for the 15-year-old I once was. but in all the times I’ve rewatched Daria, I’ve largely divorced that show from its original setting. it’s about high school, sure, but it doesn’t stir those crazy high school memories or emotions in me. sometimes the episodes are just funny, sometimes they are poignant, and sometimes they make me think about serious things. mostly, though, they’re just great, and you should all be adding them to your netflix queues.

UPDATE! i also like this jezebel article, where the author argues that “Daria implicitly championed the life of a geeky outcast as a legitimate choice, not something thrust upon you by the popular kids.”



  1. I remember getting to junior high school on Friday mornings and immediately going to where our little clique sat in the mornings and discussing the previous evening’s MSCL in all its gory detail. But I never quite related to it the way you did. I guess I was more like Brian or Sharon in the show, minus those heinous vests. Daria wasn’t on network television, so I rarely saw it, except when I was babysitting, after the kids had fallen asleep. But K loves Daria. When I think of Daria, I think of K. When I think of Angela Chase, I think of you. And when I think of Lindsay Weir, I think of Sarah. 🙂

  2. ha! I think of myself as a combination of Angela Chase and Lindsay Weir (mostly because I hung out with a lot more guys like those in F&G than with girls like Rayanne).

    • I think it’s easier for some people to ‘relate’ to more abstract kinds of art– like satire or science fiction– than more realistic or representational work. With the former, instead of feeling like you are a character, which is a specific emotional/imaginative state not really available to everyone, you identify with the world-view, or the creator who makes that world possible, which leads you to new ways of re-organizing your own world, rather than deeply investigating your personality.

      Which is why my major show was Dr. Who. I don’t think it empowered me in the least, save perhaps understanding the usefulness of ‘sounding’ smart’ but it did expand my thinking about the universe in important ways, as well as my position within it.

      That basic idea is also why I love animation so much– because it adds yet another layer of the compositional.

      Some of us don’t have much interiority I guess.

      But now what Daria is some kind of (post?)feminist hero am I allowed to say I love the show and ‘identified’ with her too? And Mystic Spiral rules.

  3. Awesome. And way to also point out my spelling error. You editors. ‘Mystik’ Spiral, fine.

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