Daria and Politics

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"So without further ado, I present to you a work in progress, a solo performance I call Nothing to Lose But His Chains: The Life of Karl Marx.

The political views of the characters of the Daria show is a frequent topic of debate among fans. Because Daria Morgendorffer herself is so thoroughly characterized as both cynical and sarcastic, and fully lives up to those labels, it is hard to know whether to take her seriously when she offers her "opinions." It is generally believed that she, like several of the show's major characters, has a mild leaning toward the political left. Her parents have much stronger liberal-leaning attitudes about politics, but even they have moderated their views since their teenage hippie years, and they are prone to change their opinions in conversation with others to be agreeable.

This article investigates what political attitudes various characters on the show are believed to have, based on canon sources from the TV series, the two MTV Daria books, the MTV Daria website, and scattered bits of material from the Beavis and Butt-head show. It also examines the political persuasions of characters in Daria fanfiction.

Daria's Politics in Canon Sources[edit]

In virtually every canon source available, Daria is outspokenly contemptuous of many aspects of late-1990s life in America. She reviles the middle-class way of life and its value system, mocks and challenges authority at every turn, and scorns her peers in every category from their intellects to their moral code. Her verbal barbs do not go unnoticed; Mr. O'Neill writes a letter to her parents in The Daria Diaries to complain about her disrespectful and wounding remarks, and Andrea confronts both Daria and Jane with the consequences of their sarcasm in "Mart of Darkness." One of Daria's most persistent nemeses, Angela Li, even gives Daria a special award at the latter's graduation in Is It College Yet? for "dazzling academic achievement in the face of near-total misanthropy."

Food for thought (CafePress)

It is noteworthy that most of those receiving Daria's barbs are not conservatives. Helen and Jake Morgendorffer, Mr. O'Neill, and many others are in fact political liberals whose excesses Daria mocks without end. She has, however, expressed mild respect for the ideals of the 1960s left wing in "That Was Them, This Is Dumb". In "Prize Fighters", she also expressed contempt for parts of the capitalist system in general and large corporations specifically, saying in an essay they were "fouling the planet and cheating their workers just to keep their stock prices pumped"; she was extremely put out to find the Wizard Foundation thought she was writing a spoof. She also showed distate for Wizard's hiring and promotion policies, which disadvantaged women and minorities. The "World According to Daria" essay "It's All So Taxing" has her ask "how does it help the poor to give enormous tax breaks to the super-rich". While dating Tom Sloane, she was also repeatedly at odds with the priveleges and assumptions of the upper classes (and would also jump to conclusions based on her own assumptions about Tom's class).

Daria's stated view on the education system in "The Daria Database" is: "I love learning. I just wish school weren't always in the way." She constantly focused her ire on the high school system, viewing it as full of stupidity and corruption at the highest level. The US college system was criticised for forcing students to "grovel" for scholarships to pay their way in ("Prize Fighters") and for the upper-class colleges being more focused on family connections than on student merit ("Is It College Yet?"). Despite these views, she genuinely wanted to get into college and pushed Jane to apply as well. In Beavis and Butt-head's "Citizen Butt-head", she asked President Clinton if he meant to get all kids a college education or if his promise had "just been jerking us around".

Her specific views on political issues and parties are rarely stated - we don't know what else she thought about Clinton (and she was horrified at the idea of Beavis and Butt-head talking to him). "The New Kid" and "The World According to Daria" are rare exceptions:

  • In "The New Kid", Daria gives two straight answers: that she's in favour of UN-mandated emission controls for developing nations but thinks the UN time table is unrealistic, and she feels trade embargoes are an effective way of dealing with human rights violations but that the US government "always finds a loophole" when it comes to major trading partners.
  • In "According to Daria" essay "Ms Softie", she snarks the 2000 presidential election as "inaugurating the guy who lost the election"; she thinks a proposedregulation of campaign financing will achieve nothing; and she says she'd stay out of politics because she finds party and campaign funding drives distasteful. ("trying to raise millions of dollars from the teeming sea of drooling idiots...")

For all her complaining, however, Daria is also known for doing next to nothing about whatever situations most irritate her. In "See Jane Run", while being aware of a corrupt grading system and being disparaging of it, she openly admits she hasn't done anything to change the system (for fear of "total teenage exile"). She is confronted with her lack of initiative on multiple fronts in "Fizz Ed," which finally forces her to take a stand against Ms. Li. The resolution is mixed but still favorable to the school's budget as well as to the students' sanity.

Daria's Melody Powers stories are highly violent anti-Communist stories, but it's likely she did this just to get at Mr O'Neill and to please the audiences hearing her stories.

In an off-canon canon interview with Women's Wear Daily, Daria said that whatever the problems of the "last thirty years... at least we got rid of Nixon".

In another off-canon canon moment, the final essay of The World According to Daria, Daria jokes that she'd appear on Becoming and "my dream come[s] true as I am transformed into Vaclav Havel, President of the Czech Republic". This may mean she is a genuine fan of Havel, a left-wing ruler who was famous for his political fiction & essays and was a key dissident against the Communists.

The Politics of Other Daria Characters, in Canon[edit]

Jake and Helen Morgendorffer[edit]

Both of them were hardcore hippies during the 60s, against the "rat race" and one time protesting outside the Pentagon. They show no real trace of their hippie past in the present day, and in "The New Kid" used "hippies" as a slur. In another episodes like "That Was Then, This Is Dumb", they had some secret shame for turning their back on their old ideals and Jake has expressed loathing over becoming a white-collar worker ("The Teachings of Don Jake").

In 1988, one or both of them voted for Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis and they still have one of his bumper stickers. ("The Daria Database")

Their current politics aren't really known, though Helen's job means she's had to defend some very dodgy clients indeed ("The Daria Diaries") and she puts up with it. She's expressed annoyance over what women have to go through in the workplace. Jake has some socially conservative views when it comes to his daughters, going into furies when he gets it into his head that boys are behaving badly, but seems unbothered by homosexuality or the concept that his daughters might be gay ("Lane Miserables").

Jake once tried to argue with Andrew Landon about "welfare cheats", only to get easily swayed to his point of view. Helen tried to calm him down and spoke out in favour of welfare. ("Gifted")

In the internal character bios for the production crew, seen in the Complete Animated Series DVD, Helen and Jake were given political leanings, as well as being hypocrits when it came to them. Helen was said to be "a little more obviously right wing" than Jake and a constant volunteer in the community, and "believes her work on the Coat Drive should exempt her neighbourhood from having to put up with the half-way house". Jake was said to "consider himself pretty liberal, but that's mostly just a sentimental, nostalgic view of his old self" and that he was now apolitical "unless something threatens his money, or a neighbour is running for the school board". Most of this wouldn't make it into the show itself.

A prescient image from The Daria Database

Angela Li[edit]

Principal Li is best known in the series for her grossly authoritarian and ruthless management style. While her character is generally acknowledged as being over the top for comic effect, the actual governing system she commands within Lawndale High borders on being a paranoid police state that glorifies both herself and the school, in that order. A school memo from her that appears in The Daria Diaries is highly revealing of her reactionary attitudes and practices, and she and other characters make numerous off-hand remarks in the TV series about the school being outfitted with hidden cameras and bomb-sniffing dogs ("Jake of Hearts"), polygraph machines ("Fair Enough"), and bullet-proof skylights ("Too Cute").

Even more revealing, and putting her character even further over the top, is a letter she wrote on school letterhead that appears in The Daria Database (under "Political Acumen"), ostensibly mailed to then-governor George W. Bush of Texas. She congratulates the governor for the large number of executions under his administration, and in a breathtaking display of cheek explains that she is attempting to acquire actual electric chairs from Utah and Texas—the ones used to execute Gary Gilmore and Karla Faye Tucker, respectively, though she will settle for a copy of the latter—to place in the entrance hall of Lawndale High as a deterrent to students who might "cut a class, fail to use a No. 2 pencil, or otherwise start down the long road to a squandered, felonious life." She ends the letter expressing a hope that Bush will run for president in 2000, a rather prescient comment given that the book itself was published in November 1998. One is left with the feeling that her political views fall somewhere to the right of most neo-cons.

Penny Lane[edit]

Penny is an activist who wants to fight against neoliberal economics and assist rural villages in Central America, and is constantly heading down there to set up arts-related businesses in the countryside. In "The Daria Diaries", she has it really in for the World Bank and people who become "a lackey of the [Central American] urban elite".

Despite all that rah-rah politics and far-left rhetoric, she can't be bothered to speak Spanish when talking to the Costa Rican Finance Minister in "Lane Miserables" and demands his government compensates her for a crafts stall during a volcanic disaster; and in "Diaries", she sneers at Nicaragua ("I hear they [Honduras] have a government") when things don't go her way there.

Anthony DeMartino[edit]

DeMartino has spoken in favour of respecting the war dead, remarking about the Vietnam War that "a lot of good men died in that war" and admonishing Kevin to "get the CENTURY right". ("Esteemsters")

Another time in class, when discussing US political philosophies, he referred to "the quote-unquote 'WELFARE state'" and the Republicans having "a more DARWINIAN approach", ("The Old and the Beautiful") which could be read as him being in favour of either approach. With his beatnik past ("The Daria Diaries") and his being head of the teacher's union ("Lucky Strike"), it could indicate he's left of centre.

His history exam in "Murder, She Snored" shows DeMartino detests Senator Joseph McCarthy, saw the Bay of Pigs invasion as an embarrassment, and believes the Marshall Plan "robbed Americans of their tax dollars" to pay Europe, with no benefit to Americans. The latter two indicate that he is an isolationist, and the McCarthy comment indicates that he is in favour of domestic civil rights - similarly, "The Lawndale File" had him burst out "Governmental thugs! This isn't Stalingrad!". He also views the Immigration and Naturalization Service as "glorified dogcatchers" (though to be fair, they did falsely arrest him).

Tom Sloane[edit]

Tom is often disparaging of his upper-class background and never seems bothered about Daria & Jane being from lower classes. At times, however, he has shown unconscious class privelege and has gotten defensive when she either points this out or assumes it exists in places where it doesn't.

In "Prize Fighters", he expressed contempt for Wizard's illiberal hiring policies and their mass layoffs for quick profits.

The Landons[edit]

Michelle and Andrew Landon have shown themselves to be generally conservative, with both expressing that they're anti-welfare in "Gifted" and Andrew admitting he uses "creative accounting" to get out of taxes. He also said the use of foreign child labour was justified because of the "welfare cheats" impact on taxes. In "Is It College Yet?", he complained tax cuts weren't high enough.

Andrew recognised Wizard's hiring policies but believed that, since the Foundation Prize existed, someone in the company must be trying to change them and that Jodie should apply to force them to recognise what they were missing out on. In "College Yet?" he wanted Jodie to go to an elite college and avoid Turner, a traditionally African-American college, citing that a Crestmore degree would help her better.

The Landons have contacts at Congressman Sack's office, as they were able to get Jodie a summer internship there. Nothing is known about the political allegiance of this congressman.

Jodie Landon is more left-wing than her parents, and has interests in forming community-based companies. She has referred to Ayn Rand as being "scary". ("Gifted") She's more willing to play the system than Daria, however ("Partner's Complaints", "Prize Fighters"). She has a pessimistic view on the state of Chechnya, doing a report on how the conflict "will certainly not be resolved in a period of months". ("Fizz Ed")

O'Neill and Barch[edit]

Both O'Neill and Barch are absurdist satires of parts of left wing politics: O'Neill is a walking amalgamate of new age 'touchy feely' teaching policies, and Barch of extremist feminism.

O'Neill is shown to be achieving almost the exact opposite of what he's trying to achieve as a teacher. However, this seems to be less because of his ideals - and "Esteemsters" makes clear that he doesn't actually understand them - and more because he's incompetent with them: notably in "Is It Fall Yet?", his attempts are failing because he's not taking on board what the campers are actually saying to him.

In "The Lawndale File", O'Neill has a one-man play about Karl Marx ready to go.

Politics in Daria Fanfiction[edit]

In Nick Gaston's "Inauguration," an older Daria is elected to the U.S. Presidency, implicitly as an independent. She is noted to have received less than half a million votes in Texas.

In "I'm With Stupid" from Disco316's series Fundamental Daria, Jodie Landon is the Republican Vice-Presidential candidate, with Kevin Thompson as the Presidential Candidate. The ficlet describes the proceedings at the 2032 GOP National Convention.

In "Politricks Are Not For Kids" by Brian Taylor, a middle-aged Daria and Jane are working for Democratic party President Tom Sloane as his 'fixers' who keep the party in line. Both Daria and Jane express contempt for most of the politicians in the party and opposition, who they view as dragging their heels on needed left-wing policies. Jodie, meanwhile, has become a high-ranking Republican.

In Roentgen's "Agenda", a new Civics class is started at Lawndale and work on a simulated nation-state to teach them about politics - with Daria breaking every last one of the political and economic rules.

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