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.
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.
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. In 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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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)
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.
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).
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.