High school has changed since I was there, or at least, I would guess that high school’s changed.
When I was barely in Junior High, MTV premiered its hit cartoon, Daria. Daria is the story of an outcast of a teenaged girl moving with her family to a new town and starting school there.
The show exaggerates what American high schools are like- the pecking order, the blatant ignorance, and so on. However, upon reflection, I can safely say that my high school experience wasn’t too far away from Daria’s.
My brother owns the entire series and let me watch it back in 2012. Now the series is on Hulu, and I’ve been kinda-sorta watching it over again. A number of things stand out to me:
The show sets up Daria as the protagonist against the surrounding society, and yet sometimes that “Daria versus the World” dichotomy is just plain false. Daria’s parents are definitely neurotic, but they love Daria and her younger sister Quinn- and that becomes obvious as the series goes on. The parents always inevitably have their children’s backs.
Quinn is portrayed as a self-centered, fashion-obsessed younger sister who is perpetually embarrassed of Daria’s status as an outcast, but in reality, Quinn is just a 14-and-a-half-year-old girl. She actually does stick up for Daria more than once and shows concern for her, and her embarrassment of Daria is only to maintain her status in the Fashion Club.
Again, the Fashion Club is depicted as four oblivious teenaged girls, but think about it- they have a hobby and are passionate about it, and they enjoy their lives.
Most of the time the Fashion Club wears the exact same thing, so there’s the point that maybe they’re actually a misnomer, but we’ll leave this for now.
The principal of the school, Ms. Li, is a controlling, paranoid character who actually says and does some of the funniest things in the entire show. She frequently sets herself up and is always on the brink of making morally disastrous choices, far more than the next group of people, which includes…
the football team and cheerleaders. Really, in this case, we only see Kevin and Brittany for the most part. (Mack appears sometimes, but he’s not characteristic of a dumb jock.) Kevin and Brittany aren’t the brightest bulbs in the shed, but one thing I never realized about Brittany when I was a kid is that she’s actually pretty kind-hearted and well-meaning, even if she does say hurtful things to Daria by accident.
Daria’s best friend Jane is almost more cynical than Daria at times, and she also says some of the funniest lines in the show. I think their friendship and the storylines that emerge from it is one of the best girl-to-girl friendships that I’ve ever seen. Neither of them embody a socially-mandated “girly-girl” persona, and they aren’t immediately thrown into a storyline where their entire friendship comes down to being a competition for a man. (That comes later, though.) (I’m looking at you, Betty and Veronica and Archie universe.)
Daria is still the most relatable character for me. She sees things for what they are, and despite her pointing them out in an intelligent and concise manner, (usually) nothing changes or there are severe compromises to what would’ve been a happy ending. I myself have lived that reality over and over again, and eventually, I decided to be okay with it. Someone, somewhere, will read my words and benefit from them one day, and that’s all that matters.