There is a picture floating around the internet of Daria, the fictional character from the MTV 1990s cartoon show of the same name, cropped onto the body of Lil K’s infamous Hard Core album art photo. You know, the one where she squats, legs spread eagle?
I got a big kick out the reaction the picture has spawned from some people in my networking, who were left scratching their virtual heads about why so many of us “liked” this homage to two fem-positive symbols of the 90s. Lil’ Kim’s Hard Core itself stands alone in hip hop history for its brash and unapologetic delivery of black female sexuality. As for Daria Morgendorffer, it was her sarcastic and deadpan realism, which made her stand out the most in a world that literally drew female characters as one-dimensional boy obsessed trend bots – even if they weren’t cartoon characters.
Although I was already out of high school and through my second year of college when the television show first premiered, “Daria” became a television redeemer for me. Still much in my awkward phase (which I would come to learn wasn’t really a phase and just part of my personality), not many people understood or even appreciated my dry witted and sometimes ironic sense of humor. However there was commoradie in the girl with the round glasses and chunky black boots. She was smart, cynical and wasn’t the most fashion forward of women. She was the contrast to her homogenous community including her career driven mother and her bubbly, cheerleading younger sister Quinn. Her best friend was Jane, another outcast who was a bit on the Goth side but also was sort of a hippy too. Together, the two would stand around, usually outside of some space where the more popular kids were, and basically throw shade at everybody and everything in their upper middle class enclave.
Although I wasn’t exactly like the character, for me, Daria represented that kind of misanthropy, which can only come from always feeling like an actual outsider. It’s not easy being the square pegged girl in a sea of sameness, especially not for a black girl. I always found myself on the outs – sometimes it was through forced banishment and other times by choice. I hear traces of Daria in black women entertainers like Janelle Monae and Santigold. I see her visually in the forms of Issa Rae’s “J” and Aasha Davis’s Racey. And her voice is definitely ever presented throughout the black blogosphere, but there has yet to be a definite real life (or live action) Black Daria Morgendorffer to hit the scene. Okay, sure she is a cartoon but how come all of the real life representation of disaffected young woman only come in the form of Janeane Garofalo or Amy from the television show “Parks & Recreation”? The only non-white equivalent I can think of is Margaret Cho. But perhaps I’m missing someone?
One of the best things I loved about Daria was willingness to buck all sorts of social conventions, trends, and hierarchies, to walk in her own space in the world. When her sister was gaining popularity through cheerleading, Daria was at the school’s lunch table, reading books. That doesn’t mean she was a loser. The much popular kids, including her sister, while obnoxious, weren’t abusive to her. Strangely enough, most of the characters on the show actually seem to like and respect her. No, Daria is outsider but only by choice.
In addition to the Michelle Obamas, the Oprah Winfreys and Gabrielle Douglas’, the women we regard most for their positive attitudes, I think that young black girls need that sort of woman with unflinching cynicism about the world as a role model too. Someone, who won’t just go along with the façade of fairness or justice or even popularity just because it is the path of least resistance. Like in this clip of the show I found on online, in which a school counselor badgers Daria to share with the group her goals in life. Daria shrugs and says, “I don’t have any.” The counselor, probably taking Daria’s indifference personally, asks her again, to which Daria replies rather matter of factly, “My goal in life is to not wake up at forty with the bitter realization that I wasted my life in a job I hate because I was forced to decide on a career in my teens.” Burn!