Tag Archives: Helen Morgendorffer

Lessons In Mental Health And Outrage Culture From “Daria”

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How does anyone stay sane in this day and age? Between fake news, outrage culture, alternative facts, and the everyday struggle to survive in an economy being subsumed by tech companies, I don’t blame anyone for being a bit uptight. I envy anyone who can step back, see the bigger picture, and retain their sanity.

For some, it takes a special kind of strength, perspective, and mental toughness to deal with the totality of the absurdities in this world. Then, there’s Daria Morgendorffer from her remarkably-ahead-of-its-time TV show, “Daria.” When it comes to maintaining a level head while surrounded by the insanities of the modern world, she’s in a league of her own.

I’ve made my love for “Dariaknown before. I’ve even shared my excitement on the prospect of a new series. Every time I make the mistake of watching the news for more than two minutes, I find myself wishing I had her nuanced perspective. It’s part of what makes her character so enduring. She’ll see things for what they are, tell it like it is, and offer revealing insights along the way.

Earlier this year, research from Clinical Psychological Science indicated that mental health issues are on the rise among young people. Every day, it seems, a new mental ailment emerges from the evolving media landscape. While mental health issues can be serious, they can also be subject to plenty of absurdities.

As it just so happens, one of my favorite episodes of “Daria” tackled this issue in a way that’s more relevant now than it was back in the early 2000s when it first aired. The title of the episode is called “Psycho Therapy” and the lessons it offers are worth learning.

The synopsis of the episode is fairly basic. Daria’s mother, Helen, is up for a promotion. However, before the law firm she works at can consider her, she and her family are sent to a psychiatric center for personality evaluations. Hilarity ensue, but it’s Daria who ends up making the most astute observations, more so than the doctors on hand.

When Daria and her family first arrive, the staff is most concerned about Daria. Considering how she answered her survey with her trademark sarcasm, that’s understandable. However, when the doctors start to evaluate her and her family, they learn something remarkable.

Compared to everyone else in her family, she’s the most mentally stable. Even if you’ve only seen a few episodes of “Daria,” that should be pretty jarring. That’s not to say that she’s the picture of mental health, but according to the doctors in the episode, she’s the most well-adjusted. These are the exact words of Dr. Jean-Michael to Daria.

Dr. Jean-Michael: Daria, I was afraid you had some rather deep-seated problems. But I must say, you’re remarkably well adjusted considering…

Quinn: You’d think someone would’ve invented eye liner before me.
But no, I, Cleopatra, have to come up with all my beauty products on my own.
Oh, what a hard life.

In Quinn’s defense, she was hypnotized when she went on that incoherent ramble. Then again, Quinn Morgandorffer is probably the least defensive character in the show and would probably benefit from a healthy bit of therapy.

What makes this assessment more revealing is just how much Daria is surrounded by intense personalities, so to speak. I won’t go so far as to say these personalities are on par with mental illness, but they certainly walk the line. While that’s part of what makes these characters interesting, it also highlights an important concept that Daria Morgandorffer embodies.

At her core, Daria is a hardcore realist. She’s not a nihilist, a social constructionist, or an existentialist. She’s someone who sees both the surface and the forces just below that surface. From there, she makes a cold, calculated assessment that is devoid of needless emotional breadth, unless you count the sarcasm.

This is how she’s able to effectively break down the mental quirks of her parents, Jake and Helen Morgandorffer. Throughout the series, their relationship goes through a lot of atypical stresses. Just check out Season 3, Episode 10, entitled “Speedtrapped” for a clear depiction of those stresses.

On top of that, they both have some fairly eccentric personality quirks. Her mother is an incredibly high-strung, career-obsessed woman who constantly worries about how “normal” both her daughters are. Her father is an overly-dense, exceedingly histrionic man who always seems like he’s in the middle of a mid-life crisis.

Even a professional would have trouble making sense of their mental state. Daria does it in just a few short sentences.

Daria: Mom’s resentful that she has to work so hard, which obscures her guilt about actually wanting to work so hard. Dad’s guilty about being less driven than Mom, but thinks it’s wrong to feel that way. So, he hides behind a smokescreen of cluelessness.

Behind the heavy monotone and light sarcasm, this shows that Daria knows her parents. Given how they behave throughout the episode, she demonstrates that she actually knows them better than they know themselves. There’s even a scene towards the end of the episode where they try to mimic one another. It ends up getting pretty dramatic for everyone, except for Daria.

Helen: I mean Dammit! I lost another client! I can’t understand why! Dammit! Nobody likes poor old Jake. Should I think about the reason? Oh, must be my father’s fault. Where’s the newspaper, dammit!

Jake: Let me bring home the pizza. I have to be the one doing everything so everyone will thank me and tell me what a big superwoman I am. I’m very, very important and very, very stressed and I don’t have time to actually do anything for anyone else, but I can pretend I care, can’t I?

This is some pretty brutal honesty, even by “Daria” standards. They reveal some pretty unhealthy sentiments that probably need more than just advice and therapy. They reflect many of the quirks and side-plots that Daria’s parents experience throughout the show with Helen constantly obsessing over her career and Jake obsessing over whatever is stressing him out at the moment.

Daria’s ability to sift through all that and make a clear, honest assessment is both remarkable and refreshing. Even though these are her parents, she doesn’t pull any punches. Moreover, she doesn’t make any value judgments either. She doesn’t take sides or show scorn. She’s just tells it like it is. She says what the audience feels and does it in that lovable, monotone sort of way.

Her being able to make that assessment is profound. Doing so while maintaining mental stability is just as amazing. The fact she can maintain this perspective around personalities that range from ditzy cheerleader types like Brittney Taylor and touchy-feely teachers like Timothy O’Neill show why Daria is the emotional anchor of the show.

Back in the early 2000s, Daria’s knack for being level-headed while surrounded by so many bizarre characters made for great entertainment. Today, it acts as a radical departure from how we make sense of a world where every news clip, viral video, and hashtag is measured by the emotional outburst it triggers.

What Daria does in “Psycho Therapy” is something that has become far less common with each passing year. She makes a clear, concise assessment of other peoples’ behaviors and attitudes without casting judgement. She doesn’t whine about other peoples’ shortcomings or bemoan misguided efforts to treat them. She just points out the cold, hard facts and lets them stand on their own merit.

Contrast that with how every comment about someone, whether it’s in person or online, is laced with value judgments. You say you like video games and immediately, you’re judged as this angry fanboy who rages whenever someone dares to significantly change a particular aspect of your game. You say you’re a feminist and immediately, you’re judged as a man-hating bitch who blames men for every single ill on the planet.

It’s not enough to just have an opinion. It’s not even enough to have personal likes or dislikes. Everything you do and why you do it has to be an indictment on your politics, your identity, and the society around you. That’s not just misguided and judgmental. It’s mentally exhausting.

Being constantly judged, online and offline, every hour of every day is sure to be stressful. It’s no wonder why it seems as though more young people are development mental health issues. Daria may seem like the most unhappy person in her show, but compared to what some people deal with in the real world, she’s a picture of sanity.

At the end of the episode, it’s not Daria’s choices that lead to the resolution. All she does is provide commentary. It’s Helen and Jake, her emotionally convoluted parents, who chart their own path. That kind of lesson wasn’t as necessary in June 2000 when this episode first aired, but it’s one worth re-learning today.

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Five Things I Want From The “Daria” Reboot

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Last year, I wrote an article about how the classic 90s MTV show, “Daria,” is more relevant today than it was back when it debuted in 1997. That special brand of misanthropic monotone conveyed a harsh, uncompromising honesty of the world in a way that felt both genuine and endearing.

Well, it appears I’m not the only one who felt that way because according to The Hollywood Reporter, the newly-minted MTV Studios is looking to reboot the show as part of a push to reinvigorate the MTV brand that seemed to fade along with the appeal of boy bands. While I’m skeptical that MTV can ever become relevant again, I couldn’t be more thrilled at the prospect of Daria returning to TV.

I think I speak for many who watched that show back in the late 90s when I say that this world needs her. Specifically, it needs her critical insights into a world awash in fake news, alternative facts, and political correctness. There’s an entire generation emerging whose reality is shaped by their news feed on social media. It feels as though no one is even capable of seeking the truth anymore.

Daria doesn’t just tell the truth like she sees it. She says it in a way that is apolitical, unbiased, and relatable. She doesn’t criticize. She doesn’t have an agenda, either. She sees something she thinks is a farce and she points it out. At a time when every character needs to be an icon for something or someone, that’s nothing short of refreshing. For a character from the late 90s, that says a lot about our current state of affairs.

There’s a lot more I could say about “Daria,” both as a character and as a TV show. For now, I want to create a wish list, of sorts, for what I’d like to see in a “Daria” reboot. I know that’s a bit premature since MTV Studios is in the very early stages of making this happen, but I think the prospect of more “Daria” at this particular point in our history is exciting.

I know excitement is the last trait anyone would associate with Daria Morgendorffer, but I’m willing channel my inner Quinn to entertain the possibilities. What follows are five things I want from a new “Daria” show. I know any rebooted show is subject to reinvention, sometimes for the worse, but I believe if the new “Daria” delivers on these critical elements, it’ll be a success. It might even get Daria herself to crack a smile.


Wish #1: Build Daria’s Agenda Around Exposing Other Agendas

Let’s face it. Today, everyone seems to have an agenda and social media has given people a platform to pursue that agenda, even when they’re dangerous, damaging, and downright hurtful. In the late 90s, media outlets like MTV got a lot of flak for pushing bloated consumerism around bubblegum pop music and reality shows. Today, social media has created countless outlets for countless agendas of varying absurdity.

Daria Morgendorffer can set herself apart in this chaotic landscape by building her agenda around exposing other agendas. She could see right-wing talking points as just excuses to pay fewer taxes and be a dick to poor people. She could see left-wing talking points as utopian fantasies mixed with a pathological need to be outraged over something. With Daria, no agenda is safe.

In any show that would have her take part in the current climate, it needs to give her opportunities to see all this social masquerading for what it really is. As I’ve noted before, people have a frustrating tendency to believe they’re the hero of their own story. In Daria’s world, there are no heroes. There are no villains. There are just people.

That’s a harsh reality, but one Daria refuses to ignore. Her reminding people of that reality in any show would be both refreshing and cathartic, especially to anyone who is sick of people building their agendas around professional trolling.


Wish #2: Continue Daria’s (Unique) Growth From The Show

Throughout five memorable seasons and two made-for-TV movies, Daria’s character remained remarkably consistent. However, she did undergo her share of growth during that time. It was subtle, much more so than that of characters like Jane, Quinn, Helen, and Tom. However, that’s exactly what made it meaningful.

At the beginning of the show, Daria is already her anti-social, misanthropic self. She’s a teenager and a high school student, though. Teenagers go through changes. Even Daria isn’t immune to that. She developed her first crush, had her first serious boyfriend, and even improved her relationship with Quinn, a character who might have been the least likable person on the show.

The show ended with Daria graduating high school and going to college, culminating in one of the most memorable graduation speeches ever made. However, college is rarely the endpoint for anyone who survived high school, even someone as jaded as Daria. Any new show that expands her story should also follow that evolution.

Whether it takes place in college or shortly after, Daria always expressed a desire to get out of Lawndale and do something with her life that she wouldn’t hate. That’s a process a lot of people go through, but few could endure it with the same attitude or crass as Daria. That’s exactly why that story is worth telling.


Wish #3: Keep Her Apolitical And Unbiased

No matter how much she grew over the course of the show or what she encountered, Daria Morgendorffer may very well be the only character in the show, or in real life, who can call themselves truly unbiased. She doesn’t have a political affiliation. She doesn’t identify with one group or the other. She’s just Daria. Her opinions and leanings are her own.

That’s an important facet to preserve in any new “Daria” show. That may prove challenging, though. If you go by current stereotypes, Daria’s age and education levels put her in line with the kind of left-leaning archetypes that Fox News whines about every half-second. However, in terms of her overall worldview, Daria would be just as cynical about the MSNBC crowd.

The core of Daria’s politics is that all politics are stupid. Politics is just one big exercise in people gathering around others who think like they do so that they can rely on someone else to do the thinking for them. That is not Daria’s style. She believes in thinking for herself. Anything beyond that is a waste of time.

Moreover, her worldview is as simple as it is plain. The real world doesn’t care about your beliefs, your principles, or how hard you fight for them. The real world is harsh and whining about it doesn’t change anything. That would put her at odds with liberals, conservatives, and everyone in between. The idea of her getting into debates with some of the politically-minded trolls in the world would certainly be worth watching.


Wish #4: Give Her Supporting Cast A Chance To Support Her

Like any great character, animated or otherwise, a big part of what made “Daria” such a great show was its diverse cast of colorful characters. From her annoying younger sister to her uptight mother to her charismatic classmates, Daria was surrounded by a lot of memorable individuals who helped highlight just what a unique persona she was.

Daria’s closest relationships were with her friend, Jane Lane, and her family that could never understand her. To maximize the strength of her persona, those relationships should definitely be part of a new show. There can also be room for new relationships that put her in entirely new situations.

That may already be in the works. Within the announcement surrounding the possible reboot of the show, there’s a mention of giving Jodie Landon a significant role in the show. That has a lot of potential because Jodie was a great character who didn’t get a chance to develop until the last two seasons of the show. A new show could give both her and Daria new opportunities in a world full of new controversies.

Within the existing cast, there’s also potential for Daria to forge connections with characters other than Jane. There’s also potential to form new romantic entanglements. She does have the capacity for affection, despite what her demeanor may imply. In an age where romantic entanglements are fraught with complications, that could bring out the best in her and the worst in everyone else.


Wish #5: Put Her In The Middle Of Controversial Issues (And Let Her Work Her Magic)

The original “Daria” was a great show in that it didn’t take sides in a controversy or preach to the audience. In fact, those kinds of public service announcements would’ve been antithetical to Daria’s persona. She doesn’t think that it’s the job of other people, be they animated or otherwise, to tell you how to feel about an issue. That’s something you’re supposed to figure out for yourself.

At the same time, however, I felt as though “Daria” avoided too many major issues that could’ve helped make the show even more relevant. While it lightly touched on issues of teen sex and out-of-control consumerism, it didn’t get too deep into the kinds of topics that inspire hashtags and hate mail.

I think that worked well for “Daria” in the late 90s. I don’t think it’ll work as well in today’s hyper-political climate where a new outrage is just a click away. A new “Daria” show won’t succeed if it avoids hot-button issues like the anti-harassment movement, gender inequality, and an emerging generation that may end up being the most nihilistic of all time.

I’m not saying the show has to be built around those kinds of serious topics every other episode. Shows like “South Park” already do that. The biggest appeal to this show would be Daria offering her misanthropic take on those issues to help expose them for what they are.

I believe that there’s definitely a market for that kind of nuance in our current political climate. I also think there’s a growing need for a voice who can sift through the endless shit storms that get kicked up every day for one reason or another. Whether it’s something the President tweets or some dumb comment a celebrity makes, we all need a harsh, but sincere voice to speak the honest truth.


Daria can be that voice. I would still argue we need that voice now more than we did in the late 90s and early 2000s. I hope that this show, assuming it gets made, provides that voice. “Daria” was ahead of its time, as a how and as a character. It’s time we finally catch up with one another.

Daria” was a great show in that it didn’t take sides in a controversy or preach to the audience. In fact, those kinds of public service announcements would’ve been antithetical to Daria’s persona. She doesn’t think that it’s the job of other people, be they animated or otherwise, to tell you how to feel about an issue. That’s something you’re supposed to figure out for yourself.

At the same time, however, I felt as though

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