Thursday, February 5, 2009

Minority Report

One of the little curios about Lawndale High was that it was long rumored in the fandom to have a low number of minority students. The principal is nonwhite, of course, as are some of the teachers, per the strike scenes in "Lucky Strike," but a headcount of faces in the episodes does indicate LHS is a mostly white institution. (We know more about racial issues at the school than religious ones, about which we know nothing at all.)

The official MTV Daria site once had a webpage devoted to Lawndale High's history, which was finally recovered by WayBack Machine and can be viewed here. Indeed, the page says: "LHS has a diverse student body of 1400, with an ethnic balance reflecting Lawndale's proud tradition of multiculturalism (we'd rather not give hard numbers)." Touchy on the issue, perhaps? It is worth noting that Ms. Li has a Buddha statue in her office, but I don't think anyone seriously believes she has any connection to Buddhism beyond dusting the figurine.

Other "official" information on the condition of minority students at LHS can be found in the episodes "Gifted," "I Loathe a Parade," "Prize Fighters," and Is It College Yet? Most of this comes either from Jodie Landon's grousing about having to live up to her father's impossible demands on her as a black student, or from her arguments with her father (Andrew) over school choice. Some relevant remarks follow. (All hail Outpost Daria as the source!)

  • Helen: "Well, there's not a lot of... diversity at Lawndale. A few people can be narrow-minded and not always accept—right away—people from different backgrounds."
  • Jodie: "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]."

"I Loathe a Parade"
  • Jodie: "Isn't it great how they keep electing us Homecoming King and Queen every year?" Mack: "Yes, it's such a generous and enlightened gesture. It completely makes up for the town's utter lack of diversity, in my mind." Jodie: "And we're playing into it." Mack: "Damn college applications." Jodie: "This is so humiliating."
  • [Later] Jodie: "Oh, what the hell. We may be tokens, but we're damn good-looking ones."

"Prize Fighters"
  • Daria: "They [Wizard Foundation] haven't promoted a woman or a minority in three years." Andrew: "So? Who better to win the prize than a brilliant young woman? Especially, if it turns out to be a brilliant young black woman." Jodie: "That is a good point." Daria: "I thought you wouldn't want anything to do with Wizard, once you found out." Jodie: "Trying to reduce the competition by getting me to drop out, huh?" Daria: "No. I thought we'd both drop out." Andrew: "And who will win the scholarship then?" Daria: "Huh?" Andrew: "Wizard's policies have been prehistoric, yeah. But someone, somewhere in the organization, is trying to address that. Or, they wouldn't have created this prize. Now, do you walk away because the guy at the top is an idiot, or do you join the people trying to change the way he does business?" Daria: "How do I know they're not just trying to make him look good, without changing anything at all?" Andrew: "They won't change anything at all, if kids like you two don't push your way onto their radar and show them the error of their ways. If you don't go up to the gate and ring the big bell, they've kept you out without having to do a thing. Ring the big bell, Daria! Ring the big bell!"

Is It College Yet?
  • Jodie: "You know, my grandmother was in the first Turner graduating class to admit women. I'd be carrying on a tradition. Plus, I'd finally get a break from having to be the perfect Jodie doll at a mostly white school." Mack: "I hear that."
  • Andrew: "You want to go to college to relax? That doesn't sound like my Honor Society daughter." Jodie: "Relax socially. Stop being the black kid, and just being a kid. I'm tired of being in the extreme minority, and I don't want to go to a place where people might think I got in just because I'm African-American."

The impression is that minority students are worn out with the issue of being minorities and have become cynical about it. They just want to be able to forget about it and be who they are, be a part of the whole crowd. What is interesting is that the only kind of minority at LHS that has any voice is that of the black students. What about the other minorities? Nothing. Not many Native Americans, I guess.

There is another problem with this thinking, however. It is a reasonable assumption that Jodie, Mack, and other minority students have met bigoted persons in the school before and might meet them still on a daily basis, but no trace of such hatred can be found in the series. In fact, given the vast array of awards and achievements Jodie has gathered at LHS, one wonders if racial prejudice has had any impact on her life at all. Her father's pressure on her to succeed is the major source of her daily stress. Why did the writers shy away from this topic? Too difficult to find humor about it? That would be a first.

The most outrageous display of mass hatred expressed by Lawndale residents, in fact, is against penguins ("I Loathe a Parade"). However, I have already addressed the penguin snuff-porn issue and will move on with this topic.

Few Daria fanfics have dealt with diversity and prejudice. The better and more interesting ones I've read that have struggled with these issues include (with apologies to those I missed):

  • "It's All About Repect," by Brother Grimace (note Kyle Armalin's musings in particular on racial issues)
  • "Primarily Color," by Kara Wild (Driven Wild Universe, has some startling moments as racial and religious issues are brought to the surface at school)
  • "Life's Meandering," by Yui Daoren (the Morgendorffers move to New Mexico, and Daria becomes a target of prejudice from a few Hispanic students)
  • "Ngiynah Mihalev," by The Eighth Guardian (the Morgendorffers' Jewish heritage becomes known and antisemitism rears its head)
  • "Anywhere but Here," by MMan (AU tale touching briefly on minority issues that came out differently in another world and time)

What is more often seen than conflicts with prejudice in Daria fanfiction is instead the kind of all-accepting attitude that the minority students in the canon series say they want. Jodie, Mack, and Kyle Armalin are little hampered by racism, if at all. The Morgendorffers, who are sometimes assumed to be Jewish despite the Christmas tree in their garage, do not have crosses burned on their lawn. (Same for Tiffany Blum-Deckler, also assumed to be Jewish because of her name.) The extreme seems to have been reached in The Sidhe's The Other Side of Time series, in which an AU Confederacy (in touch with Lawndale) achieves independence and emancipates its slaves, offering them full civil liberties. The major Southern figures in the Civil War who interact with Daria and Jane (and Kyle) display no iota of racial prejudice. I confess I balk at that, being from a border state that had mixed sympathies and being well aware of hidden biases, but weirder stuff has been written. Who am I to throw pebbles?

The fact is, none of us like prejudice. I would go so far as to say that there's an unspoken conspiracy among fanfic writers to keep some of the really ugly parts of human existence away from our beloved Lawndale. (Not all the time, mind you, but most of the time.) Nonetheless, stories that handle prejudice, whether they end happily or not, are keying into a topic that was integral to Daria from the beginning. People are different, and some people are kind of funny about that. It is an intriguing source of writing material. It would, however, be interesting to hear from someone other than Jodie, Andrew, and Mack on the topic. Maybe one or more of the Backgrounders or other original characters will one day tell their tales.

Hint, hint.

  • Legion of Lawndale Heroes Special: Tokusatsu Team Up! by Lorenzo Sauchelli (Part 1): Facing a fellow Planeswalker was indeed a difficult task. Especially considering they couldn’t be killed by the regular methods, such as decapitation or even disintegration. Even so, they had both been severely weakened by one another in their latest encounter. “Okay, Daria, you need to focus. Where is she going next?”
  • Turnabout Confusion Part II: All The King's Horses, by Dennis (continued): Daria decided that she didn't like covert operations about the same time her boot started to chafe. She was normally a pretty good walker, but she didn't appreciate the need to walk almost all the way back to 1111, only to duck quickly down a side street and head back to the other side of town. She had no one to blame but herself, so she gritted her teeth and soldiered on.


E. A. Smith said...

Or maybe Daria fans are smart enough to realize that racial issues are already far too overplayed in our culture, and that it's nice to see a source of entertainment that doesn't treat racial prejudice as the be-all and end-all of human failings.

Ranchoth said...

Ah, Daoren's "Life's Meandering"! An old favorite of mine...with a certainly memorable villainess, for me.

I wonder what she'd be up to, these days...maybe making a subtle, unnamed cameo in a certain fanfic's latest chapter?

::hint, hint::


cincgold said...

I think it's more of the fact that dramas over the last forty years on television have created a stock scene -

Bully shows that he's a prejudiced redneck and immediately gets his comeuppance at the hands of

a) his target, or
b) some enlightened white guy.

We've seen this so often in movies and TV that it's almost embarrassing, and causes much eye-rolling. It's cheap melodrama, and I think Daria writers want to avoid the tropes of cheap TV.

Armalin isn't too hampered by racism for the simple fact that he's in the military, which is the least segregated institution in American society. (The new saying is that Marines only come in two colors - light green and dark green.) There's a lot more mobility in the military than anywhere else, but Armalin has had his run ins with the less enlightened - I'm thinking of a certain good ol' boy general that Armalin sacked several times in the Army-Navy game.

Unfortunately, like rape and class, I don't think there will be any fan-fiction treatment of race in America that will not quickly descend into melodrama. This includes not only Daria fan fiction, but any fan fiction at all.

The Angst Guy said...

Armalin isn't too hampered by racism for the simple fact that he's in the military, which is the least segregated institution in American society. (The new saying is that Marines only come in two colors - light green and dark green.)

When I was in the Army, 1976-1981, the common saying was, "We all bleed red."

There was another egalitarian saying the Army had, about women, but it occurs to me that it would be inappropriate to post even in this fandom. Suffice to say that it was solidly in favor of diversity. [cough]

the bug guy said...

For the series, an episode about prejudice would've involved focusing on some of the supporting cast. Let's face it, the just didn't give supporting characters much to do.

As for fanfiction, I agree that it has been done little. Partly because it is hard to do without being preachy, or if you go the [i]Blazing Saddles[/i] route, that is comedy that takes a special touch to pull off.

For my stuff, I've had it show up as small incidents, like often happens in real life. Such as some of Micheal's neighbors making comments because his roommate Lewis is gay, or Karen admitting that bringing Mack to the Myerson Thanksgiving grand gathering would bring out the worst in some of her relatives.

The Angst Guy said...

In short, the series beat the drum more than did the fanfic writers.

Brother Grimace said...

The way I've always dealt with te subject is tomave my characters acknowledge that it is out there - and then, go on with their lives. (That scene in 'Legion of Lawndale Heroes', where Armalin talks with Mack on the subject, is one of the only times I can recall bringing up the subject recently.

Basically, when this subject comes up, I always remember an exchange between Colossus and Major Ursus in Marvel Challenge of Champions #1:

Major Ursus: 'Why do you not return home and let your powers serve the state?'

Colossus: I feel that I can serve my country by serving theworld - as an X-Man!'

I write my minority characters the way I try to live myself: I just keep moving, and every now and then, yes - my race comes into play.Guess what? It's a pert of me - it isn't everything about me.

I also told someone once: 'Don't dislike me because of my color. By the time you get to know me, you'll have so many reasons to resent the hell out of me!'

The Angst Guy said...

That scene in 'Legion of Lawndale Heroes', where Armalin talks with Mack on the subject, is one of the only times I can recall bringing up the subject recently.

Do you have a link to that? Inquiring minds want to know.

Brother Grimace said...

Kara said...

I continue to think that the first two acts of Primarily Color are damn near some of the best I ever wrote, while Act 3 sort of dissolves...

The Angst Guy said...

I recall my reaction to "Primarily Color" (amusing that the initials are "PC" as in politically correct) was quite shocked, but in hindsight it was very good, long overdue.

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