Jodie Abigail Landon, Queen of the Negroes.

Latoya Peterson pens a love-letter to Daria on the day the series was released on DVD, noting that today’s MTV couldn’t produce such sharp fare:

The series’ complex web of teen life is almost impossible to imagine in the demographic-obsessed media market that has emerged since, when so many personalities gracing MTV direct all their contemplative energy toward the nearest tanning bed.

Latoya’s piece includes some reminiscing over what Daria meant to her, and I found myself nodding along to much of what she wrote. I, too, went to high school concurrently with the Daria crew. Plus, LP mentions in her piece that my Twitter avatar is Jodie, Daria’s over-achieving black friend, and explains why so many of us can relate to Jodie:

While Jodie didn’t rack up as much screen time as other members of the “Daria” universe, her predicament was powerful: being a minority in a majority white school, her longing to just be herself rather than a representative of her entire race. A lot of us — particularly brown viewers — could relate to many different characters, but it is Jodie’s need to be everything to everyone that speaks to us most. As we entered the workforce, we found that the story didn’t end in high school, and that those of us who were black would spend our lives proving we were good enough again and again. In the TV movie that served as the series finale, “Is It College Yet,” we see Jodie engaged in a battle for her future — tired of wearing the mask of perfection, she lobbies her rigid father for the right to attend the predominantly black Turner College, where she feels she can finally just be Jodie, and not have to worry about what white people will think. Her father disagrees, believing that a more prestigious (and white) university would be a better choice. Jodie wins the battle — to spend four years just being herself — but many of us who had our first taste of the real world understood that for Jodie, this would only be a brief reprieve.

The following exchange between Jodie and Daria during season two episode “Gifted” pretty much sums up why I loved this show. The teenagers had self-awareness that never reached annoying Dawson’s Creek levels; two female characters could have a conversation that had nothing to do with boys; and Jodie could cop to her frustrations about being The Smart Friendly Black Girl and have those frustrations acknowledged by a peer:

Daria: Look, Jodie, I’m too smart and too sensitive to live in a world like ours at a time like this with a sister like mine. Maybe I do miss out on stuff, but this attitude is what works for me now.

Jodie: Then you’ll understand what works for me now. At home, I’m Jodie. I can say or do whatever feels right. But at school, I’m the Queen of the Negroes. The perfect African-American teen. The role model for all of the other African-American teens at Lawndale. Oops! Where’d they go? Believe me, I’d like to be more like you.

Daria: Well, I have to admit there are times when I’d like to be more like you.

Jodie: Really?

Daria: I’m not saying all the time.

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18 comments to Jodie Abigail Landon, Queen of the Negroes.

  • Damnit, Shani! I was trying not to buy this. I even held it in my hands remembering how much I loved Daria but thinking “I can’t afford this right now”. Reading this makes me want to run right back to Best Buy.

  • keke

    Yes yes yes! I used to live for Daria, and I was so upset when MTV stopped making new episodes. It was such a smart show and I cannot wait to purchase it.

    But thinking back on this show really highlights the void that is on MTV and network television. Do teens have shows similar to Daria that are smart, funny, reflective and witty?

    I don’t watch but I wonder if Glee fills that void. I’ve heard that it is a good show, but I have also heard that it is a little more campy, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

    But even though Daria was a cartoon, I loved it and I could relate. I remember my high school sociology teacher used to talk about Daria in class all the time.

    • Lila

      One of the big differences between Daria and Glee is the audience. When Daria was on MTV, I remember the only people who seem to like the show were teenagers who could relate to the show’s characters.

      Glee on the other hand, has a much broader demographic. Teenagers and their parents watch the show, and relate to the characters in different ways.

      I don’t think glee fills the void of Daria, but I do think some of the shows themes are revolutionary. Just the discussion alone about using the word fa**ot is something that would have been taboo when us 20-somethings were teenagers.

  • When I first watched the quoted exchange between Jodie and Daria in the late 90s, I couldn’t believe the show’s writers would go there. Not because it’s especially edgy or challenging, but because most shows and movies simply don’t bother to explore that particular aspect of blackness. That includes “black” shows, so seeing it expressed so elegantly on a show whose target demographic was undoubtedly mostly white really stuck with me.

  • keke

    also, so funny to think that Daria was a spinoff from Beavis and Butthead…another show i used to watch. The days when MTV really meant something. the days when it was not trying so hard to be something….it just was ( if that makes any sense)

    or maybe im just getting old…..

    • you’re fogeying right now. MTV never meant anything, it’s just that you’re not the target demo anymore.

      • TMA

        @G.D.: Long time reader, first time commenter. I have to respectfully disagree with you. While MTV may seem frivolous in its current incarnation, it wasn’t always so. I think a show like Daria is a testament to its (former) ability to really offer something substantive, new, and different to its demographic. Yo MTV Raps was a show that brought hip-hop and rap to the mainstream and to non-urban locales like the one in which I grew up (for better or for worse, but that’s a whole ‘nother conversation); this was a time when hip-hop/rap was seen as “noise” and/or some kind of niche black specific genre of music. I remember watching the first season of The Real World. It wasn’t the sad parody of itself back then; it did actually seem to be very true to life…young people trying to achieve their dreams and not whore themselves out for easy money or their 15.5 minutes of fame.

        Anywho, I may in fact be in the process of becoming an old fogey without realizing it. However, I know that Daria really spoke to me and many others…other folks who were younger, the same age as, and older than those featured on Daria. And looking at old clips (and, very soon, the series on DVD), to echo Latoya in her piece for Salon, it’s still relevant in 2010. So, I don’t think it’s just “fogeying” that prompted Keke to say that MTV used to mean something. I do think they produce inferior shows today. But it’s also in line with lots of pop culture. Just my $0.02.

        • okay, let me rephrase: judgments on the relative worth of MTV’s fare are colored by the fact that we’re not the target audience any more.

          • shani-o

            Remember this was the same time MTV ran Undressed, y’all. That was a terrible show (I thought it was hot when I was like 15). Daria was an anomaly even at the time.

            • While you are correct GD about us not being the target audience (I’m actually under 35 so I’m on the fringes), but neither was my father, who at the time enjoyed Beavis and Butt-head, The Real World and Liquid Television–primarily because all three were aberrations in relation to the typical television programming of the day. Beavis and Butt-head predated the sardonic wit of Adult Swim, The Real World reality TV and Liquid Television was on the avant-garde of short-form entertainment which is now dominated by the internet.

              Although MTV’s target audience is the high school and college set there is something universally attractive about the passionate insouciance and blissful naivetĂ© of youth that we all experienced and at times get nostalgic for. When I pop on MTV to see “what the kids are into” I am disappointed, and GD you’re probably 100% right…I’m watching through the filter of my youth and subsequent burgeoning adulthood…which no doubt colors my perception.

              The evolution of MTV’s programming can be attributed to the rise of the CBS Corporation (formerly Viacom) which now controls all of the CBS entities and its offshoot oddly enough called Viacom (confusing, I know) controls VH1, MTV, BET and Paramount.

              • TMA

                I guess MTV no longer sets trends (see: showing videos of black recording artists, reality television, mainstreaming rap), they just follow them…with disastrous results.

                Also, does this mean as my “demographic” continues to change, I’ll basically only be able to understand/tolerate/watch court dramas and the History channel in another 30 years? Can’t wait for that. Ha!

                • Good point TMA, at one point they were the avant-garde, now they’re frequently late to the party. It may be their job to clean up the gritty aspects of a subculture and prepare it for mass consumption.

  • Xay

    @keke

    I’m a big fan of Glee, but Glee is no Daria. It has glimmers every now and then, but doesn’t come close.

    • McDevite

      As someone who watched both Daria and Glee, I passionately LOATHE Glee. I can’t speak directly to Mercedes as character–though I think she did describe herself as “sassy” recently, which was awkward–as a gay guy who grew up in a fairly conservative school, Kurt is the Ur-un-Jodie.

      Partially this is a function of Glee’s writing staff/style, but part of it’s just bad. Every gay kid I knew at high school had a fairly complicated relationship with “passing” such as it was and expected masculine/feminine characteristics, and a fairly horrible time with choosing, or not to, fit in. Obviously, Glee’s Lima Ohio is not Colorado in the early oughts, but it’s close enough, and it’s grating how poorly handled this is, given that sometimes the show can show a good touch at the misery and isolation of small townness.

  • Sigh. Daria saved my life during junior high and high school. And Jodie’s reasoning for wanting to go to Turner (*cough* Howard *cough*) was a direct reflection of my decision to go to an HBCU, after having been in predominately white schools since I was seven years old.

    And there’s no way something as clever and witty as Daria would air on the current iteration of MTV. No way. Guess I’ll be going to Best Buy on Friday to pick up the DVDs.

  • That exact exchange between Daria and Jodie is why I loved the show, too. Can’t believe it’s on the same network that brought us “The Hills” and Snookie’s poof.

  • It seems Adult Swim has stepped in to fill the void left by MTV in regards to witty sardonic and topical humor with shows like The Boondocks, Metalocalypse, Aqua Teen and the like. These shows, much like Beavis and Butthead or Daria seem almost invisible to older generations. The subversive bits are lost on them as all they see is pathological humor and Dadaist-like absurdity.

    Most of the programming on today’s MTV is carefully staged and meticulously manipulated and it seems there is no effort to disguise the smoke and mirrors. Anyone ever watch their dating shows or the current incarnation of The “Real” World which seems like a co-ed version of America’s Next Top Model. But this crafted artifice is really nothing new…just check out an episode of Dobie Gillis or Patty Duke…they portrayed a superficial view of teen life in the 50s, but the reality was just as gritty as it is today.

    Remember, if they carefully control the type media the disposable-income set consumes they can control spending habits. Yes, it is cynical, but it make sense. Teenagers are easily manipulated because they have a very limited frame of reference to draw from. They are literally told what to think by friends, parents, pastors and the like.

  • rikyrah

    I loved Daria. this makes me go down memory lane, and I guess it’s going into the ‘ buy pile’.

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