Daria: A Character Development Masterclass, Part 2 – Jane Lane

Jane Lane

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.

 anigif_enhanced-8413-1393959090-20

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.

images (2)

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 Lane Family

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.

See Jane Run

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).

See Jane Run 2

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.

Jane's addition

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.

The antisocial climbers

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.

(pause)

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.

Mart of Darkness
“Nothing says you’re sorry like a herb grow roadkill”

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.

Dye, Dye My Darling!
“The tiger turned out to be more of a penguin with eczema.”

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.

Is it Fall Yet?

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?

Daria and Jane make up

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… Tom and Daria

Jane the Cheerleader
Cheer cheer cheer…

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.

Nathan

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.

Jane's art space
“I used the money my parents saved for college”

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?

 Arts n Crass

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.

Daria Dance Party

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.

jane sunflowers

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:  Trent!

Trent:  Huh?

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.

Daria:  What?

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.

 Daria Jane

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!

Dariajane

Daria: A Character Development Masterclass, Part 1

In last week’s blog entry, I discussed the common film and TV tropes used to depict female characters in replacement of actual character development. The result of these cliché’s is two-dimensional characters and the alienation of much of your potential audience. It is difficult to enjoy most pop culture, especially geek culture, after coming to the realisation that the creators really don’t think of you as an audience at all. But there are some shows and movies that I keep coming back to and watching over and over because they don’t alienate women. I’ve decided to dedicate the next few blog entries to these productions.

Our first example of fantastic representations of women and character development: Daria.

Anybody who has known me for longer than ten minutes is aware of how much I adore this show. Originally a spinoff from Bevis and Butthead, Daria could not have been further from the B&B manifesto. In a rare display of cognition, the MTV executives came to the conclusion that there wasn’t a show in their line up that appealed to teenage girls, and as such they were losing a lot of potential viewers in their demographic. The program debuted in 1997 and was a huge hit, running for 5 seasons and two made-for-TV movies. It gained fans of all ages and genders – indeed, an acquaintance of mine once told me that everyone in her office would down tools when Daria was on during the 90’s.

The show is set in Lawndale, a fictional town in middle America in the same vein as Springfield or Riverdale – a “Joe Everytown”, if you will. It’s mostly populated with the white and middle-class, however there are quite a few episodes which tackle class divide and racial tokenism. The first episode involves Daria and her sister Quinn on their first day at their new high school, presumably having moved from the B&B town of Highland. The girls are asked to take a psychological exam to determine how well they will “fit in” at the school, and after refusing to give non-sarcastic answers to the councillor, Daria is forced to take after school “self-esteem classes”, where she meets Jane. The line “I don’t have low self-esteem,  it’s a mistake… I have low esteem for everyone else” was the first real identifier for her character.

Within the first few episodes we have met not only Daria and her family, but also the extensive supporting cast. By the end of the final movie we get to see just how much every one of these characters has grown and changed over the last few years. The show is more than just the story of two misanthropes surviving high school, it’s a master class in character writing and development. (It’s also a showcase of the best music from the 90s, provided you can get a hold of episodes with the original soundtracks.)

daria2-1

DARIA. The titular character, Daria was the misanthropic misfit that so many people could relate to, at least on some level. Smart and sarcastic, we spend the first few episodes observing the world from her outsider point of view. Daria is a writer, and her knack for observation rather than participation is key to her writing style. This all comes to a head in the final of season two, Write Where It Hurts. Daria’s English teacher, Mr O’Neil, tasks Daria to write a story using people she knows. We see each of Daria’s attempts played out through the episode, but none of them seem to work for her.

tumblr_llxwf0lbf41qfb41mo1_1280

It’s not until she has a conversation with her mother that she finally writes something that feels ‘true.’

Helen:  How about describing what you’d like to see, honestly?

Daria:  What do you mean?

Helen:  Daria, the easiest thing in the world for you is being honest about what you          observe.

Daria:  And…

Helen:  What’s hard for you is being honest about your wishes. About the way you think   things should be, not the way they are. You gloss over it with a cynical joke and nobody finds out what you really believe in.

Daria:  Aha! So my evil plan is working.

Helen:  If you really want to be honest, be truthful about what you’d like to           happen. There’s a challenge.

Daria:  When the hell did you learn so much about me?

Helen:  It’s a funny thing, Daria. You give birth to someone, you just get an urge to keep tabs on them.

Daria then finishes her assignment by creating a story about herself and her family in the future, where she is a successful columnist and her sister has grown up considerably. Her mother and father have both retired and have mellowed out. It’s sappy, but it’s one of the first times we get to see what Daria wishes would happen rather than just her colour commentary.

ep213

They continue her development right away at the beginning of season three, in Through A Lens Darkly. In this episode, Helen gets Daria to try wearing contact lenses under the pretence that they’ll be better for driving. She agonises over the decision because her glasses are tied into her persona of not really caring what other people think of her.

 Daria_Nightmare_Fuel_808 

Daria:  Suppose you were well known for not caring what other people think of you, and then suddenly you did something that showed maybe you do care a little about what other people think of you. Would that invalidate everything you’d done and said up till then and make you a hypocrite?

Quinn:  Daria, you’re giving me a headache!

 Her aunt Amy points out that contacts just give more options, and that they’re no more vain than primping in the mirror. They wouldn’t change her values or her personality, so why not give it a try? Daria tries the contacts and gets a positive reception at school, reinforcing her view that people judge more on appearances than they like to admit  (she even manages to convince the dopey quarterback, Kevin, that glasses actually make you smarter). She takes the contacts out at school because they prove to be too painful to put up with, but as she’s walking home she gets more positive feedback from Trent. tumblr_ky41unQQZW1qamvsno1_r1_500The next day she goes to school without contacts OR glasses. When Jane finds out that Daria came to school blind out of sheer vanity her response probably wasn’t the most sensitive. “This is great! You want to borrow my lipstick?”

Later in the girls bathroom, Daria has locked herself in a stall. Both Jane and Jodie try to convince Daria that she’s a teenage girl and doesn’t have to be a martyr to principle, but with no success. It’s not until cheerleader Brittany comes in and says that “knowing that a brain can be worried about her looks makes me feel, um, I dunno, not so shallow or something. Like we’re not that different, just human or whatever”, that Daria finally comes to terms with her own vanity.

They continue along this line of character development in the very next episode, The Old and The Beautiful, in which Daria volunteers to read to senior citizens. When the old folks hear her voice they all refuse to let her read to them, instead begging for Brittany and Kevin. This would be a bruise to anyone’s ego, but as Daria’s voice is a key part of her persona it’s particularly painful. She tries to get advice on how to improve, but nothing helps until she reads to Mrs Blaine, a deaf lady who insists that Daria has ‘such a pretty voice.’ Daria then goes back to the home and reads her own stories to Mrs Blaine, who appears to thoroughly enjoy the graphic violence. Daria has finally realised that it’s not about what you read or how you read it, but the connection that you make with the people to whom you are volunteering your time.

Daria doesn’t get much development independent of other characters for season 4, but in the first episode of season 5 she is forced to test the strength of her personal principles in Fizz Ed. When the school needs more funding to pay for bullet-proof skylights, Ms Li signs a contract allowing soda companies to advertise in the school and directly market their product to the students. Believing (correctly) that a cola company using a school as an advertising venue is inappropriate, Daria tries to get Jodie to complain. When Jodie refuses, she points out that if Daria isn’t willing to put herself out there and properly protest on this one that she really mustn’t care that much. This forces Daria to conduct some introspection, and finally go and complain to the school district office. She is disappointed when this doesn’t get the result she was hoping for, but luckily the contract is reviewed when Ms Li has a nervous breakdown.

ep501

Daria as a writer is explored for a final time in episode five of the fifth season, The Story of D. Daria writes a short story and Tom encourages her to submit it to a magazine. She goes out on a limb, takes a chance and is ultimately rejected by the magazine, but not before most of the school learn that she submitted a story in the first place. Everyone’s well wishing and encouragement just makes the ultimate rejection more painful. She takes her anger and humiliation out on Tom, who is mad at her for giving up after just one try. She later realises that she was being a jerk and that Tom was just trying to be supportive. By the end of the episode, she has resolved to keep writing, because the alternative it giving up, and then what?

tumblr_nim8i9qqp41s26zcjo1_500

This is an episode which I relate to on a very personal level. Writers often talk about the pain of being rejected by publishers and agents, but it’s normally from a perspective of having finally made it through the gauntlet. This episode depicted the listless depression and frustration that is very easy to succumb to if a writer doesn’t have a strong support network around them. You’re not just being rejected for a job or by some hottie in a bar, which is mostly being judged on the surface, they’re rejecting something you have poured your soul into. They’re rejecting the essence of your being. The fact that Daria is able to process this, then pick herself up and keep plugging away after her first “thanks but no thanks” letter is a huge moment for a character who so rarely puts herself out there.

The rest of Daria’s development happens in her relationships with other characters, particularly with her family and Jane. Check back next week for the next instalment when we focus on Jane, Daria’s kindred spirit and everyone’s favourite fictional artist.

Until then, eat some pizza.

0003_pizza