Daria: the teenage icon

by f

When I found out that Daria was getting a shiny new DVD release I was very, very happy.

I remember when all the popular girls in school used to like that show and I kept thinking, you idiots, Daria would’ve wiped the floor with all of you.

There was this perfect girl — the Miss Popular of our class, Ashley — who used to love Daria and for a while tried to dress like her, too. And I’m aware of this the whole time — as the class outcast with all the mean nicknames who liked to read too much — that she didn’t get it… and she never would.

The Ashleys of this world would never get that Daria was the disaffected girl who knew that she was too smart to fit in, and knew that she suffered because of it. It wasn’t necessarily because she was so smart — but she refused to behave in sync with the expectations of others. At the time when Daria was released, she was such an ingrained part of our pop culture that people forgot that about her. She was cool because she rejected everybody, including her audience. Everybody I knew thought that they were her; but if she could pass judgment she’d have nothing in common with any of them.

For that, her amazing book reading habits, and her room with the padded walls, I loved her and cherished her as my teen idol over the years. After the advent of YouTube, there was no reason for me to forget about her.

So I’ve been looking to see what people are saying about this release and it turns out that others are waxing nostalgic about it the same way that I am.

Salon’s Latoya Peterson said:

” ‘Daria’ was the rare teen show that understood its audience did not need to be pandered to, that they could tackle major ideas and concepts without a family-friendly filter. […] 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. Instead of superficial conflicts between friends, the ‘Daria’ and ‘MSCL’ grappled with dark, dazzling inner lives. These were complicated heroines in complicated times. […] on ‘Daria,’ all characters received at least one opportunity to be seen as three-dimensional human beings, with shortcomings and unrequited desires of their own. And through the world of ‘Daria’, many of us devotees found a lens from which to understand our particular brand of outcast experience, one that carries into our adult lives.”

In a beautiful homage to her teen years and Daria’s positive influence on a generation of young girls, Margaret Hartmann says:

“Daria and her best friend Jane Lane provided me with the sort of social guidance that allowed me to stay true to myself. It took me until 10th grade to find my Jane, a girl who managed to inhabit an even lower social caste than I did. […] Before encountering Daria, committing social suicide probably would have mattered to me, but I’d picked up her attitude that it’s easier to survive high school with one fellow-loser who shares your misanthropic views than to spend four years trying to earn the admiration of girls whose main interests include proper eyeliner application and shopping at Contempo Casuals.”

I agree with all of this and think a lot of her; even when her fortunes eventually improved, I believed it — the series ended on a refreshingly minor note; Daria traded one happiness (her relationship with Tom) for the other (college); and she’s leaving an awful and unchangeable situation behind. (Nothing’s changed — fundamentally — for the better.) But I can’t say how much Daria’s meant to me over the years except to write that there have been times where she was the only trope I could turn to and wonder how on Earth she managed to luck out with such a cool room.

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