Written By Danielle Schnur
Before the cinematic deadpan heroines of Juno and Ghost World emerged to mirror our teen angst, apathy, and simultaneous bleeding hearts, there was Daria. Like a diasporic leader of all things achieving that unique balance of holier than thou and “do I look like a give a fuck?”, Daria was the true proto-hipster and an unsung voice of our generation before we were even ready to hear it. Yet unlike her later sisters of sarcasm on the big screen, her MTV cartoon aired somewhere around the popularity peak of her very antithesis, late-90s/early-00s Britney Spears and TRL. And we loved her for it.
Daria Morgendorffer originally came into view when she dragged her black leather combat boots across the linoleum classroom floor she shared with farting icons Beavis & Butthead. There, she stood in as an almost rhetorical reminder of their moronic tendencies as well as a comfortingly familiar older sister type to those of us on the other end of the tube. By 1997, Daria grew into her own self-titled spinoff, and we too had gotten a little older. With that transition came the perfect platform for Daria to unleash her witty social commentary on a world of pimple-faced peers. As far as content goes, that criticism spanned from the ever accessible making-fun-of-popular-kids territory to existentialism to political rhetoric. In one example, Daria calls her mid-experimental phase sister Quinn a “psuedo-intellectual poser with accessories from the street fair.” This shit was fire!
And while Daria and her best friend Jane (who once described her decision to go to art school as her desire to be a “starving artist” therefore in need of ringing up more debt) provide us with ample critique of the world around them, the characters themselves act as a sort of self-implicating critique. As is often the case in the world of three-dimensional people, their constant judgement of others leads them to challenging judgments of themselves. Take the episode where Daria gets contact lenses so she can drive and then faces a complete identity crisis dilemma, caught between her commitment to anti-egocentrism and wanting her crush to think she’s pretty. Trent, another great example of everything confused-teen, who doesn’t know or care if he graduated high school, sleeps until 4 PM and refuses to wear a watch because they depress him.
It’s as if the writers reached down into my own pubescent ambivalence and self-proclaimed “depth”, and bolstered it with their undoubtedly seasoned perspective. The miracle of Daria was here, between the generational collide, a self-satirical gift from Gen X to us. I was probably 12 when I first saw Daria. The writers were probably 30. I was Daria. But you didn’t have to be a semi-gothic, Che-reading outcast to be her. You just had to have lived through middle school or high school and thought most people were idiots. Daria was one of the most popular MTV shows in the network’s history and for good reason. These attitudes are timeless.
And in Daria’s own words, when addressing her classmates in her high school graduation speech: “Stand firm for what you believe in, until and unless logic and experience prove you wrong. Remember, when the emperor looks naked, he is naked. A truth and a lie are not ‘sort of’ the same thing. And there is no aspect, no facet, no moment of life that can’t be improved with pizza.” Well said, Daria. Well said.