Why I Could Give Two Hot Fucks About the Loss of Daria
Marisa Meltzer wrote an interesting and engaging piece analyzing television’s erasure of smart, funny female teen characters. While it is certainly true the absence of characters like Daria or Angela Chase is quite the bummer, it’s pretty much only a bummer for the females with the lived experiences these characters reflect: white, straight, upper middle class, educated, able bodied, cisgendered females. Daria, My So Called Life, Sassy and Riot Grrrl were all a part of the pop culture landscape during my late teens and early twenties, yet it was pretty clear they weren’t meant to reflect or include me. At best marginalized folks were presented as learning opportunities or tokens; at worst our existence was completely erased. Whenever I encounter this kind of analysis, I’m so confused. Characters like Daria aren’t any more nuanced; they’re just informed as such because of their race, gender, class and ability status. Any marginalized character possessing Daria’s personality and level of whine-age would be swiftly told to buy a ladder and get the fuck over themselves.
While I enjoyed Daria – because it was funny, only engaging in low level -ism fail – I didn’t understand what the hell Daria was whining about half the time. High school definitely sucks, but I bet it sucked a lot more for Juin Baize who was bounced out of the same high school as Constance McMillan. The way high school sucks definitely depends on where one finds themselves in relation to the kyriarchy. More importantly, for anyone possessing the level of privilege Daria enjoys, the experience of suck will be temporary. No doubt the Darias of the world move past the banalities – her chief complaint – of high school and into an adult world where they will be able to enjoy the full benefit of their class, race, ability and gender privilege. Whatever disappointments and reversals of fortunes experienced in high school will be swiftly forgotten as they are embraced by whatever highly selective, private liberal arts college they attend.
Perhaps the oddest thing about the deification of Daria is this: she whined tremendously without lifting a finger to dismantle the systems she found so distasteful. Again, marginalized folks, devoid of the level of privilege as Daria tend to engage in a lot more direct action, despite not having anything approximating the level of power Daria’s privileges afforded her! Marginalized folks don’t have the luxury of sitting around whining about low level problems, which are largely self created. Other than identifying the ways in which other people were problematic, what exactly did Daria do to facilitate real change? I realize, this dynamic is not exclusive to Daria, but since she’s been framed the blueprint of the kind of teenage girl character television ought reinvigorate, it’s a valid question to consider. Celebrating the kind of unexamined privilege possessed by this character and passing it off as something television needs more is really baffling. With or without alterna framing don’t we have enough characters like this?
Daria didn’t go away. She became Liz Lemon. She became every white, straight, upper middle class, cisgendered, able bodied female blogger afforded a platform to lament the loss of another representation of themselves. Instead of mourning the loss of another white, upper middle class, cisgendered, able bodied straight female character – in a television landscape riddled with them – why not actively work to create a television landscape reflecting the diverse lived experiences of all teenage girls, with characters who reflect the best qualities of Daria – smarts, wit and moxie.