Personality In Design: The High School Stereotypes in Daria
High school is a time to try on identities. You figure yourself out, honing your personality with fewer and fewer apologies along the way. At one point in high school, you’ve probably been called something like: stoner, weirdo, punk, loner, loser, jock, brainiac, or another label like that. Some of these names aren’t all bad, but most of them kinda sting at times. Those are all stereotypes of what high schoolers call or called themselves or what other people called them.
The students of Lawndale High are very stereotypical in how they act, speak and present themselves. No one should be defined by a label, but Daria’s character embody them—while also, somehow, developing their own distinct personalities.
Even though stereotypes are often looked at as a bad thing, in the world of Daria, it helps us love the characters even more. These characters are initially given to you on a silver platter with their obvious labels, but become more diverse and unique over time. We’ll take a look at some of these stereotypes and personalities and how they’re reflected in the character designs of Daria.
Lawndale High: Students
Daria has so many titles on her show that you have to narrow it down to what she really is. Daria has a limited amount of friends and no tolerance for her student population. She’s alienated and antisocial from her peers and she doesn’t care either way, although sometimes it does get to her. Most of her classmates give her the stereotypical title of a loser or, as she calls herself in an episode, “a misfit,” because they don’t really understand her. Daria is so much more than the “weird” girl or a loser. She’s a really big book nerd and a brainiac in the standards of today. She’s basically doing what every alienated high schooler from past to present tries to do in their everyday life: surviving high school as quickly and painlessly as possible.
This one may be noticeable for people who are into art. Even if you aren’t, if you’ve ever seen a Picasso painting, Jane is basically an example of any painting he’s ever done. She’s what we’d specify as an “art geek.” Her sharp features and very symmetrical face gives you a first look into the artist she is. Jane is an artist who specializes in every single medium that she can get her hands on, but loves painting the most. She’s very simple from her overall look down to her voice, but looking into her life, from her siblings to her parents, you can see how she personality screams artist to you from the very first look. Jane gives you that art kid high school stereotype, but they mix it up a little because instead of a bohemian look like the art teacher, Ms. Defoe, you get that simplistic artsy teenage punk look without the spikes and chains like her brother.
Quinn embodies the girl that you knew in high school that was wicked adorable, wicked attractive, beloved by all, but hide a brain underneath it all. She tries to hide that side away from her just to secure her popularity. Quinn’s case isn’t like her other “friends” because by the end of the series, she really does try to better herself into a better person than her friends. She’s the stereotypical girl who knows that she is so much better than her other popular friends and gives a damn about herself at the end. In other words, she would be the typical “popular girl” or “queen bee.” Quinn’s progressing character development proves that being popular isn’t all about looks and what boys you date, but how much you value yourself in the process.
Jodie Landon & Michael “Mack” Jordan Mackenzie
The two token black characters in Daria, but they don’t let that get them down. Jodie Landon comes from a successful household with a father that’s an entrepreneur and a mother that used to be a VP for a company before she gave birth to her little brother. She’s expected to be the best at what she does and to excel in an all white world. Jodie has the heavy burden of being, what she calls herself, the “Queen of the Negroes.” She outright acknowledges that there are no other black students at Lawndale High, made known when her and Mack keep getting voted Homecoming Queen and King. If Jodie is Queen, Michael Jordan Mackenzie or Mack is basically the “King of the Negroes.” He’s considerably smarter than Kevin by all means and Captain of the Lawndale High’s football team. Mack is the jock that means no harm to anyone. He’s smart and is the only one on his football team that cares about his grades. He’s also responsible and tries to do whatever he can for Jodie. It’s hard to find a certain type of stereotype for Mack because of his development as a character. Eichler, the creator of Daria, and Anne Bernstein, a writer for Daria, said, “Mack was the hardest to write for.” While his development was stale at best, Jodie and Mack together make up the two only token black characters in the show, but they knew it, and they were pretty damn good at it.
Charles Ruttheimer III “Upchuck”
The name really says it all doesn’t it? Upchuck is that guy who hits on all the girls and you want to hit him in the face as soon as you see him. He is constant and persistent in his approaches to please ladies and will not stop until he gets a yes. Upchuck is that classic high school stereotype of the “perv who is trying to lose his virginity.” Upchuck means no harm, but that doesn’t mean that you want him around you. With his 70’s perm and weird growl, he comes off as the worst type of Austin Powers known to man.
Kevin Thompson & Brittany Taylor
High school sweethearts with a low IQ. Not saying Kevin and Brittany are dumb, but they aren’t the smartest people in Lawndale High. They are the football and cheerleader sweethearts that remind of you of nostalgia 1950’s couples. You know…the kind of couple that the boy gave his lettermen jacket to the girl he loved. Brittany is a stereotypical “busty blonde”. She bats her blue eyes to get whatever she wants and her squeaky voice has absolutely nothing to say. Kevin is the hometown football Quarterback that everyone praises because that’s the only thing he knows well. He’s dark-haired, blue-eyed and drives his teacher Mr. DeMartino crazy with the history that he can’t seem to put in his head. These two aren’t just stereotypical in their personality, but also in their style. Choosing to wear their football and cheerleader uniform every day until high school ends. God speed in love and life, Mr. Thompson and Ms. Taylor.
Tiffany, Sandi and Stacy
Quinn’s best friends and also her arch-enemies. The three girls come with different personalities, but when you put them all together it’s an utter nightmare. Tiffany, Sandi, and Stacy were Mean Girls before Regina George, Karen Smith, and Gretchen Wieners stepped on the screen. Sandi is the leader of the group. Hard-headed and always thirsty for attention, Sandi is the true opposite of what Quinn is. She’s incredibly jealous of her, which makes her stereotypical “popular girl jealous of other pretty popular girl” (aka Regina vs Cady) work well for her. Tiffany is a different case. She needs to be told what to do because she doesn’t much have a thought in her head. She’s more heavily narcissistic in this way as well and you can almost compare her to Karen from Mean Girls. Lastly there’s Sandi, who in her time being on Daria, has expressed different ideas and protest, but merely just falls back into the crowd. She’s heavily influenced by Sandi and didn’t know that she was worth more than she knew (Gretchen, anyone?). Sorry to compare them to Mean Girls, but it’s so much easier to explain them that way.
Joey, Jeffy and Jamie (or Jeremy, Jimmy, Jamiel, or Jerome)
Quite the opposite of the Fashion Club, Joey, Jeffy and Jamie are the three guys in high school who are best friends until a pretty girl comes around and messes up their operation. Joey, Jeffy, and Jamie are receivers for the football team and constantly trying to win Quinn’s affections. Have you ever seen a bunch of jocks in the a semi circle and they all basically look alike? The “Three J’s” are practically the same type of people and that’s their stereotype. Three jocks who look and act alike and try to woo the same girl.
I wanted to include Andrea for a different kind of high school stereotype. If there had to be a goth girl on Daria, I’m very happy that Andrea was the embodiment of all I thought a goth girl should be. She was a regular in the show without much of a speaking role, but when she made her presence in Daria, she was there and you knew it. Andrea was the typical goth girl who dresses in grey and black, had black lipstick, a necklace with the Ankh symbol and a fishnet hand glove. Daria and Jane also share a mutual respect for Andrea after keeping the secret that her parents make her “work in a warehouse” similar to Costco. I mean…how could Andrea get any better?
Lawndale High: Teachers
Mr. Timothy O’Neil
The beloved English teacher of Lawndale High. In a stereotypical sense, most English teachers are always said and shown to be sensitive caregivers that always try their best to make a situation better. In Lawndale High, Mr. O’Neil was that type of English & Language Arts teacher. He tries very hard to let his students express themselves in every way with some achievements and some ultimate epic failures. Mr. O’Neil is a sensitive man himself, openly crying to his students and trying to let them express their emotions instead of holding them back.
Ms. Claire Defoe
Ms. Defoe is the stereotypical art teacher whose bohemian lifestyle makes you question her past. Her nature of being this patient teacher thats open to freedom of expression for her student gives her that great art teacher stereotype of just open minded bohemian art teacher. She’s into everything from colors as expression to what the brush strokes make you feel inside. When I watched Daria, I really did question her past. What made her become a teacher? Did she ever do Peyote in the desert? She almost reminds me of a later version of Lily Tomlin’s character Frankie, from the Netflix show Grace and Frankie. If you haven’t seen that show, I highly recommend it (watch it and tell me if I’m right!).
Mr. Anthony DeMartino
Poor Mr. DeMartino. All he wants to do is get some type of information through to his students, especially Kevin Thompson. Mr. DeMartino is the history teacher at Lawndale High. He’s also very angry and shouts more often than he is a comfort to any of the students. Mr. DeMartino’s teacher stereotype is his complete and utter regret about actually wanting to teach anymore. He’s angry at his students for not getting the information through their heads and he’s bitter with the way that things are run at Lawndale High, particularly his pay as a teacher.
Ms. Angela Li
Angela Li is the principal of Lawndale High and is desperate for a good appearance for the school. Angela Li is basically that stereotypical principal who is utterly mad with power. She cares more about corporate sponsorships, a good name for herself, and other nonsense things instead of actual improvements for the school. She keeps her security for the school up by protecting the school with bomb sniffing dogs and making them participate in urine tests. She also demands complete participation for all school activities if it gains her sponsorship from companies so she can get free stuff. See? Totally mad with power.
Ms. Janet Barch
Ms. Janet Barch is the science teacher at Lawndale. There is really no stereotype I can say for science teachers in this case, but for Ms. Barch there is a bit to say about her personality-wise. She has a deep and misguided hate towards men because her husband left her. She’s been harboring all throughout the seasons until she forms a relationship with Mr. O’Neil. Ms. Barch are what men think women act when they leave them. They think they’re all “self-hating feminists” who have absolutely nothing to do but down all men. This is not the case. In this case, Ms. Barch was not only empowered by her experience with her husband leaving (taking self defense classes and more), but she also found a very meaningful relationship she would have never known when she opened herself up.
Lawndale High: Parents, Siblings and Friends
Oh Trent. Jane’s older brother who could be the biggest rockstar if he wasn’t so lazy. Trent is your classic slacker stereotype because he doesn’t do anything but sleep, eat and go to Mystik Spiral practice. He doesn’t wear a watch, but always knows that he’s late for everything. When he went to the reunion for his distant family, his Uncle Max called him a bum a couple of times and told him that was the reason why he liked him. Trent is very absent-minded and carefree about the world and that is what the classic slacker does. He’s also super dreamy so….none of that really matters.
Helen & Jake Morgendorffer
Helen and Jake Morgendorffer are those suburban parents who work really hard at their jobs. Helen Morgendorffer is the parental type of an extreme workaholic, who neglects her family external wants and needs because she’s trying to win a case at the firm. She’s that corporate mother that you don’t see too often because she’s mostly at the office, but when you do see her, she’s trying to give you some solid advice and help you in any way possible. Jake Morgendorffer is just the opposite of Helen. He’s grown up in a slightly hostile environment with a father whose domineering & emotional abusive towards him and shipped him to military school. Jake is slightly more fragile than Helen and basically a stereotypical house husband (who has a consulting firm) who cooks and does simple things while Helen goes off and works for the family. Helen and Jake’s parental styles work with one another because of Jake’s need for reassurance and Helen’s need to dominate and give love.
The Lane Family
I personally love the Lane family. They’re the most stereotypical family out of the bunch to me. Here’s why. Each and every single one of them either has an artistic profession or has a really hippie name. Amanda (ceramics and sculptures) and Vincent (photographer) are the mother and father of this clan. Both of them are the stereotypical parents who are absent from their children lives to travel the world and pursue their dreams, but they had a hand in raising each one of their children (except for Jane and Trent who raised each other). They have five children in total: Summer, Wind (a constant failure at marriage, hopeless romantic), Penny (makes “nicknacks” in Latin America), Trent (musician) and Jane (artist). The Lane family doesn’t spend that much time together because they’re all over the place. In the episode, “Lane Miserables,” we see the family coming back together under one roof for the first time in forever. The Lane family are completely and utterly stereotypical “super progressive” or liberal families and I love them for it.
Mystik Spiral (Trent, Jesse, Nick, Max)
Mystik Spiral started with childhood friend Trent and Jesse. In high school, they became friends with Max and then met Nick while he was hitchhiking on the side of the road. They have different types of shows and always want to change the name of the band but they never do. Mystik Spiral has a sound embracing the trance, grunge & alternative punk scene of the 90s. With influences like Nirvana, Cocteau Twins, Zappa (as seen in the episode “That Was Then, This Is Dumb”) and NIN, how can you lose? They are that stereotypical 90s grunge band that wants to experiment with the name, sound and image for their band, but continue to stick with the same thing.
Tom is a privileged guy who doesn’t use his money for his own personal means until it comes to college. He’s smart and a book worm like Daria, but there is a hint of cockiness to him that can rub people the wrong way (mostly me). Tom is your stereotype of “rich boy who wants more to life.” He’s very pretentious, but caring in a way when he does give back. Although he’s dated Jane and then immediately moved onto Daria when the time was “right.” To be honest, Tom is ultimately boring in a lot of ways. He really didn’t give much to the greater storyline, but ultimately he was a character that served some good. Tom was a “rich boy,” but he was also Daria’s first boyfriend so I have to give him that.
Overall, Daria gives us an elaborate and creative look into the world of high school stereotypes, but why does it need them? What makes this show, with all it’s awesome elements, lean on so many stereotypical characters? What does it prove? It might be because these stereotypes still ring true and resonate today. Stereotypes are built up from what we see and believe about people, and often aren’t the truth. In Daria, we start with these stereotypes, and then learn what’s behind them.