Social Issues Masterclass – Easy A

In the eighties we had Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club and Pretty in Pink. The nineties had American Pie, Clueless and Ten Things I Hate About You. In the last decade we had Mean Girls, Juno and, in 2010 but I’m still counting it, Easy A.

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Easy A is one of those films I keep coming back to, and personally I find that it’s hugely underrated. The dialogue is a masterclass in witty repartee all on its own, and the script has a few moments which pay homage to classic eighties teen flicks. It keeps getting compared to Mean Girls, and while both are about teen girls and high school drama they tackle very different issues. While Mean Girls is about social cliques and the toxic way teens treat one another, Easy A is more about teens being judged for their sexuality, particularly girls.

The film is narrated by the protagonist, Olive Penderghast, played by Emma Stone and her incredible comic timing. The story begins with her best friend, Rhiannon, asking if Olive can go camping with her for the weekend. Not wanting to be trapped with Rhi’s pothead hippy parents for two whole days she makes up a story about having a date with an older guy. She actually spends the weekend like this.

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When she and Rhiannon reunite on Monday, Olive’s story gets away from her and Rhiannon winds up asking, flat out, if Olive had sex with her imaginary date. Olive protests and says she didn’t, but Rhiannon won’t let it drop so finally she says she did, out of pure frustration. Her voice over then says,

“I don’t know why I did it. I guess maybe it was the first time I had felt superior to Rhi. I just kept piling on lie after lie, it was like setting up Jenga.”

Unfortunately, their conversation is overheard by the leader of the school’s gang of obnoxious self-righteous Christians, Maryanne Bryant. Just like that, the lie of Olive’s lost virginity spread around the school with incredible speed.

“Remember when I said that Google Earth couldn’t find me if I was dressed up as a ten-story building? Well, the next day it could find me if I was dressed up as a crack on the sidewalk. That’s the beauty of being a girl in high-school; people hear you had sex once and bam, you’re a bimbo. I didn’t really mean for the lie to put me on the map but, I gotta admit, I kinda liked being on the map.”

This leads to an argument with a girl in her English class (one of the obnoxious Jesus freaks) who suggests that Olive sew a red letter A for adulteress on her wardrobe, referencing The Scarlet Letter.

Nina: Perhaps you should embroider a red A on your wardrobe, you abominable tramp.

Olive: Perhaps you should get a wardrobe, you abominable twat.

(Gasps from their classmates)

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Olive is then sent to the principal’s office (which is an amazing scene with Malcolm McDowel, by the way. “This is public school! If I can keep the girls off the pole and the boys off the pipe I get a bonus”) and he gives her detention after school the next day. As she’s leaving the principal’s office she meets up with Rhiannon.

Rhiannon: Please tell me the rumours are true!

Olive: Yes, yes I am a big, fat slut.

Rhiannon: No, no not that one. The one where you got suspended for calling Nina Howell a dick and punched her in the left tit!

Olive: I worry about the way information circulates at this school.

The next day she serves her detention with Brandon, a boy who got beaten up for being gay and was given detention for calling their homophobic principal a fascist. While they serve detention by cleaning the school they talk about the rumours and Olive’s new “whore couture” outfits.

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Olive: He’s not real.

Branden: What?

Olive: The guy I slept with. I made him up.

Branden: You started the rumour?

Olive: Indirectly, I guess, sort of. Or actually no, not really I didn’t.

Branden: Well, you’re perpetuating it. That’s really messed up.

Olive: Excuse me?

Branden: Well, you’re not even a real slut, you just want people to think you are. It’s pathetic.

Olive: Uh, no offense but uh, you could probably learn something from me Brando.

Branden: Are you saying that I should act straight so people will like me? That’s ground-breaking.     You should teach a course at the learning annex, it could be called “The Painfully Obvious with Olive Pendergasm The Big School Slut.”

Olive: I was just suggesting that maybe these kids we call “peers” are on to something.

This leads to Olive and Brandon hatching a plan to make Brandon appear straight, which involves them staging an incredibly fake sexual encounter at a popular girl’s house party. Behold.

Of course, their peers listening at the door probably wouldn’t know the difference. Seriously, if there is anybody reading who is still in school, know this – a vast majority of your schoolmates are lying about their sex lives. Some aren’t, but most of the ones who brag about having sex haven’t. Also, the younger you are and the larger the number of sex partners, the more likely they’re lying.

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Anyway, as Brandon leaves the room he is engulfed in a swarm of other dudes who want to praise him, cheer for him and ask him how it was. He’s lauded as a hero and goes from being ostracised for his real sexuality to being called awesome for his fake one. Olive, on the other hand, is stared at and silently judged. She then gets a phone call from Rhiannon, who tells her she needs to stop because everyone’s calling her a slut. This erupts into a huge fight, because Rhiannon is jealous of Olive’s popularity and because Olive is too stubborn to tell Rhiannon the truth while she’s being yelled at, and Rhiannon probably wouldn’t believe her at this point anyway. Olive then decides to buy an even trampier wardrobe and to sew red As on every piece. “People thought I was a dirty skank? Fine. I’d be the dirtiest skank they’d ever seen.”

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Meanwhile, Brandon has told a friend of his the truth about him and Olive. This friend, Evan, asks Olive if he can pay her to tell everyone that he got to second base with her. After initially being offended Olive agrees, but she points out to Evan that if he’d just been a gentleman and asked her out she probably would have said yes.

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The rumour that she’s soliciting sex for money spread even faster than the last two, but for the nerds who know the truth she was a lifeline. They paid her in gift cards for the privilege of telling people they hooked up with her and her confirmation of the story.

I’m not going to tell you how the movie ends, but I will mention one poignant quote toward the end – that “Notoriety never seems to benefit the noted, only the note-ees.” Olive realises that if she had known that at the start she might not have escalated the whole mess and everything would have died down reasonably quickly. Then again, the only reason she let people spread rumours about her is because she felt bad for the down-trodden.

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The film continues on with the constant demonising of Olive while the guys spreading rumours don’t even cop side-eye. In fact, Evan actually starts getting asked out by girls. The way that society has commoditised feminine virginity while using sex as a marker for masculinity is deftly handled in this film, especially when you realise that Brandon’s bullying for being gay stems from the notion that to “be a man” is to shag women, while to have sex with a man is shameful. To be dominant (man) is good, to be submissive (woman) is bad. Fuck that.

When a sex tape is released nobody talks about the guy in the tape, it’s always that the woman is a tramp (even when she’s not aware she’s being filmed and it’s distributed against her wishes). When hackers leaked celebrity nude photos last year the only people threatened were women, because to be anything other than virginal is worthy of ridicule. I’m not saying that we should start demonising men for enjoying sex too, I’m saying that legally consenting people who have sex should be treated as normal people. Sleep around all you want, just be safe and don’t hurt anyone in the process. Damn!

At one point the Christian students even picket the school, but all of their signs are about Olive being a tramp rather than all of the boys shagging around. It should also be pointed out that this mindset hurts men too – if you haven’t had sex you’re deemed a loser or gay, and guys get away with sleeping around because ‘boys will be boys,’ which is another way of saying men can’t handle themselves and their basic animal instincts and can’t be held accountable for their actions. Which is bullshit. They can control themselves, they just never get told they should. So, you’re either a sex maniac or a loser, there’s no middle ground.

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One last thing I will say about this film – the main reason I keep coming back to it is Olive’s parents and their family dynamic. Seriously, if hell freezes over and I wind up having children, these are the parents I would try and emulate. (Sorry, Mum).

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Easy A features some incredible dialogue and is one of the few teen movies that is clever, well-acted and funny. I sincerely hope that in the next ten years it’s considered to be one of those classic teen movies that people reference and re-watch. If you haven’t seen it, it’s on Netflix. It’s a pocket full of sunshine.

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Representation Matters – on Islam, Star Trek, Dracula and the World.

Some of you may have noticed that the blog is late this week. Truth be told, I struggled with what to write. Once it was written, I struggled with whether to post it. But fuck it, here I go trying to distill my thoughts into a comprehensible piece.

The feedback received from regular readers has been positive regarding my in-depth character analysis of Daria, one of my favourite television programs. Yet I find myself at a crossroads. I have said all I want to say about Daria, for now. I was toying with the idea of doing something similar with my other favourite shows or movies, or books…or tearing shreds off of others.

Then on Saturday morning I woke to news of the situation in Paris. I sat staring at news feed on my phone for hours, joining the rest of the world in shock. In the wake of this horrific event it seems churlish to discuss anything else.

So, let’s talk about space flight.

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To quote the band Sifu Hotman, “The reason that I’m not a nihilist/ Is someday I’d like to live like in Star Trek/ And I know we’ll never build Star Ships / Until we tackle poverty, war and hardship.”

(Listen here)

Sure, we’ll probably not see Star Trek-style space flight within our lifetimes. But humanity will never see it at all if we refuse to embrace those who are different in culture, creed and race.

It was assumed very quickly that ISIS were behind the attacks in Paris. That we jump to this conclusion right away gives ISIS exactly what they want – to be considered a credible threat. That news groups were making statements along the lines of “it is yet to be confirmed that Islamic State is behind the attacks” is telling. In a post 9/11 world, an attack on the west is initially assumed to be perpetrated by the Middle East.  Never mind that Sandy Hook, Aurora and numerous other incidences worldwide were not perpetrated under the guise of religious ideology. The atrocities commited in the name of Islam and IS are claimed by the group, but not necessarily masterminded by anyone high up. On the off chance you haven’t seen it, Waleed Aly explains this concept perfectly here.

This immediate jump to conclusions serves to alienate the Muslim community.

People are determined to blame “The Other” for tragic events, if not “The Other” who worships a different god or comes from another continent then “The Other” with mental illness, or comes from a broken home, or had a traumatic childhood, the jobless, the homeless…anyone who could have been us but for a twist of fate. The reality is that these groups are just handy to point the finger at, to be blamed, turned into monsters, and then forgotten. But they are us.

When we continue to do this – blame and ostracise an entire group for the actions of a few – we show contempt for these people as a whole. Isolating and being actively contemptuous and hostile toward “The Other” causes people to feel isolated and contemptuous, making them perfect targets for radicalisation. If you leave people out in the cold, someone offering a warm jacket becomes an attractive proposition. Not everyone will accept the jacket, but some will.

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Media and popular culture has used depictions and allegories for fear of “The Other” to tell stories since we first developed the concept of tribalism. One classic example of this is the original Dracula novel. Published in May 1897, this novel was written at a time when Britain was enthralled by Invasion Literature. The country was convinced it was about to be invaded by Germany and/or overrun by migrants from Eastern Europe. Dracula was a charismatic character who came to England from Transylvania to spread the disease of vampirism and enthral beautiful English women. One of the reasons the novel became so popular initially is because the idea of “they’re taking our jobs and corrupting our women” is strong in a patriarchal society where women are commoditised. Take, for example, the 1915 film Birth of a Nation.  The film portrays fictional events set in the American Civil war, involving white women and children being rescued from aggressive black men by the Ku Klux Klan. This was one of the first commercial films to use artistic camera techniques, and the story revolved around an ‘us vs them, we must protect the women’ narrative.

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This idea endures to this day. Far right groups such as Reclaim Australia and the United Patriot’s front treat women with contempt on one hand while using ‘women’s issues’ as an excuse to deride Islam. They don’t care about women’s rights to safety and liberty, they just don’t want white women – who they see as their property – mingling with Muslim men. If they cared about women’s rights they would already know that domestic violence is a problem endemic to our entire country. They don’t care that the current count for women in Australia murdered as a result of domestic violence is up to SEVENTY SEVEN so far this year, as long as they can blame it on “The Other.”

Xenophobes didn’t care about women in 1897 and they don’t care about us now. Shielding  women is just a convenient excuse for hate.

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How do we know that extreme right-wing groups don’t actually care about women? Because after terrorist attacks like those in Paris, it’s Muslim women in the west who are physically assaulted in public spaces. The day after the Paris attacks, a Muslim woman in London was shoved toward an oncoming train– luckily the attempted murder was poorly timed and she bounced off the side, surviving with minor injuries. This was a woman going about her day without hurting anybody.

This sort of reaction is subtly reinforced by the language used in our media. “Migrants” rather than “Asylum Seekers,” is one example. That Paris got 24-hour news coverage while attacks in Beirut barely caused a ripple, is another. In the years following 9/11 we saw a veritable barrage of films about soldiers fighting in the Middle East, war-themed video games, and TV series such as Homeland. They follow the long tradition of dehumanising ‘The Other.’ At best, the average Muslim living in the west is under-represented. At worst, the majority of representations of Muslims in the media is hugely negative.

We tell Muslims that they don’t belong in the west, in countries where many of their youths were born. We tell them via the media, on social media and to their faces on the street. But they are us. The Muslim community living peacefully in Australia, the Syrian asylum seekers desperately fleeing ISIS, the refugees in detention… they are us. The longer these groups are excluded the more vulnerable we all become, but if we embrace the marginalised we will deny these extremists of new members. Love, acceptance and compassion are the answers. Do not raise fists in anger toward those who want only to live and prosper in peace.

People ask ‘what can I do?’ Boost signals. Share stories. Demand that multicultural societies be represented. Embrace writers, characters, directors, creators and stories from all walks of life. Reject stereotypes. Representation is more important than just trying to appease people, it’s about solidarity and inclusion. More importantly, we shouldn’t be kind to people just on the chance that their alienation will lead to them joining radical groups; we should be inclusive and kind because we are all human beings.

Words matter. Visuals matter. Hearts and minds matter. If we fight the fires of hate with a torrential downpour of love, acceptance and unity, we can achieve more than we ever dreamed possible.

Even space exploration.

 

Daria: A Character Development Masterclass, Part 6 – Stacy and Brittany

Welcome, readers and writers! This is the sixth and final installment of my exploration of Daria – who’s excited?

This show is a fantastic example of writing of female characters as people with a wide range of personalities and drives, rather than relying on tired old tropes. For a more in-depth explanation of why I am embarking on this endeavour please read my previous post here.

Before I begin, all quotes herein can be found in the episode transcripts at Outpost Daria.

In my previous post, I spoke of how the supporting cast in Daria got a significant amount of character development when we compare with other TV shows. That’s not to say that every character in Daria progresses – most of the teachers, as well as Tiffany, Sandi, Kevin, Tom and Mac stay relatively stagnant. However, there is still a significant number of support characters that manage to evolve despite their relatively brief screen-time. As such, this final Daria related character masterclass will focus on bubbly Brittany and timid Stacy, two support characters who actually do change throughout the seasons despite initial appearances to the contrary. Stacey Rowe Daria

Stacy Rowe is one of the original members of the Fashion Club. She’s pretty and popular, but suffers from incredibly low self-esteem. It may seem strange when we realise that she wasn’t in the self-esteem class with Daria and Jane in episode one, until you remember that the general assumption is that pretty and popular kids are ‘normal’ and don’t have any real problems (this is drawn to our attention in Ars N Crass). Stacy is so desperate to get approval from others that she lets them run over her rather than stand up for herself.

We can imagine pretty easily what life in the Fashion Club would have been like before Quinn came along – Stacy too frightened to stand up to Sandi’s bullying and Tiffany too vapid and self-absorbed to actually notice any of it. Quinn is relatively nice by comparison, and Stacy tends to side with her during disagreements (until she’s again bullied into submission by Sandi). She’s also susceptible to panic attacks and bouts of anxiety, and is easily upset. For example, in the season one episode Road Worrier she freaks out when she thinks she’s wearing the wrong clothes:

stacy sandi leggings

Tiffany:  Ugh, stretch pants. Everywhere, stretch pants.
Stacy:  Hey,
 these are stretch pants! I’m wearing stretch pants!
(Stacy panics and starts to hyperventilate; Sandi rushes over, grabs her arms, and shakes)
Sandi:  They’re leggings! They’re leggings! It’s alright.
(Stacy lets out a high-pitched squeak of relief)

In the season two episode Fair Enough, Stacy is reduced to tears when a boy who she recently went on a date with didn’t call her afterward and then ignored her when they bumped into each other in person. Not wanting people to see her with her makeup running, she gets on the Ferris Wheel with Daria and Jane and proceeds to ruin their day. Fed up, Daria decides to lay it all out for her.

Daria:  Look, don’t flush your entire world down the drain just because some jerk didn’t ask you out on a second date. It probably had nothing to do with you anyway.
Jane:  Unless you did something really stupid, like bore him with your petty problems and convoluted logic.
Stacy:  Why would I do that?

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Stacy doesn’t change too much after these events. In Gifted, Quinn stays with Stacy while the rest of the family are out of town. Stacy scares Quinn away by dressing in almost exactly the same outfit and suggesting that they colour their hair the same shade, thinking that the best way to keep friends is to not say, do or think anything that might be different and therefore controversial.

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Stacey is also upset by the idea of rejection or exclusion, suffering from a serious fear of missing out. Whenever her friends forget to mention something to her or she’s not invited to a party she becomes terrified that she did something wrong to be left on the outer. In the movie length Is it Fall Yet?, all of the Fashion Club decide to hire the same tutor to try and bring up their grade point average. Quinn does this because she knows she can do better, Sandi does it because she doesn’t want to be second best to Quinn, and Stacy and Tiffany do it because they don’t want to be left out. When the tutor, David, gets fed up with Sandi trying to bully him into letting her go shopping, and with Tiffany being more interested in her reflection, he ditches them. He then makes the mistake of mentioning this to Stacy.

David:  During the Reconstruction, Southerners complained that the newly installed government officials were nothing more than carpetbaggers.

Stacy:  They were making fun of their butts? Wait, that would be saddlebaggers…

(David gets a look on his face: “You can’t really be that stupid, can you?”)

Stacy:  (upset) Oh, no… that’s the look my mother always gets when I say something stupid. I’m such an idiot. I’ll never get anywhere in life!

David:  At least you’re trying. Unlike Sandi and Tiffany, whom I had to drop. Now, the carpet…

Stacy:  Wait — you dropped them?

David:  Yup. The carpetbaggers…

Stacy:  Why didn’t they tell me? I’m being shut out. I can’t believe this is happening to me. I knew this was going to happen to me. Oh, why did I wear that butterfly clip?

(Stacy runs off, crying, leaving David alone to wonder what the hell happened.)

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The catalyst moment for Stacey’s change doesn’t happen until the third episode of season five, Fat Like Me. When Sandi breaks her leg, her weeks spent in recovery means she puts on weight. This weight gain means she needs to resign from the Fashion Club, due to the guidelines she herself put in place. She tricks Quinn into quitting too, out of “solidarity”, and suddenly Stacy is president. She does everything she can to recruit new members, short of lowering their very high standards. She has a stroke of genius at one point, convincing Joey, Jeffey and Jamie to come over and look at pictures of babes in bikinis. This falls apart when the boys are asked their opinion on fabric. Throughout all of this, Tiffany does basically nothing. She doesn’t contribute at all, and Stacy finally snaps.Stacy Tiffany Fat Like Me

(Tiffany enters the bathroom)

Tiffany:  Stacy, what time is the Fashion Club meeting today?

Stacy:  There is no meeting.

Tiffany:  How co…

Stacy:  How come?! Because I can’t take it anymore. I’m sick of doing all the work while you just sit there. I tried my best, and even if it wasn’t as good as Sandi’s or Quinn’s, a chain is only as strong as its weakest round thingy, and you refused to lift one freakin’ finger! I’m through running the Fashion Club all by myself while you (imitates Tiffany) stare… in the mirror… and talk… about yourself… (normal voice) and I, I, I quit!

Tiffany:  Hmm, maybe I should quit, too.

(Stacy shrieks and runs out, while Tiffany — oblivious as usual — starts plucking her eyebrows)

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This exchange is Stacy’s turning point. From here we see, in small increments, Stacy standing up for herself. At the end of this episode, when Sandi is back in charge, we see this moment:

Sandi: No one with a low eyelash count should be admitted. No exceptions.

Quinn:  But Sandi… with all the thickening mascaras available you can always make it look like you have more eyelashes than you really do, so is the actual number of lashes really that important?

Sandi:  Quinn, are you proposing artifice?

Stacy:  I agree with Quinn.

Tiffany:  Me, too.

(Sandi looks at Stacy and Tiffany, uneasy)

Sandi:  Fine, but any eyelash-deficient applicants must agree to wear mascara at all times.

(Sandi looks uneasily at her fellow club members- the dynamic has shifted)

This change continues throughout season five. In Lucky Strike, Sandi acts as though Quinn admitting that Daria is her sister is a huge scandal. Stacy and Tiffany responding with “well, yeah, we knew that” is another example of Stacy’s coming out of her shell and Sandi’s power diminishing as a result.

“Lock in profiles”

In the episode Art Burn, the Fashion Club go to an art fair and have a group picture drawn by a caricature artist. They are less than pleased by the results. Sandi and Quinn immediately begin a vendetta of sorts, at first wanting to sue the artist. Tiffany goes along with this, but if you watch carefully you realise that Stacy doesn’t actually say a word at all during this episode. When Sandi, Quinn and Tiffany each go to Helen in turn and are told they can’t sue the artist for defamation or personal injury (“nor can you have him disbarred, deported, imprisoned or grounded”), they agree to at least destroy the picture. They can’t find it. The last scene of the episode is Stacy walking to her wardrobe and there, sitting on a shelf inside, is the cartoon, which we finally get to see.

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Stacy has started her own little rebellion, and is learning to love herself.

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Skip ahead a few episodes to Life in the Past Lane. One of the secondary plots to this episode involves Charles “Upchuck” Ruttheimer III performing magic tricks. When the Fashion Club watches him tear up a ten dollar note then magically repair it, Stacy wonders out loud how he did it. Sandi responds with “Oh Stacy, you are so naive.”

lovely assistant StacyUpchuck convinces MsLi to let him put on a magic show in the school auditorium as a fundraiser to buy tracking chips for the school basketballs. The school community are shocked when he reveals his assistant – the lovely Stacy.

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Their trick involves Upchuck fastened into a straight jacket, then wrapped in chains and locked into a reinforced trunk, so he is forced to “escape, or asphyxiate”. When he doesn’t emerge for a while, Stacy starts to panic and cry. The teachers step in and attempt to break into the trunk. Meanwhile, the rest of the Fashion Club talk to a sobbing Stacy.

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Sandi:  Stacy, it’s just tragic how you so completely embarrassed yourself!

Tiffany:  Yeah. And freaked out!

Quinn:  And your mascara! It’s not even waterproof! Oh, I can’t look!

Sandi:  Good thing Upchuck’s buried alive in there so you won’t have to spend the rest of your life seeking revenge for the way he’s humiliated you in front of the whole school.

(Stacy immediately stops crying and drops her hands.)

Stacy:  Oh, Sandi. You are so naive.

Sandi:  Huh?

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The Fashion Club realise Stacy isn’t really crying at all, just in time for the trunk to open, empty. Upchuck appears at the back of the Auditorium, and the crowd applauds.

Upchuck:  Let’s hear it for my lovely and very talented assistant Stacy, and her Oscar-worthy acting job!

(Stacy waves to the crowd.)

Upchuck:  Your crocodile tears bring out the tiger in me! Rowrr!

(They bow. Cut to the rest of the FC.)

Tiffany:  Maybe Stacy can teach me to cry.

Quinn:  It would be useful at home, and in a variety of social situations.

Sandi sits there looking livid, but Stacy has finally asserted herself on a grand scale, actually managing to prank her friends (especially Sandi).

Like most of the others, Stacy’s character transformation is completed in the final movie Is it College Yet. When we first see the Fashion Club all together, they are out for dinner at a fancy restaurant to celebrate Stacy’s birthday.

Stacy:  Guys, it is so nice of you to take me out on my birthday.

Sandi:  Our pleasure, Stacy. We would never leave you alone on your birthday without a date.

Tiffany:  Brr.

Sandi:  Just because the rest of us had dates on our birthdays…

Stacy:  Oh, yes, Sandi. You mentioned that. Boy, I can’t believe I’m another year older. Time goes by so fast.

(…)

 (a waitress approaches, bearing a cake with a lit candle on top, and places it in front of Stacy)

Tiffany:  Surprise…

Quinn:  Make a wish, Stacy!

(Stacy is about to blow the candle)

Sandi:  And don’t worry. I’m sure that chocolate won’t cause your sensitive skin to break out.

(Stacy blows the candle out)

Quinn and Tiffany (clapping) – Yay!

Stacy:  Thanks, guys.

Sandi:  What’d you wish for?

Stacy:  Ummm; nothing.

Sandi:  Come on, Stacy. Tell us! Don’t be your usual drippy self.

Stacy:  Nothing. Anyway, it didn’t come true.

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When we next see the Fashion Club, Sandi has come down with laryngitis. Stacy reveals to Quinn that she had wished Sandi would just shut up, so  Sandi must be cursed! At a later meeting of the Fashion Club, Stacy tries to give Sandi a potion to remove the “curse”, but accidentally gives it to Tiffany. When Sandi wants to know why Tiffany starts choking, Stacy confesses. When we see them later at Jodi’s end-of-the-year party, Sandi has come up with a list of ways that Stacy can make it up to her, attempting to exploit Stacy’s superstitious nature and knowing full well that she probably wasn’t cursed.

Sandi:  Well, I see I’m the only one who still believes in arriving fashionably late.

Stacy:  Sandi! You got your voice back!

Quinn:  That’s great, Sandi!

Tiffany:  Yeah… great…

Sandi:  Stacy, you’ll be happy to know I figured how you can almost make it up to me for the physical and emotional anguish you caused. (hands papers to Stacy)

Stacy:  You have? Oh, Sandi, thank you! (reads papers) Organize your Waif magazine inventory, ironing any and all wrinkled pages… take over babysitting your brothers all summer… clean your lipstick tubes…

Tiffany:  Whoa, Stacy… I pity you.

Stacy:  Um, Sandi, I’m really, really sorry about what happened and all, but this seems kind of… unfair. I mean, we don’t know if I really made you lose your voice, right? And Tiffany’s the one who drank that horrible anti-curse stuff.

Tiffany:  Eww… the memory.

Sandi:  Are you saying you don’t care if you jeopardize your status in the Fashion Club?

Stacy:  (after a short pause) Sandi, if this is what it’ll take to keep me in the Fashion Club, maybe I’m better off taking a sabbatical like Quinn.

Sandi:  Um… fine. But you’re missing out, because Quinn is coming back. Right, Quinn?

Quinn:  Um, actually, Sandi, the time off was a nice change of pace. I’m thinking of extending my sabbatical.

Sandi:  What?

Tiffany:  Huh. I think I’ll take a sabbatical, too.

(Sandi looks at her three friends, and realizes she’s just become a club of one; she scrambles to save face)

Sandi:  Well, that is certainly an amusing coincidence, because tonight I was going to announce my sabbatical from the Fashion Club. Yes, I find that your precious club no longer serves my needs as a multi-faceted young woman of today. It’s just too confining.

Quinn:  Gosh! Does this mean there isn’t any more Fashion Club?

Sandi:  I guess it’s time to move on.

Quinn:  It’s like the end of an era.

Stacy:  I’m gonna miss it.

Tiffany:  Me, too.

(the four ex-Fashion Clubbers burst into tears)

Sandi:  You want to come over tomorrow and discuss what we’ll do with all our new free time?

Quinn:  That’s a great idea, Sandi!

Stacy:  I’ll bring some magazines to look at.

Tiffany:  I can’t wait to brainstorm.

Sandi:  Then it’s a date.

is it college yet

So there you have it. Stacy and Quinn’s character transformations actually bring about the end of the Fashion Club as an organisation. Without this hierarchy in place they can probably begin a new friendship based on respect… maybe. At least, Stacy has made it clear that she won’t be pushed around anymore. Her evolution throughout the series is arguably the most dramatic example of character maturation.

Which brings us to Brittany.

Brittany Taylor

The archetypal high school head cheerleader, Brittany is blonde, bubbly and air-headed… on the surface. Unlike the rest of the cast, Britt doesn’t change much as a person through the series, but more is revealed about her that shows there really is more than meets the eye. She’s rarely seen without her boyfriend Kevin, the quarterback of the football team, and the two are frequently on and off again. They seem like the perfect match at first, but as the series goes on we start to realise that maybe they’re together because it’s expected of them, rather than because of affection for who the other really is.

This emphasis on appearance is obviously something that has been deeply ingrained in Brittany from the get-go. We meet her father and stepmother in season three’s episode The Old and the Beautiful, and the family dynamic is established as soon as Daria rings the doorbell to the Taylor family home.

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(Daria rings doorbell)

Ashley-Amber:  Hello.

Daria:  Um, hi. I didn’t know Brittany had an older sister.

Ashley-Amber:  She does? Cool. Maybe we can get manicures together.

Daria:  No, I mean… if you’re not her sister, then you’re…

Ashley-Amber:  Her stepmother. (into house) Britty, honey, you didn’t tell me you had a sister!

Then we meet Brittany’s dad, Steve, who’s conversation with Daria goes like this…

Brittany:  Dad, this is my classmate, Daria.

Steve:  Hey, Daria. Steve Taylor. Always glad to meet one of Britt’s friends. (shakes hands with Daria) You like cosmetics? I’ll get you into a focus group. The pay is a joke but there’s free lip gloss out the ying yang. Good stuff, too. They try it on cats first. You meet my wife? Boy, was she a knockout when she was young.

He then runs out of the room, yelling at his misbehaving son.

According to The Daria Database, Steve is in advertising. It also says that Brittany’s biological mother ran away to Hollywood to be an actress/model/restaurant hostess. Given that Daria mistook Ashley-Amber for Brittany’s older sister, we can safely assume that she’s in her mid to late twenties and is most likely a trophy wife (confirmed in The Daria Database).

This explains where Brittany is coming from – a world where looks and money are valued before intellect, so the importance of an education was probably rarely discussed at home. This is a pity, because Brittany often displays flashes of potential brilliance.

Cheerleaders_3

Firstly, Brittany is captain of the Lawndale varsity cheerleading squad. Achieving this position means she possesses organisational and leadership skills, as well as solid interpersonal skills. The whole reason Daria goes to the Taylor house In The Old and The Beautiful is because Brittany offered to help her make her voice sound more appealing to the elderly people they were reading to at the nursing home, exclaiming “I can help everyone!” when Daria didn’t disagree.

In the season two episode Ill, she bumps into Daria in the bathroom at the local grunge club. She has dyed her hair black to ‘blend in’, and lets slip that she’s there with someone other than Kevin. But when Daria asks for her help, Brittany goes above and beyond.

Daria:  Uh, Brittany, could you do me a favor?

Brittany:  Um… yes?

Daria:  Find Jane and tell her I had to leave?

Brittany:  Sure, but… will you promise not to tell Kevin about Terry or Jerry or whoever?

Daria:  In the unlikely event that, through some bizarre set of circumstances, I actually end up conversing with Kevin, I won’t tell him about Terry or Jerry.

Brittany:  Thanks!

Trent:  Daria? You in there?

(Daria runs into stall)

Brittany:  Don’t worry. (to Trent) Have some consideration for female modesty, please!

Trent:  Oh, sure. Sorry.tumblr_nmin9s8CV61qf9ndpo3_1280


She later visits Daria in the hospital to see how she is… and because she’s worried Daria wouldtell Kevin about Terry/Jerry.

In a previous post I discussed the episode Through a Lens Darkly, when Brittany manages to talk Daria out of her funk regarding personal vanity, saying ” Daria, I just want you to know I think it’s really brave of you to get those contact lenses and admit that you care about the way you look, even just a little. Because knowing that a brain can be worried about her looks makes me feel, um, I don’t know, not so shallow or something. Like we’re not that different, just human, or whatever.”

This innate ability to connect with almost anybody shows incredible emotional intelligence.

In the season two episode Daria Hunter, the students and teachers go on a paintball field trip. Brittany shows remarkable aptitude for the exercise.

“War’s not pretty, Kevvy”

Brittany:  Excuse me, Ms. Barch? Since they can’t see us very well because of the terrain, we can split up and they won’t know where we are, then we can attack them from three sides, drive them out to the one side that they think is safe, and then set up an ambush so we can capture them all at once! Probably be a good idea to set up a secret observation post on the high ground so we can watch them without them seeing us.

(everyone on the team stares at Brittany, shocked by her knowledge of combat tactics)

Brittany:  What?

Ms. Barch:  That’s very good, Brittany.

Brittany:  Okay, team, let’s go! Come on Jane!

Jane:  I’m more of the mercenary type. You know, lone wolf working on their own type of thing.

Brittany:  Good idea, Jane. If Plan A fails, you can come in on a rescue mission!

This knack for tactics never really comes up again, but it makes us wonder what else she’s capable of.

One of the reasons we don’t see Brittany develop much as a person is because she, unlike many of her classmates, already knows who she is. She values herself enough to be pissed off rather than enamoured by a hero footballer’s propositioning in The Misery Chick, and she always stands up for herself when someone wrongs her. Her strong sense of self often causes problems in her relationship with Kevin, as most of their fights seem to originate from either infidelity or Kevin not respecting Brittany’s opinion. Take, for example, the season four episode Partner’s Complaint.

Brittany:  I know what you think, but I know what I think, and I think I think just as well as you think, don’t you think?

Kevin:  Babe, if it were up to me, I’d want you to have the brain power of a guy, but it’s science. Men are smarter, because we have more muscle mass in our heads.

Brittany:  I’m just as smart as you, maybe smarter.

Kevin:  (laughing) Okay, sure you are.

Brittany:  Don’t you fratronize me! (walks away in a huff)

Kevin:  You think I don’t know what that means? I know what that means! (walks away in a huff)

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This fight leads to the two of them working with other people for their economics assignment, but they make up again by the end of the episode.

Two episodes later is A Tree Grows In Lawndale, Kevin gets a new motorcycle and winds up breaking his knee. This means he can’t play football, and if he can’t play football he’s not allowed to date cheerleaders…for some reason. He later uses his broken knee and crutches to become a motivational speaker at elementary schools, teaching the kids about safety. brittany kevin

Kevin:  Say, Britt, you know there’s no law that says a motivated speaker can’t have a babe.

Brittany:  But there is a law that says cheerleaders can only date football players, remember?

Kevin:  Darn! You know, that’s recrimination. I mean, just because I don’t wear a uniform doesn’t mean I’m not the same guy.

Brittany:  Yes, it does. My Kevvy is a football leader of men. My Kevvy wouldn’t let the whole team down. MyKevvy wouldn’t let Lawndale become a loser town! (starts to leave)

Kevin:  Wait, babe, come back!

Brittany:  Forget it, Kevvy. You’re on your own. You’re a… a man on an island.

Kevin:  But, I don’t want to be on an island. I get seasick. Besides, I need… the love.

Brittany:  Huh?

Kevin:  I mean, what’s saving lives if there’s no one to make out with?

Daria:  I believe Gandhi asked that same question.

Jane:  It’s why he had to be eliminated.

(after a moment’s hesitation, Kevin lets his crutches fall away as the other students cheer)

Kevin:  Britt, I realize that without you, I’m by myself. Your love has healed me, babe. I’m… I’m cured!

(Brittany runs into Kevin’s arms)

Brittany:  Oh, Kevvy. I’ve missed you so much.

Kevin:  Like, me, too, babe.

 a tree grows in lawndale

That there is some sort of social “law” that says cheerleaders can only date football players puts Brittany and Kevin’s whole relationship into question. We’ve seen from previous episodes that Brittany has a strong romantic side (such as in Partner’s Complaint: “we shan’t let anything mar our love!”, and The Old and the Beautiful when she reads steamy romance novels to seniors). This strong yearning for romance, coupled with the cheerleader/footballer “law” means that her relationship with Kevin is based on inevitability rather than respect and common ground. This might explain why both of them are so prone to cheating on each other, and it leads us to the obvious conclusion to their relationship at the end of Is it College Yet.

Brittany has managed to achieve the grades and extra-curricular activities needed to get into her choice of college (“They have the best cheerleading squad in the country!”), but Kevin remains cagey about his prospects for most of the film.

Brittany:  Kevvie, do you want to go to the place we have to go to get the cap and gown with me?

Kevin:  Mmmm, nah! But, you go ahead.

Brittany:  Why? Did you already get yours?

Kevin:  Um, Brit… remember when you said you’d still be my babe, no matter where I went to school?

Brittany:  Umm… I think so.

Kevin:  But you will, right?

Brittany:  Sure! Where are you going?

Kevin:  (points to Lawndale High School) Right here, babe!

Brittany: Huh?

Kevin:  Right here. Lawndale High. See, um, my grades were so good, they want to see if I can do it again.

Brittany:  Ohhh. Wait a minute… your grades aren’t good… Kevvie, you flunked!

Kevin:  No, no, no! I just, um, didn’t pass. But, see, if I repeat this year, then my grades will be really good. Mr. O’Neill says I can go away to any college in the country!

Brittany:  Really?

Kevin:  Or did he say some college way out in the country? Anyway, we’re still, like, boyfriend and girlfriend, right?(takes Brittany’s hand)

Brittany:   (puts her other hand behind her back)  Ummm, sure.

(they kiss; behind her back, Brittany has crossed her fingers)

brittany cross fingers

Brittany may be an airhead, but she has enough sense to at least suspect that tying herself to Kevin might not be the best course for her future. Or maybe she just sees college as an opportunity to meet and date new and different people. While she began season one as a stereotype, the writers allowed us to see certain layers to Brittany other than just the blonde bimbo.

So, there we have it – the women of Lawndale, as examples of how to to write many, varied and complex female characters that are easy to relate to. The key to remember is that men and women are essentially the same, in that we are all different. But we all feel loss, isolation, joy, pain, love and friendship. Our differences lay in our roles in society and how we react to those assumed roles, either by rebelling against them or by working within the system. It is generally put to us by the media that the male experience is many and varied, while the female experience is ‘niche’ and that all women are essentially the same. Daria is a sensational example of what happens when you really consider your audience.

Now if we could get more shows on TV with greater gender, race and sexuality representations we might really be on to something.

I suppose we should all get writing.

Daria!

Daria: A Character Development Masterclass, Part 5 – Jodie Landon

Hello and welcome to part five of my exploration of Daria.

This show is a fantastic example of writing of female characters as people with a wide range of personalities and drives, rather than relying on tired old tropes. For a more in-depth explanation of why I am embarking on this endeavour please read my previous post here.

Before I begin, all quotes herein can be found in the episode transcripts at Outpost Daria.

One of the fantastic things about this show is that even secondary characters get a modicum of identity progression. As they are only secondary characters, Jodie, Brittany and Stacey don’t get nearly as much depth to their transformations as the other characters I have covered previously, but the fact that they get any at all puts Daria miles ahead of its contemporaries. So, let’s talk about Jodie.

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Jodie Landon is that kid who was good at everything and is well-liked by everyone – there’s one in every graduating class and they’re usually school captain or student council president (or whichever equivalent applies to your country). She gets consistently good marks, and is involved in a number of clubs.

Jodie:  I’m president of the French Club, vice president of Student Council, editor of yearbook, and I’m also on the tennis team.

Jake:  Daria, why aren’t you on the tennis team?

Daria:  Because it’s classified as a sport.

The Invitation

We first meet Jodie in episode two, The Invitation, alongside her boyfriend Mack. She and Mack are the only regular African-American characters in the series with speaking roles, although her parents do make an appearance from time to time. I think we can put this down to (conscious or unconscious) racial quotas that Aziz Ansari talked about recently, which can be summed up as thus –

  “When they cast these shows, they’re like, ‘We already have our minority guy or our minority girl … there would never be two Indian people in one show. With Asian people, there can be one, but there can’t be two. Black people, there can be two, but there can’t be three because then it becomes a black show. Gay people there can be two, women there can be two, but Asian people, Indian people, there can be one but there can’t be two.”

You may not initially think this applies to Daria, given how progressive it was for the time, but when you dig deeper this actually fits. Jodie and Mack are the only two African-American characters with regular screen time and dialogue, and they aren’t main characters. The only Asian character with regular lines is Ms Li – Tiffany in the fashion club doesn’t speak very often at all (they have also never talked to each other on screen). There are no openly queer characters until Is it Fall Yet, and even then it’s only discussed briefly.  Yes, there are plenty of women, but the show was created in the first place because  MTV wanted a larger female viewership. Think of how the show was advertised and the viewer demographic – the sheer volume of female characters and that the two leads are girls put many males off watching unless they were lucky enough to stumble across it and get hooked or had sisters/friends who made them watch. In general, media with female leads is seen as a show for women. The same can be said for shows with black leads, gay leads and other minorities. Shows with predominately straight, cis, white men are seen as being ‘for everybody.’

To their credit, the Daria writers do try and poke fun at the lack of diversity on their otherwise stellar show. daria-jodie-giftedIn the season two episode Gifted, they even work it into a characterisation device.

At the very start of the episode we are given a visual representation of who Daria and Jodie are – sitting in study hall, Daria is reading The Telltale Heart and Jodie is reading How to Win Friends and Influence People. During the episode, Jodie and Daria are selected to attend an open day at an exclusive school for high achievers. They meet students who currently attend the school, and at first they get along quite well. Jodie’s natural charm and warm patience and Daria’s dry wit stand them in good stead at first, but then they’re put off by their new friends’ overt elitism. Then Jodie finally runs out of patience and takes a metaphorical leaf from Daria’s book, causing Daria to smile as Jodie serves up some cutting truths.

 ep208

Lara:  Before I came here I was an intellectual outcast. They made fun of me for quoting Ayn Rand.

Jodie:  Actually, I think she’s pretty disturbing…

Graham:  That’s not the point. The point is that you know who she is, and that at Grove Hills, you can discuss her with people like us, instead of idiots and fools and a quarterback who tells the whole school you shower in a towel. I’d like to see a quarterback write a paper on Mao.

Jodie:  I think the Cultural Revolution is…

Graham:  You have an awful lot to say for someone who doesn’t even go to this school yet.

Jodie:  What’s that supposed to mean?

Graham:  It means why don’t we see whether you get in to Grove Hills before we start listening to your opinions.

Jodie:  Hey! Just because some jock made you feel like the loser you are, don’t take it out on me.

Graham:  I’m not a loser! I have a 165 I.Q.!

Jodie:  Who cares? You’re still boring and miserable! Try taking your head out of your butt for once and opening up your myopic little eyes. Or doesn’t your 165 I.Q. make you smart enough to see the way you really are? (leaves)

Graham:  I’ll make sure you never set foot in this school again!

Daria:  That’s a relief. For a minute there I thought you were going to threaten us. (leaves)

 Later, Daria and Jodie both acknowledge that they’d like to be more like each other. Jodie feels so much pressure to be perfect and a positive representation of African-American teens and wishes that she could have space to just be herself. Daria is generally socially awkward and sometimes wishes she found it easier to be around people.

Jodie:  At home, I’m Jodie. I can say or do whatever feels right. But at school, I’m the Queen of the Negroes. The perfect African-American teen. The role model for all of the other African-American teens at Lawndale. Oops! Where’d they go? Believe me, I’d like to be more like you.

Daria:  Well, I have to admit, there are times when I’d like to be more like you.

Jodie:  Really?

Daria:  I’m not saying all the time.

Jodie:  So, Lawndale or Grove Hills?

Daria:  I’m sticking with Lawndale. If I came here, I’d end up poisoning the sloppy joe mix.

Jodie:  Yeah, you’re right. I’m pushed to the breaking point being Miss Model Student at Lawndale. A year here might kill me.

At the very end of the episode they are still reading their books and don’t swap them, which is a great visual way of saying that they each respect who the other is as a person. Daria has found someone other than Jane who appreciates her for who she is and won’t try and change her, and while she and Jodie will never be best friends they have developed an understanding, even an admiration for each other.

 jodie how to win friends

The strong sense of morality that Jodie shows in this episode (such as being disgusted that Graham and Lara would refuse to talk to someone who scored slightly lower on a test) has already been built up subtly in previous episodes, such as I Don’t. While Daria and Quinn are attending their cousin’s wedding, Lawndale High school is coincidentally hosting a bridal expo to raise funds for extracurricular activities (leading Jane to muse, ” I wonder what kind of extracurricular activities would lead to a wedding?”) Jodie is initially on board because it’s a school fundraiser and she is pragmatic enough to know where the money for student council activities comes from,   but eventually she takes a step back and realises the ramifications of such an event. She and Mack have the following conversation while walking through the expo.

I dont 1
“If I see one more sweet dopey girl stuck with a lame-brained idiot…”

Mack:  Hey, what’s the matter?

Jodie:  This whole thing is starting to get to me. I mean, Daria had a point. Why should high school kids be thinking about marriage? If I see one more sweet, dopey girl stuck with a lame-brain idiot…

(as if on cue…)

Kevin and Brittany:  Hi!

“Hi!”

Jodie keeps popping up here and there in seasons two and three, normally as a voice of reason or to help advance the plot. In the episode Ill she visits Daria in the hospital, and in Through a Lens Darkly she tries to remind Daria that it’s okay to have a little vanity (it doesn’t work, but she still cares).

We get to learn more about Jodie’s character in the season four episode Partner’s Complaint. Daria is pissed off at Jane for spending so much time with her new boyfriend, so she decides to team up with Jodie on an economics class project (Jane gets stuck with Brittany). It’s an interesting Dynamic, because when Jane and Daria work together on assignments (such as Monster and Jane’s Addition) Daria tends to take the lead, but this time she’s sitting back and letting Jodie do most of the work. Their assignment is to experience economics in real life, such as applying for loans or buying a car – they don’t actually have to do these things, but go through as much of the process as they can and report back. Jodie has dreams of running her own business, so she and Daria decide to try and get a loan for a startup. They go to a bank and are asked a series of questions, to which Jodie provides all of the non smart-arse answers.

 Partner's complaint

Loan Officer:  Well, I’ll tell you what. It’s a fascinating idea and very impressive presentation. But two girls still in high school with no business experience? You’re what we call “high-risk applicants.” I really don’t think the bank will give you a loan. Unless, Daria, you want to ask your father to co-sign for it.

Daria:  I don’t think I can do that. He’s already had one heart attack.

Loan Officer:  Oh, well, then… I’m sorry.

Jodie:  What about my father?

Loan Officer:  What about him? Does he know anything about business?

Jodie:  He helped me put together this proposal that you claimed was so impressive.

Loan Officer:  Your father’s not Andrew Landon, is he?

Jodie:  That’s him.

Loan Officer:  The folding coffee cup guy?

Jodie:  Yes, that’s my dad.

Loan Officer:  Well, then, Jodie, you’ve got business savvy in your blood. Why don’t I run your plan by my boss and see what he thinks? Maybe we can work something out.

Jodie:  Why? You don’t give loans to high-risk applicants, unless maybe you’re hoping you’ll get a little business from their fathers.

Loan Officer:  Now, Jodie…

Jodie:  My father’s the same high-risk colour that I am, you know. (storms out)

When Daria catches up with Jodie, we see exactly why Jodie is angry (if you hadn’t figured it out already). She has every right to be. But then we notice that she changes tack.

Jodie:  The nerve of that idiot! Listening to my business plan and all my answers to his questions, then asking if your father would co-sign the loan. Why? Because you’re the right colour.

Daria:  At least you called him on it.

Jodie:  All I want is to be judged on my own merits, you know?

Daria:  Maybe they won’t be so stupid at the next bank.

Jodie:  Maybe, maybe not.

(at the second bank)

Loan Officer:  Hi, girls. I understand you’re looking to start up a brand-new business. Tell me all about it.

Jodie:  Yes, we’re very excited about our idea, and we’ve put together a comprehensive business plan with the help of my father, Andrew Landon.

Loan Officer:  Oh! The folding coffee cup guy?

(Jodie smiles, Daria frowns)

Later, when Daria makes it obvious that she’s not happy with the way the assignment has been handled, she lays it out to Jodie. Jodie, to her credit, refuses to take it lying down.
pc-daria-jodie

Daria:  Okey-doke. What I think happened is: you went to one bank and a loan officer dismissed you on the basis of your youth and possibly your race, until he found out who your father was, at which point he started kissing your butt, you called him a hypocrite, and we walked out.

Jodie:  That’s right.

Daria:  Only to go into a second bank where the first words out of your mouth were your father’s name.

Jodie:  What are you getting at, Daria?

Daria:  Well, which was more hypocritical: the first guy’s changing his tune when he found out who your father was, or you making sure the second guy knew who your father was before he formed an opinion?

Jodie:  Are you calling me a hypocrite?

Daria:  No, I’m just saying…

Jodie:  Hey, our assignment was to get a loan, not save the world. We were supposed to approach an adult financial situation like adults and that’s exactly what I did. I used the resources at my disposal to get the loan — my dad’s name. And if I happened to depart from your black-and-white world of ethics — no pun intended…

Daria:  None taken.

Jodie:- …and wandered into a gray area, then too bad. Maybe the first guy was a racist, maybe not. Maybe I was right. Maybe I overreacted. Hey, you wouldn’t be working with me if you weren’t fighting with Jane. Does that make you a racist?

Daria:  Don’t be ridiculous.

Jodie:  Don’t tell me what’s ethical and what’s not. I approached it like a smart businessperson and I got the loan.

Daria:  Fair enough.

This leaves Daria a lot to think about. Yes, the first loan officer automatically deferring to Daria was a racist move (whether he was aware of it or not doesn’t make a difference). But Jodie’s decision to drop her father’s name at the next bank was a result of learning and pragmatism; she did what needed to be done to get the assignment done, even if she didn’t like it. She has effectively taught Daria that sometimes the need to get what you want outweighs your need to be a martyr to principle. She’ll make a great CEO someday.

Later, when they give their presentation, Daria says that while they prepared detailed answers, “…what actually got us the loan had little to do with all that preparation. It was being flexible enough to tailor our approach to what would make the bank officer feel comfortable about lending us money.”

The fact is, Jodie knows how to influence people, and Daria has learned that sometimes these things need to be done. Jodie’s ability to influence people is possibly something learned by necessity thanks to dealing with people like the first bank manager for her whole life. She doesn’t have the option of being as relaxed as Daria – to get ahead she always has to be ‘on.’ This constant pressure is an integral part of her character, because she places it on herself as much as her parents do.

This plays out on a smaller scale a few episodes later in I Loathe a Parade. Jodie and Mack have been elected homecoming king and queen and are waving to the crowd from the parade float.

I Loathe A Parade

Jodie:  Isn’t it great how they keep electing us Homecoming King and Queen every year?

Mack:  Yes, it’s such a generous and enlightened gesture. It completely makes up for the town’s utter lack of diversity, in my mind.

Jodie:  And we’re playing into it.

Mack:  Damn college applications.

Jodie:  This is so humiliating.

We never really find out if they were voted king and queen out of the town’s guilt or not, but that’s beside the point. Intent isn’t what matters, impact does. Jodie is once again sick of being the perfect all-American black teen ambassador, and Mack isn’t exactly thrilled either. Later on, they decide to sit down in protest, because what’s the worst that can happen? But then Jodie spies, in the crowd, a young African-American girl waving admiringly up at her. Remembering that she’s a role model as well as an ambassador, Jodie starts waving again, saying “we may be tokens, but we’re damn good looking ones”  to lighten the mood. (Interesting note – this line was cut from some subsequent airings intended for younger audiences).

i loathe a parade

As Is it Fall Yet is a movie-length episode, we get to see more of an interesting storyline for Jodie. Her plot follows on from the episode titled The F Word (aka ‘Fail’), when Mr O’Neil tasks the students with attempting something they know they’ll fail at, to show them that failure isn’t such a bad thing. Jodie decides to ask her parents if she can take the summer off rather than taking on her usual summer workload of interning and volunteering. They deny her request, and she completes the assignment, feeling dejected and exhausted in the process.

is it fall yet

The movie picks up where this left off, with Jodie not really looking forward to summer. When asked about her plans she responds with a sigh, “Two internships, volunteer community service, a part-time job and, in my spare time, golf lessons.” The golf lessons are because her parents are trying to get into a country club, so not only is Jodie under pressure to succeed for herself but to also make her parents look good. This parental pressure isn’t really resolved in this film, although Mack does slave away a bit longer in a crappy job driving an ice-cream truck so he can afford to take Jodie out to a fancy French restaurant, giving her a well-deserved break.

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The pressure mounts through season five as college applications draw nearer. In the episode Prize Fighters, Daria, Jodie and Upchuck all apply for a scholarship prize awarded by a software company, and all become finalists in the competition. Daria was the one who mentioned the prize to Jodie, and is miffed when Jodie decides to enter too. Both girls want to win, but Jodie is the only one of the two who is actually putting in the effort. Daria finds out that the company offering the prize hasn’t promoted any women or minorities into senior management in years, and tries using this as an excuse to quit the prize altogether. Jodie and Mr Landon convince Daria that if that’s the company’s attitude, then by quitting Jodie and Daria wouldn’t really be effecting change –

Mr Landon:  Wizard’s policies have been prehistoric, yeah. But someone, somewhere in the organization, is trying to address that. Or, they wouldn’t have created this prize. Now, do you walk away because the guy at the top is an idiot, or do you join the people trying to change the way he does business?

Daria:  How do I know they’re not just trying to make him look good, without changing anything at all?

Andrew:  They won’t change anything at all, if kids like you two don’t push your way onto their radar and show them the error of their ways. If you don’t go up to the gate and ring the big bell, they’ve kept you out without having to do a thing. (excited) Ring the big bell, Daria! Ring the big bell! (walks away)

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In the end, Daria can’t bring herself to suck up to the scholarship judge. Jodie does, because she knows how the game is played, but she comes across as rehearsed and a bit fake. Neither of them gets the scholarship (and neither does Upchuck). This episode serves to highlight the interesting opposites of Jodie and Daria – Daria doesn’t want to work within the system but knows she’s going to have to in order to get anywhere in life. Jodie knows how to work within the system and does so because she must, but it makes her question her values and integrity. Jodie is pragmatic, Daria is idealistic, yet they wind up in the same place in the end – uncomfortable with how the world works.

This competitiveness combines with parental pressure in the final movie-length episode, Is it College Yet. As you will know from previous posts, this one focuses on the kids’ college applications. Jodie’s father is determined that she get into an elite school named Crestmore (we can assume is the fictional equivalent of Princeton or some such). Jodie would prefer to go to a prestigious historically African-American school named Turner, which was where her father went. She discusses the problem with Mack over lunch.

Mack:  Crestmore… the dream of dreams.

Jodie:  Hmmm.

Mack:  What’s wrong?

Jodie:  It’s a top school and everything, but I’d really rather go to Turner.

Mack:  Your father’s alma mater? He must love that.

Jodie:  He doesn’t know I applied.

Mack:  Why?

Jodie:  Because he wouldn’t let me go anyway. He says not even a great African-American college like Turner can beat the Crestmore name on a resume. To say nothing of the bragging rights it’ll give him on the golf course.

Mack:  Oh, man. That sucks.

Jodie:  You know, my grandmother was in the first Turner graduating class to admit women. I’d be carrying on a tradition. Plus, I’d finally get a break from having to be the perfect Jodie doll at a mostly-white school.

Mack:  I hear that.

Jodie:  I wish my father did. I can always transfer to Crestmore after a year or two. At least, I’d find what Turner’s like. But his mind’s made up.

Mack:  Well, Crestmore hasn’t accepted you yet.

Jodie:  Hey, maybe we should both go to State University. Then we wouldn’t have to worry about how to get together on weekends.

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So, here we see Jodie’s wish to please her parents and her need to slow down are finally coming to a head. Back in Gifted she said that a year at Grove Hills might kill her – imagine what would happen to her at an ivy-league school. So, she talks to her father. It goes about as well as you’d expect.

Jodie:  Well, I’ve been thinking a lot about Crestmore, and a lot about Turner.

Andrew:  Turner’s a great school. Not nearly as elite as Crestmore, though.

Jodie:  That’s just it. I don’t want to go to an elitist school.

Andrew:  Sure you do.

Jodie:  I want to go to a school where I fit in, where I can be myself and relax for once and really focus on learning. I want to go to Turner. At least for a year or two.

Andrew:  You want to go to college to relax? That doesn’t sound like my Honor Society daughter.

Jodie:  Relax socially; stop being the black kid, and just being a kid. I’m tired of being in the extreme minority, and I don’t want to go to a place where people might think I got in just because I’m African-American.

Andrew:  Let people think what they want.

Jodie:  But Dad, you don’t know what it’s like. You went to a black high school and then to Turner.

Andrew:  Because I HAD to. If I had a Crestmore degree in my pocket… Jodie, their graduates are literally running this country. Think of how that degree can help you catapult ahead. I’m not saying your life won’t be harder until you graduate, but it will be a hell of a lot easier after. Four years versus the rest of your life. Where is that Landon spirit?

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When Jodie later gets the news that she got into both Turner and Crestmore, she breaks down in tears on Mack’s shoulder. She says that she thinks her father is right, and that Crestmore is the better choice. When Mack points out this blatant lie – she’s crying, for goodness sake – she tells him to leave her alone. So, Mack goes to talk to Jodie’s father. He explains that Jodie is already close to breaking point, and that if she keeps getting pushed she’ll have a nervous breakdown. Jodie’s dad laughs this off, saying that it’s a good thing breakdowns aren’t allowed in their family.  When Mack says that Jodie wanted to go to turner so badly that she actually applied without telling  him, he relents (with a little cajoling from Jodie’s mother).

So we can see, over the course of five seasons and two movies, that Jodie goes from being a standard “perfect student” type to someone with a lot more depth (considering that she’s still a second-tier character). She’s smart and pragmatic, and she teaches Daria that in order to get where you want to go you sometimes need to make compromises. In turn, she learns from Daria that sometimes you need to put yourself and your principles first. She learns where her limits are and, finally, to stand up to her parent’s high expectations (with a lot of help from Mack). This mostly occurs over secondary and incidental storylines, making it even more of a unique feat of characterisation. The fact is that too many writers neglect the development of their ensemble cast, but the Daria writers made sure that (almost) every one of their cast evolved in some way, big or small, throughout the show’s run (with the possible exception of Kevin, Ms Li, Sandi, Tiffany and Ms Defoe).

Okay, I said that this would be the last Daria post, but I think one more may be in order for Stacy and Brittany. Until then, remember to be kind to yourself.

Jodie and Mac