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(Subscription required. Apologies, but it’s worth it.)
There is a reason I have been quiet lately. In phrases and allusions I have hinted at other explanations — work and travel and the busy-ness of a day job and pursuit of a creative dream and the demands of brokeness — but there is a truth lurking behind all of these, one harder to admit, one less acceptable than the promise and possibility embedded in so much doing.
I have been depressed.
There are reasons for this, too. Genetic predisposition, of course; it comes from both parents for me, the flip side of the alcoholism that other relatives have grappled with. I’m typically an optimist but I took Zoloft once before, eleven years ago, in between Caltech and Georgetown; at first it liberated me through a regular sleep schedule and enough energy to keep working out in spite of my calorie restrictions (I was coming out of anorexia at the time) but when I went back to school I slept seventeen hours a day and my roommate — my friend — grew concerned.
I’m typically an optimist but it is hard to stare down thirty marginally employed, pulling down less than 25k per annum, living on a friend’s couch and applying for food stamps, waiting for the next paycheck to get your phone turned back on. It is even harder to stare down thirty alone: I have tremendous friends and family but my brother and sister-in-law moved in August, six hours away by car where they were once twenty minutes, their presence offering roots in a place where I came as an adult, to build my own community. Persistent singleness grows tiresome in time but it’s a habit, too, and if depression makes writing difficult it makes the vulnerability of human connection harder still.
I’ve lived long with these same failures, romantic and financial and genetic, and the spur to this bout of I-can’t-get-out-bed-from-the-worthlessness was not only my looming Significant Birthday but also the comedown from my remarkable summer; specifically, the disappointments of America after Australia, even the small inhumanities of our society sharpened by witness of how easily we might live differently, if only we could choose it. And, as the government shutdown made all too plain, our inhumanities are hardly limited to the small.
The hardest truth is this: if a loaded firearm had been accessible to me during the month of September, I would not be typing this now.
Suicidal ideation (I majored in psychology, you see) is a new twist on the old story of my biochemical sadness. It flared briefly, the impulse only momentary, here and then gone; chased off less by my will to live than by my laziness, by all the complicated choices involved in ending one’s life. After last year’s shooting in Newtown we were besieged by ludicrous justifications for gun ownership — you never know who might come after you! — but the fact of the matter is that the most likely person to come after anyone is yourself. A gun safely stored, locked and unloaded, is no use against a sudden intruder; but the sneakiest assailant of all is our own darkest thoughts.
That a thirty-year-old with a college degree would be earning my wages would be laughable Down Under, but then, their minimum wage is set to fifteen dollars per hour; a living wage, one might call it, and it’s not even controversial. But I have chosen to wring my day job from the nonprofit life, to make myself cannon fodder for impossible ideals, to embody the values I was taught in a deeply Catholic household and at Catholic schools, imparted every Sunday at Mass (never missed, never in jeans) and over family rosaries — I thought this was all about love, you see, hope and charity and mercy and justice and love, love above all else. There is love on the front lines of social action, sometimes, bubbling through all the stress, the lack of resources or money, the judgment and the ass-kissing and the need, the bottomless, unending, unyielding need — the need of those whom society has forgotten to care about or for, which is more and more of us by the day, the elderly and the young, the black and the brown and the indigenous, the poor and the working-class and everyone but the rich.
What is so revelatory about Australia is not its difference from the US but its similarities — its culture of fairness is built not on the intellectualism of France or the secularism of Germany or the historicism of England or the politeness of Canada; no, much like America Australian culture is proudly stupid (and I mean that with affection), defiantly rugged, deeply individualistic. It’s where Rupert Murdoch got his start, after all, but he had to come stateside to make it big, stymied by Australia’s commitment to equitable and subsidized health care and higher education. Mass in Randwick was not apolitical but its call to arms was for compassion for immigrants, a blessed respite from the American College of Catholic Bishop’s seemingly endless years of dog-whistle (and often just blatant) politicking against not just abortion but birth control and health care reform. Somehow capital punishment and the violent, anti-human atrocity of America’s prisons — which make a mockery of Australia’s penal-colony heritage — never earn quite the same reproach as a woman’s desire to get laid.
Australia is not without its problems. It is not a perfect place. But it is a better place, and America could be too. Australians, as individuals, were friendly and funny and outgoing and wonderful, but then so too are many Americans — the people of America are not the problem; people in any one country are not inherently better than people in any other. But Australians have made better decisions, and built better systems, than we have.
From my nadir I reached out: to some local friends and to the many who live at a distance. If I believed in universal intelligence I would say that it responded to my need, emails from old friends appearing in my inbox before I could contact them first, and it is wonderful to have so many people to turn to but they are also disparate — writing from different states or coasts or countries, from so many different parts of my life. There is no coherent community to any of it and this is supposed to be a feature of modern life, not a bug. We are nothing but mobile now — not economically mobile, of course, because we have committed ourselves to income inequality and its gross consequences because capitalism! — but we can roam the country, move year to year or month to month; international borders are permeable and technology allows us to carry our social networks with us always. Our affections are mediated across screens and keyboards and cables, relationships etched in facsimiles and simulacra, emotions inscribed by hashtags.
It is not enough.
American society is mean. We have made it mean, by our own choices and by the choices of our parents; we have built something uncaring and resistant towards generosity. The structure of our culture and politics is to split community apart and what technology offers us in its stead is a shadow, a panacea, something less-good and less-effective and just plain less but which we devour anyway because the alternative might be that perfectly legal and fully loaded gun.
There are many justifications offered for this fundamental but not intrinsic meanness of America, especially that we are so many and so diverse; but open-heartedness knows no upper bound, and nobody’s love is finite. It is said to take ten thousand hours to develop a high level of skill and loving-kindness is, if nothing else, a skill — not a feeling, not a rule, but a skill which any of us can cultivate, if only we commit ourselves to its practice. Even the deepest-rooted community is impermanent, but amidst so much digital ephemera there is the clamor for something more and deeper and we can build it, together, if we would submit ourselves first to listening; a monument not to any individual but to our collective capacity for wisdom and compassion, a better and more loving society for everyone.
I have not written much lately but this is why I write now. The gap between the actual and the possible is yawning and painful but beneath the thousand tiny cuts of our daily injustices there is still such beautiful potential, begging to be awakened in each of us. It takes practice; it takes community; it takes reaching out; it takes kindness, not only to others but to our own hearts, to surmounting the deadly thicket of our worst selves.
But it is possible, manifest not only in social policy thousands of miles away but in friendly conversations on the bus and smiles on the sidewalks and hugs between friends, even hugs that look more like emails (or blog posts).
And in jokes, and stories, and all of those other things that I write.
I have not been posting much lately and I don’t know when I will begin posting in earnest again; not because I have nothing to say but because I have too much, too many irons in the fire, and for the past couple months the quietude of this space has felt like an accusation, just another indicator of my inability to get my shit together. But this truth is not so hard, after all: sometimes writing about the world as it is can be exhausting; sometimes other projects take priority, and those other projects can be sustaining, and by that sustenance we might once again find the strength to face the world head-on.
Tom’s “Daria” posts will continue apace. I’ll write if and when the impulse strikes. Others are welcome to share their voices. I am on a vacation of sorts from this blog, but I do plenty of other things. Have you listened to my X-Files podcast yet?
There is no longer any need for quiet. I am still here, and I am listening.
The economy forced employers to trim the fat from everything they possibly could — benefits packages, redundant employees, livable salaries for everyone — while still maximizing output. Even as the economy has recovered and companies are back to making better profits, they’re not hiring back all those workers that were laid off in 2008; they’re not reinstating benefits; they’re not increasing salaries. Why would they? We’ve worked incredibly hard to prove they don’t need to.
We are paid one third of a salary to do the job of three or more people. We’re told to do twice as much work with half as many resources. We’re told that we should know what we’re doing immediately instead of expecting or asking for training, even while we are constantly berated for not having enough experience or expertise. We’re often micromanaged by people whose credentials and abilities are astoundingly low given their titles, because they were less expensive to promote than the high-caliber workers who could mentor and teach us. We have to earn time off — not just paid time off, but time away from having to produce; time away from our smart phones; time to spend with our families or process what’s going on in our lives. We’re told that if we jump ship, not only will we be replaced immediately with someone eager to fit the bill, but our leaving will be a permanent stain on our resumes, and we’ll be docked points for the rest of our lives for being a “job hopper”. We’re told we should be glad to have a job at all, because there are starving yuppies in Brooklyn.
-words of a fellow Hoya on Medium
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the inhuman design of much of contemporary society, particularly in the US — by which I mean society designed around priorities other than human. We build streets (and towns) for cars; we design curricula for test scores; we organize corporations and policy around profit and economic expansion. Agriculture prizes cheapness. In theory, all of these advance the human condition in one way or another, but in practice such priorities become valued above the people whom they purport to benefit.
More to come, I promise.
How does the rest of the world view the government shutdown?
And right now, they look at the stalemate in Washington the same way they look at the periodic gun massacres that afflict the United States: with a bafflement that America, mighty America, for so long the most innovative, creative, energetic society on the planet, cannot solve problems that smaller, poorer, feebler countries cracked long ago.
America’s sense of its own exceptionalism is tied to its famed lack of international travel amongst its citizens. Visiting the rest of the world, one comes to recognize not only the things we as a nation do better than others, but also the myriad things we do so much worse.
Today’s post is from a guest writer! Tom Schneider is a friend of mine. He got a 1600 on his SATs, back when that meant two perfect scores instead of three mediocre scores, and he has interesting thoughts about things sometimes. Sometimes, he will share those thoughts here. If you crave more T-Schneid, follow him on Twitter:@RealCynicalJerk.
I’ve put a few entries in the bullet points of my previous posts tagged “Daria Timestamp Watch” (or some such, I may not have been consistent). Like any other work of art, Daria is a product of the specific time in which it was made. And while it isn’t particularly topical compared to, say, South Park, its setting does tend to put a bit more focus on the show’s temporal location. After all, it’s a high school show, and we all have a tendency to anchor our cultural tastes, our standards of propriety, and just our general idea of “normal,” in our high school years. This is the time when we first truly encounter the world – not as the amorphous series of tasks, rules, and mysteries which a child must navigate, but as a coherent, independent entity with which we must define our relationship.
Which is an elaborate way of saying that the two episodes I’m discussing today are about an internet cafe and a mall, respectively. And while there are still plenty of each, it has been years since either had a place in society like that shown in these two stories. So the questions I have are, first: what about these episodes remains timeless, and what does not? And second: Can I discuss all this without turning into “Buzzfeed’s 17 Raddest Things About 1997″? We’ll find out!
2. Recap (Café Disaffecto)
Short: Lawndale’s cyber café, alt.lawndale.com, is vandalized
Long: Mr. O’Neill’s class is studying Shakespeare, to Kevin’s dismay. However, Mr. O’Neill is more interested in the fact that the town’s cybercafe has been robbed (or is it the school’s cybercafe? It’s not really made clear). The students are indifferent, but Mr. O’Neill misinterprets a statement of Daria’s as a recommendation that the cybercafe be replaced with an actual coffee house.
At dinner that night, Helen hassles Daria about getting some extracurriculars for her college application, and threatens to send her to music camp. Cornered, Daria goes to Mr. O’Neill and volunteers to fundraise for the coffeehouse, and convinces Jane to join her by promising the opportunity to see the inside of strangers’ houses. Kevin and Brittany inadvertently solicit Mr. DiMartino for funds, while Quinn, unsurprisingly, proves herself to be a masterful fundraiser. Daria and Jane, however, find themselves forced to refuse an offer from Mrs. Johannsen, a morbidly obese woman who, before trying to buy their chocolate bars, informs them that her doctor has forbidden her to have chocolate, and then passes out. Ms. Li (not valuing human life above Lawndale fundraising), is displeased, and forces Daria to read some of her work at the coffeehouse in order to gain extracurricular credit.
At the coffeehouse, we see an array of acts: a scruffy (and seemingly in his late 30s) punk guitarist, a scene from Romeo and Juliet starring Brittany (and whatever-the-opposite-of-
Short: Quinn has discovered what amounts to the Holy Grail of shopping: the Mall of the Millennium
Long: Quinn wants to go to The Mall of the Millennium, a new “super mall” 100 miles from Lawndale. Her parents refuse, but Mrs. Bennett, Daria’s economics teacher, decides to take the class on a field trip to that very mall (she was inspired a stray remark of Daria’s). The class (which conveniently includes all the main characters we’ve met so far), takes the long drive out to the mall. Mrs. Bennett finds herself a bit overwhelmed by the size of the mall, but is distracted by the “Fuzzy Wuzzy Wee-Bit” (Beanie Babies. They’re Beanie Babies) Shop. The students then gather for a “presentation” which turns out to be a thinly veiled, uncompensated focus group. The mall executives atone for their deception by handing out gift certificates to random stores.
Mrs. Bennett (belatedly) assigns the students actual tasks, and they all split up. The Fashion Club (who are not in the economics class, but have cut class to go to the mall) decides to offer a makeover to a random teen, and choose Daria, mortifying Quinn. Daria extracts favors from Quinn to refuse the makeover, then accompanies Jane to Scissors Wizard (for which she has a gift certificate). However, Scissors Wizard is not the scissors store Jane was hoping for, but rather a hair salon. They then proceed to Daria’s store, the Doo Dad Shop, where Daria is the 10,000th customer (she’s not thrilled). Daria and Jane catch a ride home with the Fashion Club. Next morning, their parents announce that they’ve decided to treat them to an outing to… the Mall of the Millennium.
You know, now that I look at these episodes, I realize that really what stands out is that, while the internet cafe and mall settings do identify Daria’s time period, they do so in a strictly negative sense, by defining what it isn’t. Daria takes place in a post-mall, pre-internet world. In Café Disaffecto, the internet cafe is destroyed in the first few seconds of the episode, and not visibly mourned by anyone (even Mr. O’Neill only seems to like the idea of an internet cafe). And in Malled, all the sympathetic characters hate malls, and the Mall of the Millennium* itself is portrayed as a virtual dystopia. This was a very brief period in pop culture history; Mallrats came out just two years before Daria premiered, and Napster was released just two years later. But in Daria’s universe, ALL gatherings of people, whether on the internet or IRL, are suspect. Integrity can only be found in individuals, and individual relationships. Just look at the credits: they consist almost entirely of Daria excusing herself, Bartleby-like, from participating in crowd activities. This was the Golden Age of Slacking, where the cultural ideal was a person who (with the unique clarity of youth) had not only seen through society’s hypocrisy, but also resigned themselves to its inevitability. You can’t change the system, you can only withhold your participation.
In fact, the action in each episode is kicked off by the exact same scenario: Daria struggles to avoid participating in classroom discussion, and when she reluctantly speaks up, is not only punished by being forced into extracurricular activities, but is told that it was her own idea. Daria finds herself forced to patronize an old-fashioned coffeehouse and an ultra-modern megamall, both testaments in different ways to an idea she has rejected, the idea that two heads are better than one, that collaboration and community bring out the best of all of us. This pro-community viewpoint is as old as history, and to be honest, it has been overwhelmingly dominant (for every Emerson or Rousseau, there are a dozen Twains and Voltaires). But while Mr. O’Neill would see an enormous difference between the philosophical interchange of the coffee house and the economic interchange of the mall, Daria herself sees all intercourse as fundamentally weakening, a dilution of the pure indvidual spirit into the indistinguishable and amoral morass of public opinion. To what extent is this a factor of the time period, and to what extent is this just normal adolescent solipsism, Holden Caulfield Syndrome? Since I was a solipsistic adolescent myself at this time (I am, very roughly, 3 years older than Daria, but between the show’s production schedule and my own somewhat arrested development, we were essentially peers), I’m unable to say. I can only say that Daria and I were of the same mind at this time, and we had no trouble finding validation for our beliefs.
*or, as history will refer to it, the Willennium
The focus group scene in Malled is interesting as an example of the era’s political atmosphere, and in how it positions Daria in its Teen Comedy genre. But I think what’s most interesting about it is the relationships, specifically between Jodie, Daria, and Jane. The strength of Daria, even in mediocre episodes like this one, is the deep understanding of its characters and their relationships, and we can see this in the different, yet complementary ways that the three take down the mall executives. To recap:
-Jane is the first to speak, and is to an extent the Id to Daria’s Ego and Jodie’s Superego. She obstructs the executives (by providing absurd answers to their questions) not to advance any cause per se, but just because she’s read the room, and she knows that she can get away with it. (In many episodes, Jane’s anti-authoritarian lines will be delivered in aside, to Daria, but she speaks directly to the executives here.)
-With the ice broken, Jodie poses the question: “Do you think our demographic can really be addressed by middle-aged middle managers telling us what’s fun to buy?” <As an aside, whoever transcribed this for Outpost Daria inserted a stage direction at this point: (the executives are silent; they obviously never expected to deal with a kid in possession of a functioning brain)>
-Daria then points out that they should be getting paid, and while the grownups splutter, points out to Jane that the wall is a two-way mirror.
-Jane turns out the lights (announcing out loud that she’s doing so), revealing the other side of the mirror.
-Jodie obliquely threatens to start a media scandal. When the executives offer her a coupon, Jane non-obliquely responds “Don’t insult her.”
-When the executives offer a $10 merchandise coupon, Jane bids them up again.
-When the price is met, Daria says that there’s a principle at stake. Jodie says that there isn’t, and Jane doesn’t even bother to say anything as she heads off to grab her coupon.
These characters are fundamentally very similar. They’re all three intelligent, not super-popular but comfortable in their position, obedient but unafraid. And yet there is no point in this scene where any one of them could be swapped for any of the others.
Jane is the amoral one: she talks back to amuse herself, she turns out the lights to amuse herself, she takes whatever fee she can negotiate, and she feels no responsibility towards Daria.
Jodie is the realist. She knows her advantages and her weaknesses, and those of her opponents. She doesn’t talk back to amuse herself, she does it to gain a strategic advantage. She knows that her media threat is largely a bluff; these executives have their own strings to pull and would have a decent chance at hushing up any fuss she managed to stir up. So she takes what she can get, cashes in, and moves on.
Daria is the moralist. She doesn’t want money; she knows her parents have more than enough, and she already has enough guilt over her subconscious refusal to examine the source of her own financial well-being. She just wants to not be contributing to the system any more than she has to. But as it turns out, you have to contribute a lot. That’s why it’s the system.
5. Bullet Points!
-I can state from personal experience that high school English teachers of the late ’90s fucking LOVED the idea of coffee houses. And now that I’m in my mid-thirties, I agree with them.
-Café Disaffecto is the first script since the premiere credited to Glenn Eichler.
-Related point: I feel bad for cramming in Café Disaffecto in with Malled, when Café Disaffecto is the vastly superior episode
-I feel like this show (like most in the genre) oversells the intelligence of teens, but doesn’t really undersell the intelligence of adults. Mrs. Bennett takes 20 or 30 teenagers to a giant mall, by herself, and doesn’t even have much of an idea of how they can actually learn anything once they got there. And everybody signed off on this.
-Although, DID everybody sign off? Malled has a LOT of plot holes: the Morgendorffers are apparently unaware that Daria took a trip to the Mall of the Millennium, even though they must surely have signed a permission slip for it. The mall is clearly identified as being 100 miles away, even though that clearly means that the economics class must have missed all their other classes for the day, which seems like a lot for Mrs. Bennett to pull off on a whim. And is the Fashion Club really all cutting all their classes for the day to spend two hours driving each way to the mall? And how can Daria and Jane skip out on the bus ride home without Mrs. Bennett noticing? Daria isn’t overly concerned with plausibility, but this episode is more than usually problematic
-I love that the Mall of the Millennium describes itself as “the world’s second or third largest mall.”
-Related to my discussion of sexual harrassment in my last post: Upchuck cops a feel from Brittany, which is definitely a case of the character not being fully developed yet.
-But what’s endearing about Upchuck is his non-discrimination. He makes a pass at Mrs. Bennett, though she doesn’t notice.
-Daria Timestamp Watch: beyond the mall/internet cafe aspects, there are a couple very dated references: Fuzzy Wuzzy Wee Bits / Beanie Babies, and “Animal Maulings on home video”, a clear reference to When Animals Attack! My favorite sentence from the Wikipedia entry on Beanie Babies: “In 1998, English authorities seized more than 6000 [counterfeit] Princesses and Britanniae”
-Jodie and Mack are both politically aware, but in a faintly resigned sense, as when Jodie asks Mack whether they would be damaging “Dr. King’s memory” by moving to the back of the school bus to evade Kevin and Brittany (who are getting MUCH more intimate than would have been allowed in any school bus I’ve ever been on).
-Where does Upchuck get his winning ways? Well, his dad asked Upchuck to buy him bikinis for his secretary.
-Tiffany’s voice is still all wrong, Stacey’s is only slightly off.
-Has any store every actually awarded anything, or even acknowledged, their lucky 10,000th customer? It’s a common trope, but I’ve never once heard of it happening in real life.
-One of my favorite things about the Fashion Club is that their fashion tips are always, like, insane. Mandarin collar? Skort set?!
OK, fine, here are the 17 Raddest things about 1997*:
17.) The last scene of Con Air
16.) Gwen Stefani doing pushups
15.) The Palm Pilot. Fun fact: I have actually written programs designed to interface with a Palm Pilot.
14.) Dancing Baby
13.) The Fifth Element. I stand by it.
12.) Jamiroquai’s hat
11.) The fact that somehow, for some reason, more people cared about Princess Di’s death than any other death in human history before or since
10.) Lillith Fair (top-grossing festival of the year!)
9.) My last day of high school, when me and Ben and some other classmates went out in the woods and burned our school uniforms.
8.) The Bittersweet Symphony video
7.) Jackie Brown
6.) MMMBop. It’s been 16 years, and you’re still going to have that song stuck on your head now that I’ve mentioned it.
5.) How do you like them apples?
4.) I get knocked down! But I get up again! Na na na na gonna keep me down!
3.) Oh my God! You killed Kenny! You bastards!
2.) OK Computer. It’s a cliche for a reason.
1.) Daria, obviously!
*Editor’s Note: Also, X-Files.
I’ve been negligent in my linking duties around here lately. Chalk it up to a summer of adventure.
And now, some of the backlog:
- Taking stock of the two-state solution.
- A morning-after HIV pill exists.
- Remember when big-box booksellers (Borders, Barnes & Noble) were the bad guys, destroying independent booksellers? Well, now that the independents have stabilized as a niche market and Amazon has wiped out both Borders and most of the ambiance of book-buying, paeans to the spirit of Barnes & Noble are a thing.
- There is lead in hot sauce. You will pry my Tapatio out of my cold, dead, lead-crazed hands.
- Feminism 101.
- Edward Snowden and the NSA: how we talk about his actions (and what that implies about the legality of the NSA’s program); the woman who got the word out on his behalf; and an overview from an ally.
Today’s post is from a guest writer! Tom Schneider is a friend of mine. He got a 1600 on his SATs, back when that meant two perfect scores instead of three mediocre scores, and he has interesting thoughts about things sometimes. Sometimes, he will share those thoughts here. If you crave more T-Schneid, follow him on Twitter:@RealCynicalJerk.
The Eichler Principle, as explained in my last post, is that Daria takes place in an alternate universe, where women are stronger than men. This naturally leads to a lot of subtle ramifications, and one of the more fascinating is the show’s treatment of sexual harassment.
It’s not as if such harassment doesn’t exist in Daria. Quite the contrary: a fair percentage of Daria’s male characters are creeps who regularly attempt to sexually coerce women. In fact, if you just look at the peripheral, single-episode male characters, damn near all of them meet that description. The difference is that, in Daria’s universe, men are simply unable to coerce women. Women are perfectly capable of fending off unwanted advances, and both sides know it. Women are insulted by creeps, sure, but never scared by them.
Short: Helen and Jake insist that the girls take a college prep class
Long: The Morgendorffers visit the home of some friends of Helen and Jake, who have already begun prepping their 3-year old daughter for college admissions. Stunned, the parents insist that the girls take a college prep course, which turns out to include an assignment to go on a campus visit. Helen and Jake decide to take the girls to their alma mater, Middleton College. There, the family gets split up when Helen and Jake suddenly run off to see Jake’s old dorm room.
Both Helen and Jake make various efforts to fit in with the college kids, with results ranging from “awkward” to “breathtakingly inappropriate.” Helen gets asked for her panties by a frat pledge, and is initially flattered, until she finds out that she was chosen because her panties are big enough to be seen from a distance, when flown from a frat house flagpole. Jake, meanwhile, goes to the bursar’s office and is stunned to find out the cost of tuition.
Daria and Quinn, along with the tour guide, visit fraternity row (at Quinn’s insistence). There, Quinn is mistaken for a Theta pledge, and plays along without hesitation. Daria heads back to the tour guide’s dorm room, where she discovers that the guide is paying big money for mail-order term papers, and offers to do better work for her at a lower rate. Word spreads, and she spends the afternoon helping college students with their homework (and cracking wise, of course). The tour guide suggests they go to a party, where they find that Quinn has been elected “Keg Queen.” Meanwhile, Helen and Jake have enlisted the campus police to find their daughters. They arrive at the party, and all four are immediately kicked off campus.
The next day at the college prep class, the students recount their various experiences. Back home, Daria’s paid homework scheme gets busted. As Jane and Daria discuss recent events at the pizza place, Quinn turns down the amorous advances of their college prep teacher.
Sexual harassment is all over this episode. The most jarring example is the college prep teacher’s pursuit of Quinn. This is not the first example, nor is it remotely the last, of someone behaving toward Quinn in a way that seems like it should result in a firing at the very least, if not jail time and a life on the sex offender registry. He asks Quinn to meet him outside of school to discuss (I swear I’m not making this up) a “making out scholarship.” And Quinn’s parents don’t object! (Granted, this is partly because it’s not entirely clear at the time whether it’s a joke, and the conversation quickly moves on. But still.) This leads to the tag on the episode, when Quinn throws a drink in the teacher’s face upon learning his real intentions. If the viewer was dismayed by the lack of concern from Quinn’s family (her parents may have been oblivious, but Daria knew perfectly well what he was up to), we now see that the family was unconcerned because they didn’t need to be. Quinn, who is no more than 15, finds herself out alone with an adult man who is pursuing her sexually, and what does she do when she realizes this? Does she get scared? Does she run away screaming? Does she stay quiet and try and find a non-confrontational way to disengage? Nope. She throws a drink in the creep’s face, and storms off without looking back.
The theme continues throughout the episode. Quinn and Daria’s college fantasies both involve creepy or threatening men, and Helen looks back nostalgically at being catcalled during her college days. In all this, there is exactly one character that is threatened by another’s advances, and that character is a man. Specifically, Helen takes a break from searching for her missing daughter (!) to aggressively flirt with a freshman in a desperate attempt to recapture her youth. He grows increasingly flustered, before abruptly running away, which is exactly what Quinn does not do in the same scenario.. Now, to be clear, this theme is not emphasized or underlined in the episode, the way I might make it sound. In fact, according to Glenn Eichler, this was all still subconscious on the writers’ part. All these encounters are just written as gags, and frankly, not all of them quite work on that level (the show is still finding its comedic voice a little bit). Whatever themes are there are the ones that are inherent in the characters from the beginning. But when you step back for a second, and consider a world where women can intimidate men, but men can NOT intimidate women… well, you start wanting to write dozens of blog posts to try and explain what a strange and extraordinary thing it is.
In the college prep class, the students are invited to fantasize about what they expect out of college, and the results are, naturally, revealing:
Kevin simply imagines himself wearing his football uniform on a college campus, until the actual football team walks by, all significantly bigger than he is. He quickly restarts his fantasy, this time imagining himself suitably tall and strong. A beautiful woman walks up and thanks him for some flowers, which he says his high school girlfriend sent to him. Next, Brittany fantasizes about being named Miss College; as she is walking down the runway, Kevin desperately proposes marriage from the crowd, but is hauled away by security. It’s funny: before starting this project, I had remembered Kevin and Brittany’s underlying hatred for each other as something that slowly developed throughout the series, but clearly I was wrong, it’s there from the beginning. I’d also note that football is the only thing Kevin is any good at, and yet, he doesn’t have the body to make even a college team, and what’s worse, he knows it. Which is pretty sad, when you think about it, though for better or worse, Kevin never actually will.
Jane’s college fantasy is to skip college, spend the money on a New York loft, and pursue her art career. Jane has no interest in school, either for education or social life, and her only dream is to leave everything behind.
Quinn imagines finding herself assigned to a room with three male roommates: one extremely muscular man wearing nothing but a towel, one preppie, and one cowboy. Upon meeting her, all three immediately decide to fight each other for the right to date her. Really, they don’t even decide to fight, it’s simply taken as a given. This is the second time in the first three episodes that we’ve seen Quinn smiling beatifically at men fighting over her (her interest in cowboys will also be revisited). And getting back to my theme here, I have to emphasize that the three men are just massively larger than Quinn; she isn’t aged up at all in her fantasy, and the scene is staged so that we see the three men looming over Quinn, whose back is facing the camera. And this is her fantasy, not because she has a thing for danger, but because it simply doesn’t seem dangerous to her. And the same applies in real life: she has no problem convincing three large men not to play drinking games at a frat party, which you have to admit is impressive.
Finally, Daria imagines herself being invited to transfer to graduate school, in her first week, to teach, on their Paris campus. Which, even for an adolescent fantasy, is rather unrealistic (compare to Jane’s fantasy, which is at least not laughably implausible). Of course, Daria immediately undercuts her own fantasy: it turns out the professor only wants her transferred in order to use her apartment to bang “the more attractive students.” When Daria said “I have low esteem for everybody else,” in the premiere, this is exactly what she meant. She believes that, even if she reaches the absolute pinnacle of intellectual development and achievement, she will still be seen as nothing more than an obstruction, blocking everyone’s view of the attractive women.
5. Bullet Points!
-The episode establishes the show’s setting with a bit more precision. Middleton was established in 1776 (and the tour guide describes it as having been “a colonial religious college,” which, if it was founded in 1776, it wasn’t colonial for very long). Thus, the college, and Lawndale, must be somewhere on the East Coast. For a long time I was under the impression that this show was set in California, primarily because the weather always seems to be so nice.
-I loved the scene in the bursar’s office, where the bursar steers Jake to the Mafia for a student loan (“They sell candy. And make loans. Oh, and haul trash. They got a variety of interests.”). Which again, unsubtle, but I would point out that college financial aid departments really do work this way.
-Speaking of scams: Quinn gets accepted to a fake “college” that is in fact basically a time share in Florida.
-I wasn’t kidding about the show’s interest in status anxiety in my last post. Helen and Jake are clearly very intimidated by their friends, and uncomfortable in the fact that their house is clearly much nicer than theirs.
-Though note also that the house, while fancier, seems much less comfortable than the Morgendorffers’; it actually reminded me of nothing so much as a room Hildi might have designed on Trading Spaces (does anybody know where you can find old Trading Spaces online? I would SO get drunk and watch a random Hildi episode right now.)
-”Daria is more of a late bloomer, socially. And there’s nothing wrong with that, is there, honey?” Shudder. Why do parents talk about their kids in front of them like this? Will I do it if and when I have kids myself?
-The chalkboard in the college prep course identifies the course name as “Push Comes To Love.” Chalkboards in Daria are fun to keep an eye on. They don’t tend to have joke-jokes on them the way that, say, The Simpsons writes jokes for background signs. But thought goes into them nonetheless, and they’re reasonably close to what classroom chalkboards actually look like, semi-organized and free associated.
-Daria Timestamp Watch: Daria takes place in the very early stages of the internet. One of the geeks is writing an erotic letter to a female inmate he met on the internet. (“I think she’s female”). And yet, just across campus, other college students are still getting term papers delivered via snail mail.
-As somebody who’s done some flyering on college campuses in my time, I appreciated the bit where Helen puts up a flyer of her missing daughters, turns away for a second, and turns back to find the entire bulletin board covered with a fresh batch of flyers.
-When Jake learns about Daria’s paper-writing scam, he simply compliments her on her savvy in demanding payment in cash. It falls to Helen to shut it down.
-In case there was any doubt which side of the Kevin-Brittany relationship the show’s sympathy is with: in their college visits, Kevin gets stripped naked and covered in molasses, while Brittany takes part in a poetry circle, with people who express interest in her thoughts and feelings.
-Boy, Middleton sure doesn’t hold its tour guides to a very high standard, do they?
-Best lines: “I don’t stop you from reading, don’t stop me from this.”
-”She’s God’s problem now, kid.”
-”…or is this, like, personal advice or something?” (a rare zinger from Kevin)
-”Quinn… go… to beauty… school.”
-See you next time, with my first two-episode recap!
The culture of our world, right now, is crafted by little boys who only recall being stood up on their first date, and nothing they got after. They don’t remember the sand they kicked in other people’s eyes, only their own injuries. Our art is cynical and bad-ass and made by people who will not be happy until you join them in the church of “everything is fucked up, so throw up your hands.” This is art as anesthesia.
Our art is made in cities like New York by people who are running from other places. They feel themselves as misfits who were trapped in dead-end suburbs. They hated high school. Their parents did not understand. They are seeking a better world. And when they realize that the world is wholly a problem, that the whole problem is in them, they make television for other people who are also running, who take voyage in search of a perfect world, then rage at the price of the ticket.
Me: would you judge me if i started eating roadkill?
Jingles: dude what
why would do that…
Me: it’s just an idea
Me: get some good fresh meat for free
Jingles: that’s not a thing you need to do, right?
there are ways to obtain food
Me: well, yes
but what are the objections to eating roadkill?
how would it be different than eating hunted meat?
i mean, i would use caution in roadkill selection
Jingles: why not just hunt
why find gross, post collision animals
of random species
Me: hunting takes to much effort
eating roadkill is the lazy man’s hunting.
Jingles: well i’m pretty sure getting a 6 pack of chicken breasts from TJ’s is the lazy man’s hunting