To date, she's made exactly two appearances on "Daria." That's several appearances fewer than Andrea. That's exactly the same number of appearances as Artie, the alien-obsessed weirdo, that obese woman who likes chocolate, and Brittany's little brother, Brian. Yet Amy Barksdale has managed to capture fandom's imagination in a way that no other side character has.
The reason is clear: she's so much like Daria. She spouts one-liners, speaks in flawless deadpan, wears glasses, and seems to maintain a cynical outlook on life. But Amy is more than just another Daria -- she's Superdaria . Not only does she possess all of these qualities, but she's also drop dead gorgeous and doin' pretty well for herself, judging from her car and her living room. She's so ideal, fans have latched onto her as a sort of mentor-saint for Daria. The line of reasoning goes: "Gee, if she's so similar to Daria, then she and Daria must be soulmates!" Therefore, fans look to Amy to smooth Daria's path through life by offering pearls of wisdom, and assume a closeness between them that may not exist.
Fanfiction is no exception. I can't keep track of the number of fanfics I've read where Amy comes to town and completely ignores Helen (her own sister!), Jake, and Quinn in order to lavish attention on Daria. Or else she adopts the Daria role and mocks her family in exactly the way Daria would -- thereby validating Daria's cynical point of view. I've also read fanfics that assume Daria had a really strong bond with Amy when she was younger; so much so, that it was Amy who introduced Daria to the pleasures we associate with her today: pizza and "Sick Sad World." I'll confess that even my fanfics have been guilty of tightening the bond between Our Heroine and her Famous Aunt.
But could it be that Amy's not destined to play the role of Daria's "savior"? That we're reading too much into her appearances on the show? The evidence below suggests that the answer to both questions is "yes."
I'll start by looking at segments that address the Amy-as-an-early-influence myth.
1) When Amy first arrives at the wedding in "I Don't":
QUINN: Wow, who's that ?
DARIA: Aunt Amy??
Right away, you get the sense that neither Morgendorffer has seen Amy in ages -- certainly if she has changed so much that they have trouble recognizing her. This challenges the notion that Amy played an impacting role in Daria's early life. And certainly the following example all but refutes it.
2) When Amy and Daria are in the bathroom in "I Don't":
AMY: Let's see, you're in college now, or something?
DARIA: Still high school, unfortunately.
Here, Amy is way off when she guesses Daria's age -- not by one year, but by at least three . For someone who supposedly cared so much about Daria when she was little (as fanfic contends), that seems awfully suspicious. Wouldn't Amy have at least tried to keep track of Daria's age if she saw her as a little mentee? For that matter, wouldn't Amy have stayed in touch with Daria over the years, rather than completely drop out of sight?
You could claim that by her question, Amy is assuming Daria to be a genius student who could soar through three grades into higher academia, but somehow I doubt it. Most likely, Amy errs in her "guestimate" because she never bothered to learn Daria's age in the first place; before "I Don't," Daria never meant anything to her.
That leads into my look at segments that challenge not only the idea that Daria and Amy have grown chummy since "I Don't," but that Amy doesn't give a damn about anyone except Daria.
3) In "Through a Lens Darkly," when Helen reads Amy's letter aloud, we hear that it has been addressed to her "Sis," and that it ends with "my love to all." Since Amy makes absolutely no reference to Daria in the letter, we can gather that Daria is meant to be one of the "all" -- lumped together with Quinn and Jake. By giving Daria no distinguishing features, it's as if Amy's saying that she sees her as nothing more than a member of her sister's family.
If Amy still thinks of Daria in those terms, then that means their bond could not have been strengthened during the time between "I Don't" and "Through a Lens Darkly." This notion receives more support from Daria and Amy's phone conversation.
4) Throughout much of that scene, Daria seems quite ill-at-ease, as if she expects Amy to just blow her off. Amy's joke ("What's your name again?") catches her almost completely off-guard -- unusual for our razor-sharp Heroine. And in the beginning, Amy assumes, by her "stroke" comment, that the only reason Daria's called her is to report a problem with Helen. There are no shared references, no private jokes (except at Helen's expense), nothing to suggest that Amy and Daria have gotten to know each other better since the wedding. Amy does call Daria her "favorite niece," but one wonders whether she wouldn't have said the same thing if Quinn had called. (Probably not, but who knows...)
Actually, what is most interesting about these scenes is how much concern Amy shows for Helen. Twice she makes comments about the amount of stress Helen puts herself under -- the "vacation" hint in the letter, the comment about her having a "stroke" to Daria. And although the letter may have been a mischievous attempt to "get under [Helen's] skin," the fact that Amy cared enough to write to Helen suggests that she has a genuine relationship with her. If Amy were as completely alienated from her family as many fanfics suggest, then the last thing she would want to do is spoil her vacation by thinking about them. These scenes in "Through a Lens Darkly" were what inspired me to delve into the relationship between Helen and Amy in "The Tie That Chokes," "That Thing You Say," and "None in the Family."
Now, the evidence above is not meant to show that everything we've thought about Amy is a lie. She clearly does have a fondness for Daria, and if they were to interact more, they probably would become chummy. And by phoning Amy in "Through a Lens Darkly," Daria obviously trusted that her aunt understood her well enough to give relevant advice.
Moreover, fanfiction that portrays a close relationship between them shouldn't be scrapped just because we don't have a lot of information about Amy. If we couldn't speculate in fanfic, then half of the works (and certainly all of the 'shipper fics!) would not exist. My point in writing this essay was to remind people who see Amy as Daria's mentor-saint that the evidence on which they base their assumptions is far from rock-solid. For all we know, the next time Amy shows up in a "Daria" episode, we might discover that she's actually quite different from Our Heroine.
One thing I'm willing to predict with certainty: Amy will not have seen Daria since the wedding. That means that Amy will have never helped Daria recover from a baseball bat injury; they'll have never attended a great aunt's funeral together; Amy will have never pretended to be Daria's mother; they'll have never conspired to get past a bunch of old visitors at Grandma Barksdale's anniversary party; and Amy will have never helped try to save the universe from the evil Fashion forces. :-)
Acknowledgments: The references in the last paragraph are to "The Karen Carpenter Blues," by Peter Guerin, "Alienation Legacy," by C.E. Forman, "The Tie That Chokes" and "None in the Family, PartOne," by Kara Wild [shameless plugs for my fics], and "Cynic Wars I," by Matt.
September 18, 1999