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.
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:
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?
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.
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.)
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.
(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)
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.
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.
Stacy has started her own little rebellion, and is learning to love herself.
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.”
Upchuck 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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
(Daria rings doorbell)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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)
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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 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.