Daria and Jane create a poster for a state-wide art contest, but object when Ms. Li insists on toning down its powerful yet controversial message.
At school, Ms. Li and Mr. O'Neill interrupt Ms. Defoe's art class to announce a state-wide art contest, called "Student Life at the Dawn of the New Millennium," to allow students to show what life is like as a high school student in today's fast-changing world. Both Daria and Jane think the whole thing is pretty lame, but Ms. Defoe convinces Jane to participate by appealing to her artists' ego. Unwilling to go it alone, she asks Daria to help her, and though initally reluctant to help, she gives in when Jane points out that no one said that the message had to be a positive one. After a brainstorming session involving lots of pizza, they come up with the idea of a poster depicting a beautiful girl gazing into a mirror... with a short poem stating that she got that way by being anorexic. Ms. Defoe is initially put off by the work, but changes her mind when Daria states that the work is a cautionary message about looks being deceiving, and that the poem was deliberately harsh in order to contrast with the beauty of the picture. (It didn't hurt that Jane's work was also far and away the best of the bunch.) Unfortunately, Ms. Defoe's approval isn't mirrored by Ms. Li and Mr. O'Neill, who love the painting but are put off by the crude poem, and who both attempt to convince them to change the poem. The girls would rather withdraw from the contest than submit to censorship, but Ms. Li convinces them to remain in the contest by suggesting a cooling-off period... which she uses to have Mr. O'Neill contact their parents and have them convince the girls to change the poem. Mr. O'Neill can't reach the Lanes but does manage to reach a frustrated and overworked Helen, who assures him that she'll talk to Daria before hanging up on him. At dinner, Jake (who's taken to cooking in his free time, which he now has a lot more of after losing a big client) not only annoys the family with his "penné a la pesto" but manages to undermine Helen's efforts to talk to Daria, getting a bowl of pasta over his head for his trouble. Helen does manage to exact a promise from Daria to at least hear what Mr. O'Neill has to say, but what he says doesn't fill them with confidence: he'll take a stab at making the poem more palatable, but if they don't like it, they can leave the poster as it is. Predictably, what he comes up with totally changes the meaning of the poster, but when they try to cash in on their part of the bargain, Ms. Li overrules everyone by entering the poster -- with the altered poem -- against their will. Angry and upset, and with no options left through proper channels, the girls (with Trent's help) take the matter into their own hands by attending the showing and defacing the poster. A furious Ms. Li tries to discipline the girls for their actions, but she quickly backs down when Helen threatens to file a lawsuit charging the school with violating the girls' civil liberties. As Daria and Jane celebrate their somewhat Pyrrhic victory -- the only way they could win was to destroy their work -- Brittany announces to everyone that her crude poster was the winner of the art contest.
Historical & Cultural References:
- "It's off to the sneaker sweatshop for me and Quinn" is a reference to the scandals involving Nike's sneaker factories located in Third World countries. The factories were essentially sweatshops staffed with underpaid, underage children.
- Mission: Impossible was a 1966 TV series about an elite covert operations unit that carried out highly sensitive, nearly-impossible missions. It was revived as a second, short-lived TV series in 1988, and as a series of films starring Tom Cruise in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
- "A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down" is a line from the 1964 film Mary Poppins, starring Julie Andrews as a magical nanny who cares for the children of a cold-hearted London banker.
- Jane's "the only way for us to save our work was to destroy it" is reminiscent of a quote from a Vietnam soldier, who stated that "we had to burn the village in order to save it."
Helen - Jake, everyone slips up once in a while.
Daria - He fired you for being honest?
Jake - It was entrapment!
Daria - So it's off to the sneaker sweatshop for me and Quinn?
Daria - If you're looking for a way to occupy yourself, there are plenty of chores that need doing around here.
(Helen and Jake glare at Daria)
Daria - What? You get to say it.
Ms. Li - I don't see how any of you could think of passing up the chance to bring honor unto yourself and Lawndale High.
Jane - "Unto"?
Daria - Buckle my shoe.
Ms. Li - Curiosity... inquiry... expression... these are the building blocks of education.
Brittany - Ma'am?
Ms. Li - No questions!
Jane - You know, nobody said the message had to be positive. I'm going to do something that really represents student life.
Daria - Yes.
Jane - And tell the truth about how much it can suck.
Daria - Yes.
Jane - To blow away the story-book fantasy about how great it is to be young.
Daria - Yes.
Jane - And you're going to help.
Daria - No.
Jane - You're a real Joan of Arc, you know that?
Daria - Yeah, and I think I just ordered a stake.
Marianne - Helen? It's your daughter's teacher.
Helen - Tell them I'll make sure Quinn turns in the assignment on Monday. Oh, and try to find out what the assignment is, and if you could get started making notes on it.
Marianne - It's your other daughter, I think.
Helen - Daria? Well, then, tell them I'll talk to her about her attitude, and try to find out who she insulted and what she said.
Mr. O'Neill - You know what they say, a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.
Jane - Not if you're diabetic.
Trent - You did the right thing coming to me.
Daria - Sorry we woke you up.
Trent - Don't worry about it. It was bound to happen sooner or later.
Trent - All right, here's the plan. I'll sit right here with my foot on the accelerator, ready to burn rubber.
Jane - Trent, pull over here and make sure you turn off the car in case you fall asleep, okay?
Trent - Alternate plan. Cool.
Ms. Li - Did you really think you were going to get away with it?
Jane - Well, it would be stupid to say "yes" now.
Helen - All right, Ms. Li, let me make sure I have this straight. You took my daughter's poster from her, altered its content, exhibited it against her will, and are now threatening discipline because you claim she defaced her own property, which you admit to stealing?
Ms. Li - (flustered) That's not what I said at all!
Helen - Ms. Li, are you familiar with the phrase "violation of civil liberties"?
Ms. Li - I...
Helen - And the phrase "big fat lawsuit"?
Delayed Reaction Review
That Idea Is Craptastic!
Sometimes inspiration comes from the most unlikely sources. When Daria and Jane's brainstorming for the contest began, most of the ideas they came up with just plain stunk. Fly paper, the skin of a student -- what were they thinking? It took a feeling of imminent puking to bring out the real idea. People can be so weird.
Parental Plus Points:
Both Jake and Helen came through for Daria in this episode. Jake stood up to Helen for her with his seemingly poor placed example using "penné a la pasto" (what job was he fired from, anyway? All he ever seemed to do was read the paper). Helen came through with her direct and quick deduction and explanation of what would happen if Daria was punished for destroying her poster.
Helen is the type to have everything planned out in advance; she's mechanical and rehearsed in a lot of her actions. This comes out in the first time she is called from Lawndale. For Quinn, she says to tell them the assignment will be in on Monday. For Daria, she wants to know whom she insulted and what she said. It wasn't as much what Helen said but how she said it.
Outside the System:
If you can't get through an obstacle, remember that you can always go around it. Daria and Jane exhausted every official means they possibly could and still had no control over their own creation. The only recourse that they had was to mangle the painting so it couldn't be used. The only real surprise about it was that it was Jane's idea.
This episode gave us a somewhat standard "us against them" storyline but was done in a somewhat new situation. Ms. Li couldn't be blamed for wanting to change the poster but her actions leave much to be desired. I liked this episode.
Copyright © 1998 Mike Quinn [All Rights Reserved]. Used with permission. The views presented here are those of the author, and may or may not necessarily be those of Outpost Daria Reborn.