Hello and welcome to part two of my exploration of Daria.
This show is a fantastic example of writing 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.
This week we will focus on the character transformation of Jane Lane.
Daria: And I kept thinking about you, up here doing your paintings, making your jokes, being Jane Lane.
Jane: Being Jane Lane’s what I do best.
Daria: Precisely. You know exactly who you are, and nobody’s ever going to con you into thinking you don’t. I wish I’d had you around just as a role model.
Jane: You know, you’re absolutely right about me.
Daria: Gee, shall I attempt further heights of ego inflation?
Jane: Please do.
– Is It Fall Yet?
Daria’s best friend from episode one onward, Jane is probably the character I relate to most. It is very easy as writers to create the same female characters over and over, but the creators of Daria have made sure that while Jane is a kindred spirit, she still has a very distinct personality to her best friend. One of Jane’s main drivers is the urge to form her own identity and try new things.
Jane is a highly talented visual artist, and when she and Daria are hanging out together she’s normally painting, sculpting or drawing. Jane and Daria share a similar world-view and disdain for their classmates, but where Daria will try and avoid people and attention Jane will socialise out of morbid curiosity. She has a more outgoing personality than her friend, and she seems to have more self-confidence when it comes to interaction. Jane has a very strong sense of self which she rarely compromises, and she identifies as being an artist above all else. In the second episode of season one, The Invitation, she decides to accompany Daria to a party because she “bet(s she) can get some great sketches there.”
This episode is also an early example of her and Daria’s difference in libido; Jane has the confidence to talk to guys (and make out with them in the laundry at house parties), whereas Daria seems disinterested. This disinterest can be explained by her disdain for the talent on display – she’s more interested in Trent.
Jane’s independence is explained somewhat when we meet her family in Season 3’s Lane Miserables. Until now, we are led to believe that Jane and her brother Trent live in the family home by themselves most of time, with the rest of the family off globetrotting and perusing their own art forms or raising their own families. In this episode, Jane and Trent’s Mum, Dad, sister and brother return home, and then the eldest sister comes by with her two children. The house is suddenly full again, and Jane and Trent can’t stand the lack of privacy.
The two retreat to Daria’s house for a night, but are unused to having to follow rules such as sticking to a curfew. Helen and Jake take the opportunity to ask Jane for some insight into Daria’s life because she’s “so hard to talk to.” To her credit, Jane is reluctant to disclose anything that might be seen as betrayal by her best friend and she puts down the ground rules of “maximum three questions, no betrayals, immunity to prosecution.” This whole episode really re-enforces Jane’s independent nature and her loyalty as a friend.
An earlier episode in Season 2, See Jane Run, is the first real test of Jane and Daria’s solid friendship. We already know from season one that Jane enjoys running, and to Daria’s surprise she decides to join the track team. She spends a lot of time training and hanging out with the team, and Daria starts to feel sidelined, to the point where she purposefully embarrasses Jane in front of a guy she ‘appreciates’ in order to get a reaction. We get the impression that Daria misses having someone around to exchange witty one-liners with, and that Jane doing something so ‘jock-ish’ has thrown Daria’s own sense of self into doubt. Their friendship reaches its potential breaking point when Jane accepts an academic exemption for in order to be able to stay on the team (in layman’s terms, she got a bye on a maths test).
It’s not until the guy she ‘appreciates’ calls Daria a loser that Jane realised that being on the team was corrupting her integrity. The gym coach tries to blackmail Jane into staying on the team, but Jane threatens to call the three local news stations and tell each one that the other two are running the story. By the end of the episode, Jane and Daria have both apologised for the way they treated each other, but we have gained insight into the ways their personalities differ. So many writers (and people in general) assume that groups of women and close female friends share a hive-mind and agree about absolutely everything – Daria and Jane are a fantastic example of writing that refuses to play into this mindset.
Jane and Daria’s friendship is tested again in the final episode of Season 3, Jane’s Addition. This is the episode where she first meets Tom Slone, and her wit and forward personality means the two hit it off right away. She goes off with Tom to get a burger, leaving Daria at a grunge club with Trent.
Later, when Tom runs into them at the Pizza shop, Daria is rude to the point of being outright hostile to someone who she sees as an interloper. Jane seems completely perplexed as to Daria’s attitude toward Tom, but Tom can tell what’s going on. He finds Daria and explains that she’s all Jane really talks about, and that she’d have to be pretty stupid to think anybody would shake their friendship.
If only he knew.
By the end of this episode Daria concedes to being nicer to Tom for the sake of Jane’s happiness, and Jane seems to be optimistic about the situation.
We go through most of season four with Daria and Jane often accompanied by now-regular cast member Tom. While they’re still best friends, Jane definitely has less time for Daria in Partner’s Complaint and there is a definite strain on their friendship caused mostly by Daria’s resentment of Tom. Their friendship is once again solidified in Antisocial Climbers, when the two girls get lost in a blizzard during a hiking field trip.
Jane: I think this could really be it!
Daria: What are you talking about? Just keep walking. We’ll find our way.
Jane: I don’t know, Daria. This is bad.
Daria: Listen, I’m sorry I gave you all that crap about your boyfriend.
Jane: Well, I’m sorry I embarrassed you all those times in front of my brother.
Daria: I feel like we should say more.
Jane: I know. That was kind of pathetic.
Daria: Um… I’m sorry my parents didn’t stop at one child.
Jane: I’m sorry they added those ugly blue M&M’s. (pause) Better?
Daria: I’ve made my peace.
Their friendship is restored after this, but at around I Loathe a Parade we notice cracks forming in Jane’s relationship with Tom. In episode eight, Psycho Therapy, Tom gets angry at Jane for installing a webcam without telling him. In the next episode, Mart Of Darkness, she gets mad at Tom for eating her art supplies. To be fair, her art supplies were gummy bears.
Daria: So Tom ate your gummy bears, even though he knew you needed them for the statue. That was pretty inconsiderate.
Jane: Well, now that I think about it, I may not have actually told him they were for my statue, but he should’ve known!
Daria: Definitely, since they were probably right there, next to your paints, unless he eats paint, too.
Jane: Um, the gummy bears were in a bowl on the kitchen counter. But, they were in plain view of my statue! (she stops walking) I don’t have a leg to stand on, do I?
Daria: I’d rather not answer that, Stumpy.
In that episode we learned that Jane has a tendency to create petty arguments rather than addressing real issues in her relationship with Tom. These issues are explored a few episodes later in Fire!, when Daria’s dad, Jake, sets the house on fire. Rather than share a hotel room with Quinn, Daria retreats to Janes house. Here we see Jane and Tom’s differences on display as they discuss going to the movies – Jane wants the visual effect of exploding eyeballs while Tom’s more into Fellini. Daria and Tom have been getting along a lot better lately (ever since I Loathe a Parade) and Jane is torn with the idea of Daria staying, but she can’t let down a friend in need. So when she walks in on Tom and Daria having a long conversation about The Prince’s influence on Lenin, Trotsky and Ms Li, this has the dual effect of playing on her insecurities in her relationship as well as her insecurities of her own intelligence compared to Daria’s. She finally says to Daria, “You’d never do anything to hurt me?” and is assured that it’s all good unless she grows long red hair and keeps a lip gloss database (i.e., turns into Quinn).
It all comes to a head in the very next episode, Dye! Dye! My Darling. Jane gets Daria’s help with dying her hair with blonde stripes. Daria keeps saying that she’s the worst person for the job, but Jane insists. The results are as one expects, and Jane accuses Daria of screwing it up on purpose to take Tom away from her.
Jane admits later that she should never have made Daria do it, and that she’d been trying to ‘bring the whole thing to a head.’ This is a side of Jane we haven’t really seen until this season, but it’s a highly relatable one; the habit of working out problems by being passive aggressive rather than direct is more common than people like to admit. Then, once the dust has settled…. Tom kisses Daria.
The season ends with them being the type of friends that can’t stand the sight of each other.
Between seasons four and five is the movie-length special “Is it Fall Yet?”, set during the summer before Daria and Jane’s senior year. Daria and Tom start dating and Jane spends the summer at an artist’s colony. Most of her fellow artists seem to be pretentious and dismissive of Jane due to her age, not to mention sycophantic toward the camp instructor (voiced by Dave Grohl, FYI). Luckily Jane meets Alison, a down-to-earth, tattoed artist who is on the cusp of forging her own career. She’s the person Jane wants to be in the not-too-distant future, but Jane’s hopes of maybe having found someone who appreciates her work are dashed when Alison tries to sleep with her.
This is pretty much the only time that Daria addresses same-sex relationships, and it doesn’t go that well. Jane turns Alison down, protesting that she’s straight, and is freaked out that somebody would hit on her so aggressively. She also begins to question her own sexuality, admitting to Alison that the incident confused her, but this is wrapped up very quickly when she realises that Alison may have just been telling Jane she gave off ‘gay vibes’ to get into her pants. Alison hooks up with the douchy art instructor, giving Jane some insight into the nepotism that permeates the art world to which she wants to dedicate her life.
Alison: He’s not so bad once you get to know him.
Jane: You said he went through more students than tubes of paint. You can’t possibly think he gives a damn about you.
Alison: Who’s looking for romance? I just want to have a little fun.
Jane: And if it’s with someone who can introduce you to a few gallery owners, that’s not so bad either, eh? I think I’m beginning to see how the art world works.
Alison: God, high school. It’s all such a big deal with you guys. You take everything so seriously. (leaves)
Jane: Like someone telling you give off gay vibes just because they’re trying to get into your pants.
It should also be noted that the scenes with Alison hitting on Jane, as well as the conversation above, were censored and cut when aired on The N, a network aimed at tweens. A few years later The N began showing episodes of Degrassi: The Next Generation that tackled issues similar (if not more adult) than the ones edited out of the Daria episodes, so it’s interesting to see the way some attitudes have changed since 2000. Perhaps if Daria were made today it would have had more episodes with characters coming to grips with their sexuality or gender identity. We can only hope, right?
Anyway, Is it Fall Yet ended with Jane and Daria finally talking about “The Tom Thing.” Jane reveals that she isn’t so much hurt that Tom left her for Daria, but that Daria would pick a guy over their friendship. This, to me, is a welcome change to the usual love triangle plotline – it focuses on the girls’ friendship rather than portraying stereotypical bitchy backstabbing.
Jane’s strong sense of self and identity often clashes with her urge to try new things. In the season four episode The F Word, Mr O’Neil tries to teach his students that failure isn’t the end of the world by making them attempt something they know they’ll fail at. Jane picks being conventional and is thoroughly depressed when she’s invited to join the cheerleading squad. Her ability to fit in so easily simply by dressing differently shakes her confidence so much that she considers actually joining, but during her tryout she has a change of heart when she imagines Tom and Daria at a football game…
Leading to quite possibly my favourite exchange ever:
Brittany to Kevin: Babe, you wouldn’t believe the cheerleader who auditioned yesterday. She got scared and lost all her bouncity-bounce.
Daria: You had bouncity-bounce?
Jane: Drop it, or I’ll have to kill you.
These desires clash again when Jane meets Nathan in season five’s Life In the Past Lane. Nathan is a guy who dresses retro, is in to swing music and is nostalgic for a “the beauty and elegance of post-war American design,” explaining that “People had a sense of timeless style and civilised decorum back then.” Jane starts dressing retro too, insisting that it’s just a bit of fun, but when Nathan complains that hanging out with Daria and Tom isn’t his scene, Jane starts to realise that the relationship is very one sided and that Nathan cares more about his image than he does about her.
This is a really important episode for the series, because it points out that even someone with a strong sense of self can be swept up in the heady excitement of a new relationship. Many people, particularly teenage girls, go through at least one relationship where their opinions aren’t valued and their decisions aren’t respected. This one-sided railroading of the other’s needs and wishes is often a warning sign of a potentially abusive relationship – it’s not outward aggression but the subtle erasure of who they are as a person. Jane learns a valuable lesson here, and if the series had continued they might have been able to explore this theme further.
While Jane has more social skills, it’s no secret that Daria is the academic of the two. It’s often mentioned that Jane gets straight C’s in maths and that her “language arts” (ie English) grade isn’t too hot either. This doesn’t faze her too often, but in season five’s Prize Fighters the insecurities that stirred during her relationship with Tom come to the surface again. Daria, Jodie and Chuck are all competing for a college scholarship, and Daria is conflicted about buying into the system. She goes to Jane for a sounding board, but Jane is too busy feeling like an underachiever that she lashes out with sarcasm instead. The episode ends with the conversation below, which is a reflective nod to how much the two characters have changed over the last few years.
Daria: Why were you so anti-scholarship?
Jane: No reason. Except maybe…seeing the big brains compete for a prize based on their academic achievement – well deserved, don’t get me wrong – might possibly have made little Janey feel a bit…I don’t know.
Daria: Left out?
Jane: Look, I’m good at the things I’m good at. Grades isn’t one of them. (sighs) We never used to think about stuff like this.
Daria: I know. What’s happened to us?
Jane: I don’t know. Selling out?
Daria: Buying in?
Jane: Joining the system?
Daria: Being co-opted?
Jane: Maybe we’re just getting older.
Daria: Yeah, I felt a twinge of osteoporosis when I woke up this morning.
Speaking as someone who went through most of their schooling with a best friend who was a wiz at academia, learning that their achievements in no way diminish your own is a huge personal turning point. Going from being envious to genuinely proud of your friend’s achievements takes introspection and appreciation of your own strengths. Jane’s strengths lie in her art.
Jane’s evolution and expression as an artist is key to her character. Rather than just saying, “oh and she paints” in a transparent attempt to give their character some depth, the writers actually succeed in giving her depth by exploring who Jane is as an artist. She doesn’t just enjoy painting and drawing, she is passionate about making art her life and her career. We learn this as early as the fourth episode of season one, College Bored, when Jane imagines what her college experience would be like. It involves spending the money on renting a loft space in New York rather than enrolling.
The episode Arts ‘n’ Crass explores Jane’s artistic integrity; something which she and Daria share. The two of them collaborate on the design for a poster which depicts “Student Life at the Dawn of the New Millennium” (ah, remember the 90s?). The staff fail to stipulate is that the message needs to be positive, and the girls choose to exploit this loophole by depicting one of the more distasteful truths of student life – eating disorders. Their entry shows a picture of a beautiful girl, accompanied by a poem.
She knows she’s a winner, she couldn’t be thinner
Now she goes in the bathroom and vomits up dinner
When Jane and Daria refuse to change their poster’s message – and therefore refuse to censor themselves – the poem is changed against their will and entered in the contest against their wishes. They deface the poster in protest. Helen, Daria’s mother, manages to get the girls out of trouble with the administration (I’ll come back to this in the next entry about Helen and Jake). As Jane puts succinctly at the end of the episode, “The only way to save our work was to destroy it.” It would have been easy for the girls to make the changes, enter and probably win the contest, and many in their position would have. How strong is your artistic integrity?
Jane’s lust to let her art loose on a grand scale comes to the fore in season three. In the episode The Old and the Beautiful (discussed in my previous post) Jane signs up to run an arts and crafts class at the local children’s hospital and immediately has grand ideas. When Daria asks if the kids should be working with auto parts, Jane says “There will be no popsicle-stick picture frames in Jane Lane’s arts and crafts class! Tomorrow we’re making voodoo dolls of the hospital staff.” Later, Jane reveals that she and the kids are re-doing all of the wall murals in the hospital, turning all of the happy clowns with balloons into Mongol invaders wielding maces. Her murals are banned by the end of the episode, apparently because they painted an old-west scene that included a scalping, but her yearning for a larger canvas remains.
Two episodes later, in Daria Dance Party, Jane opines that “these itty-bitty canvases just don’t do it for me. How I long for a medium grand enough to do justice for my inner torment!” When she volunteers to help Quinn organise the school dance, Jane is positively gleeful when she says that “A thousand bucks can buy a lot of paint!” She transforms the school gym into a conceptual art piece, splattering the walls with paint in tribute to the untimely death to Jackson Pollock. It’s a huge hit, which is a plus.
In season five Jane learns that painting her original art keeps her sane. In Art Burn she’s hired by a gallery owner to paint re-creations of the old masters. Every time a painting sells she gets a commission, and while she enjoys the praise and monetary success at first she starts to suffer from “copying burnout,” and doesn’t want to paint anymore. This problem of “balancing our artistic statements with our bank statement” is something that every artist struggles with – how to do what we love whilst also putting a roof over our heads (or, in Jane’s case, pay for a new backyard gazebo). She eventually quits and goes back to her own works, and is much happier for it.
This leads us to the last ever official Daria story, Is it College Yet?, the second Daria Movie. Set after season five, this feature-length episode is about the tail-end of their senior year and the stresses of college applications. Jane’s ideas about higher education have changed somewhat since the first season – she wants to get into Boston Fine Arts College. She also applies to two state universities, but as BFAC requires a portfolio for submission she throws herself into her work with gusto. Unfortunately, she gets rejected from both state universities (presumably due to lousy academic scores) and her zeal to finish her BFAC submission completely disappears. Trent cheers her up in the most defeatist way possible –
Trent: No kidding. Who are these people to judge you, anyway?
Jane: What do you mean?
Trent: Hey Janey, if they could create art, they wouldn’t be teaching it.
Jane: You know, you’re actually beginning to make sense. Why waste four years learning a bunch of useless technique and theory I’ll probably just have to unlearn if I ever want to create my own style?
Trent: Works for me.
Jane: What’s the point of Lawndale State? Or even BFAC? Galleries won’t care if I have a degree. In fact, I bet most artists don’t go to college.
Trent: Why would they? Unless they wanted to avoid the draft… or their parents made them… or they followed some girl there… or they were showing a movie… or…
Jane: I’ve come to a decision. I’m not going to college.
Trent: Good plan.
Jane: You and I will pursue our muse together, hunker down here in our creative bunker, periodically issuing forth new works that will invariably rock the art and music worlds, respectively.
Trent: Hmmm. This isn’t going to require of me to get up for breakfast, is it?
Trent probably has a point here, however he’s off the mark in not encouraging Jane to submit to BFAC anyway. Luckily Daria calls Jane on it the next day, pointing out that she shouldn’t make rash decisions about her education based on temporary disappointment. She also says that Jane shouldn’t let rejection make her afraid to try again, a lesson which Daria had learned just a few episodes previously (discussed in our previous post, for those playing the home game). Jane isn’t the only one dealing with rejection at this point – Daria has been denied entry to Bromwell, her first choice of schools. Tom got in mostly due to his family ties, and offers to get his parents to write her a recommendation letter, which she refuses in favour of maintaining her pride and going to Raft, her second choice.
Jane: I couldn’t paint anything decent with that application hanging over my head, anyway. Believe me, that portfolio would never have gotten me into BFAC. (laughs) Que ironico, the minute the pressure was off, I started doing some really interesting stuff again.
Daria: So it’s the old “reject them before they reject me.”
Jane: Yeah, the same thing you’re doing with Bromwell.
Daria: I was already rejected by Bromwell.
Jane: So was I. By State U and Lawndale State.
Daria: But you told me you don’t care what their sucky art departments thought of your work.
Jane: Really. They’re so sucky they didn’t even ask to see it.
Jane: They didn’t ask to see any of my stuff, so I didn’t send any.
Daria: Wait. You get rejected by schools that don’t care if you have artistic talent, but the one that does care, you decide not to go for?
Jane: For the same reason you’re not gonna let the Sloanes write a letter that might get you into Bromwell, even though you wouldn’t have to lift a finger. Rejection sucks. You said so yourself.
Daria: I’ll make you a deal. If I prostrate myself before the Sloanes and ask them for that letter, will you finish your portfolio and send it to BFAC?
Jane: God, Daria! You must really think I have a shot.
Daria: And all I had to do to convince you was offer myself up for a round of thoroughly gratuitous humiliation.
Jane: Well, I guess I wouldn’t be much of a friend if I deprived you of that. You drive a hard bargain, Morgendorffer, but you’ve got yourself a deal.
The end result is that Daria still doesn’t get into Bromwell, but Jane got into BFAC. Luckily Raft is in Boston, so they can meet up on weekends and complain. Trent also apologises for not encouraging Jane and for calling her a sell-out, admitting that he was really going to miss her.
Jane evolves on so many levels throughout the show without betraying who she is at her core. This is a stellar example of exemplary character writing – she grows into adulthood by learning about life, love, and how to focus her own artistic goals. She and Daria learn from each other, forging a lifelong friendship in the process.
Wow! That was a long one! Congratulations for making it all the way to the end.
That’s it for Jane, but come back next week as we track the character evolution of Daria’s mum, Helen. Until then, keep creating your art and don’t give up!