Darias, This Is Our Moment
Like all things late-1990s, Daria is back. Well, not the show, exactly. Twenty-five years after the MTV animated series hit airwaves in 1997, a deadpan, ironic smart-ass attitude has been proliferating.
We saw it in winter TV hits like Yellowjackets, where the '90s girl protagonists sighed and rolled their eyes through near-death (or actual death) experiences. We see it in the vibe shift — which is definitely happening — and a widespread case of late-pandemic moodiness. Susie Lewis, one of Daria's co-creators who'd been a writer on Beavis and Butt-head before being asked to pilot the spinoff, confirmed the sentiment: "Emotions are running high and low and hot and cold these days, and you can always depend on Daria's consistent disgust as a source of comfort."
But the trajectory that has brought us to this deep-sigh inflection point goes a lot deeper than an obsession with nostalgia.
Late-aughts hustle culture was exhausting and bad for our health (see Hulu's WeCrashed for an embarrassing lampooning of anyone who bought into it). Then came the 2010s girlbossy self-care situation, a grueling era of personal health and hygiene as competitive sport. Now that many people are facing a return to the office — stepping away from their ring lights, late-morning showers, and 57-step mid-meeting beauty routines — there's an urgent need to stop calling attention to how much we're doing all the time. It has been too much for a while. People need to stop performatively performing and log off to stare into the middle distance like an animated character who doesn't have pupils anyway. Be the Daria you need to see in the world.
In a February article for New York Magazine, Allison P. Davis explains the vibe shift and wonders whether any of us will survive it. ("Survive" in the euphemistic "come out wearing the right kind of denim" way, to be clear.) Surely some of us won't, but Darias were built for this exact moment.
If you also self-identified as a Daria in the late-'90s, you were probably frequently told you were funny and understood it was meant as an insult. Or you were told you were smart and understood it was an invitation to do the whole group project. No matter! You silently grumbled your way into adulthood, and now TikTok exists and it's more popular than Instagram because it's less polished and more real. TikTok is Daria; Instagram is Quinn. (Facebook is Mr. DeMartino and his bulging eye. No question asked.)
"I do think there is a certain amount of realness and trust that Daria brings to the table," says Lewis. "She never wavers. She is consistently salty, sarcastic and bright. And to me, that sounds like what some of us might need right now."
There are several aesthetic shifts happening at the top of 2022 that prove a Daria sensibility has returned. All the denim is weird. Big, luggy boots. Wearing blazers for all kinds of situations (Daria was in high school; Emily Ratajkowski wears them walking her dog; these are equally illogical uses of suiting). Muddy browns, sleepy greens, and all manner of orange. Textures like corduroy and velvet; things that carry smells like old books do — reading books alone instead of being reachable on 57 apps.
Lewis says if Daria were still around, she absolutely would not engage on social media, but people want her to be there. Lewis fields frequent DMs on Instagram including fan art and says there are covers of the show's theme song all over YouTube. "I do feel like [Daria] is more popular than ever now. People seem to crave her comforting straightforwardness on all the stress we have endured over the last few years."
Other present-day things and people that exhibit new Darianess: The girl on TikTok who went on the 100-taco date. Haircuts that let your hair hang into your eyes. The sense that it's actually embarrassing to talk about your home workout equipment and how frequently you use it. Travis Barker being famous. Jacob Elordi, who looks exactly like Daria's not-quite-boyfriend, Tom, and refuses to acknowledge the fact that he's desired. Wearing skinny, black jeans again because you realized that fashion "deciding" they are "over" is actually meaningless. And, the entire WFH thing, which Lewis adds, Daria would relish were she Zooming among us.
"But her camera would never be on. Texting would be her main form of communication, once establishing that she doesn't have to answer texts with any immediacy." [Ed. note I would like to report an attack.]
So, yes, those of us who are Darias are in our moment right now, but there is also the possibility that the Daria cinematic universe will return to our screens. You can already stream the original on MTV, and there's a spinoff focused on Jodie (in '90s parlance, Daria's Black friend), who will be voiced by Tracee Ellis Ross. A Comedy Central press release from 2020 says the series will satirize Gen-Z work culture and the struggles young, Black women face today. I'm guessing it'll also feature Quinn as some kind of oil-shilling girlboss (Lewis: "Quinn is SUCH a girlboss!). If Daria's in it, I can only hope she's still in Jodie's corner, and living her truth one exasperated sigh at a time. She has known what she was doing all along.
Take Lewis, for example: "To this day, Daria remains my greatest creative achievement, my proudest work, and my daily reminder to trust my own creative instincts, no matter how different they might be from anyone else's." That, my friends, is the vibe.