A Sick Sad Goodbye

Foreword: I'm just recovering from an intense month with an incredibly tight schedule and lots of tests. I had already worked out the skeleton of an idea for a fanfic, and had planned on writing it this month. On February 25th however season 4 started in the US (and thanks to the people who maintain "The sounds of cynicism" I was able to watch the new episode "Partner's complaint" too). After watching the episode I suddenly lost the inspiration I had previously had - and got inspired to write this instead. This will also probably be my last fanfic - unless something drastic happens, but I don't believe in drastic so without further ado, I'll get to the story...

Jane slowly walked up to the door of the Morgendorffer residence. She quickly glanced at the window of Daria's room as she used to. Daria was home all right - the flickering light of the TV was a positive sign of that. Jane rang the doorbell, and just a few seconds later the door was opened by Quinn who was obviously dressed for a date.
-"Hi, Ral...", Quinn chirped before she realised who was really standing in front of her. Jane couldn't help but smirk at Quinn's slip and was rewarded with a deep frown. "Oh, it's you. Well, Daria is upstairs."

-"Thanks", Jane replied trying to hold back a comment on Quinn's somewhat... revealing outfit.
-"Would you do me a favour and... like stay in Daria's room with her until my date and I have left? It's our first date and I don't want to freak him out..."
-"By introducing him to unfashionable people? Well, since you ask so nicely." Jane replied with a sarcastic voice."
-"Thank you." Quinn replied, completely oblivious to the sarcasm. Jane just shook her head and headed upstairs.

-"I must admire your psychological pain threshold."
Daria startled at the voice, but reclaimed control just as quickly as she recognised to whom it belonged.
-"And why is that?"
-"I just ran into Quinn downstairs." Jane replied with a dry voice.
Daria just smiled briefly at Jane, and so Jane kept going.
-"Seriously - If I had a sister like that I would have beaten her senseless with a paintcan a long time ago."
-"Didn't want you to interfere with her date, did she?"
-"Didn't want us to interfere." Jane corrected.
-"Well, you learn to ignore it with time." Daria replied and looked straight at Jane who still looked a bit annoyed. "And if you don't you can always swap the colour-coded caps of her mascara kit.", she added.
-"That's my Daria." Jane smiled and sat down on the bed beside Daria. "Anything cool on?" She asked and gestured toward the TV.
-"Nah." Daria replied with a sigh.
-"But I thought Sick Sad World was on now?" Jane checked her watch to make sure she wasn't wrong about the time.
-"It is." Daria replied laconically.
-"Then why are you... why are we watching this?" Jane once more gestured toward the TV set that was currently pumping out a cheap talk show of some kind.
-"I'm not watching it. I was channel-surfing. Sick Sad World had another one of those episodes on."

There was a brief moment of silence.
-"Want to see for yourself?" Daria asked and handed the remote to Jane who took it and turned on the channel that aired Sick Sad World. The voice of the show's reporter quickly filled the room:
-"...and the divers although equipped with some of the finest gear money can buy are still placing their lives at risk trying to reveal the mysteries of the deep." The picture showed two scuba-divers dropping themselves backwards into the water from a small boat, then panned to show the Sick Sad World reporter standing on the deck of a larger vessel. "If you'll just hang on, we'll have an exclusive interview with the head marine biologist right after these messages." The green Sick Sad World eye logo appeared and a few seconds later Daria and Jane found themselves watching a commercial for an incredible soap bar that contained moisturiser, and gave you smoother skin than anything else on the market.

-"Umm... What was that about?" Jane asked, as she hit the mute button on the remote.
-"It was about what a sick, sad world this is. Scientists not being able to conduct research safely in their labs, but having to actually go out in the field to gather information."
-"Huh?" Jane asked incredulously. "No shark attacks? No siren song?"
-"Nope. There were some hostile mackerels right in the beginning, but I pretty much got the feeling that they were thrown in there to give the people watching the show a little something they were used to."
-"This is... what? The third time?"
-"Fifth, actually."
-"No way. Fourth tops."
-"You missed the one yesterday."
There was a moment of silence. Neither one felt like breaking it, but finally Jane took the initiative.
-"So you really think this is a trend?"
-"Unfortunately, yes. You know what they say: 'One time - no time. Two times - a habit.' "
-"I must admit that their latest shows have been neither sick nor sad - at least not the way we expect them to be." She paused and looked at the muted TV screen which was demonstrating how inferior the leading brand motor oil was compared to a new revolutionary product. "Why do you suppose that is?"
-"I can think of a couple of reasons... one worse than the other."
-"Please, tell."
-"The simplest reason is readings - because, let's face it: This show grosses most people out."
-"I know. That's one thing I like about it." Jane replied with a smirk, then she got more serious. "So, they're simply doing this to become more popular?"
-"I don't know. I'm not psychic, but it's certainly a possibility. After all they have this big network breathing down their necks. For all we know they could be faced with the choice of getting better readings or..." Daria made a chopping sound and rapidly slashed her index finger across her throat.
-"I suppose they could... and in fact I would understand them for selling out under such circumstances."
-"Mmm... Kind of reminds me of the ancient Aztecs."
-"Yeah. During their wars all prisoners of war were given a choice. They could become lowly slaves serving their masters blindly, doing the hardest and most disgusting of labour, or they could have their hearts cut out in a great offering ceremony to honour the sun."
-"Well, it's always nice to have options." Jane replied with a smirk.
-"Yes. In this case a choice between a life in shame or a glorious death."

There was another brief moment of silence.
-"I see your point." Jane said. "But I still understand them."
-"Oh, I understand them too. If they have a knife to their throats and a focus group tells them that people want quote 'more normal stuff' unquote it's... Well, it's just no miracle if they don't feel like losing their jobs."
-"Yeah. Everybody can't have the same attitude toward principle as you do. After all you'd rather..." Jane interrupted herself and looked at Daria's expressionless face. "Oh... I really do see your point."
Daria just smiled as a reply. She had just received a big compliment of the most sincere kind.
-"Well are there really any other alternatives? I mean what else could make them want to change the show this way?" Jane continued.
-"Well... There's always the more sinister option that they are not being threatened, but still have decided that they want to become more popular."
-"The very definition of selling out. That would suck." Jane looked at the TV again. The show was back on but it seemed to be nothing but an interview that to her seemed about as interesting as a trigonometry book, so she chose not to turn on the sound. Could it really be that her favourite TV-show was transforming into something designed for the "popular" crowd? She knew she wouldn't like that. She had watched the show from day one. As soon as she had seen that a show named Sick Sad World was about to start she knew she had to see it. A show by that name had to be great, and she hadn't been disappointed - until now.
-"Yes, that would suck indeed."
-"But won't they lose their regular viewers by changing the contents like this?"
-"Not necessarily if they're careful. After all, what do we know about other people's reasons for watching? We don't have a focus group. Maybe they've discovered they can still sell the show to the average fan as long as they throw in an episode on aliens every now and then."
-"Well I'm not going to keep watching it if it doesn't improve."
-"Yeah. Your opinion matters." Daria replied in an unusually dry voice. Jane glared at her for a moment.
-"I hate you."
-"What are friends for?"

-"Of course, it's just a TV-show..." Jane added. It felt a little stupid to take a show so seriously.
-"Granted." Daria replied with a voice cleared of every trace of emotion.

There was another period of silence. It was weird, Jane thought, how people usually always had to fill every single moment with inane chatter. A sign of true friendship was - not being able to do things together or talk with each other. It was being able to do nothing and say nothing together - and still not get uncomfortable or bored.
-"So... Are there any other possibilities?" Jane asked. It seemed strangely difficult to drop this subject.
-"I guess so... But I'm not sure you want to hear them."
-"Come on. You know me better than that."
-"Okay. Another possibility is that they simply like change for the sake of change."
-"You mean that they've simply become bored with the 'old' concept and is trying to shift into a new one?"
-"Again - that's just a possibility among others."
-"Well, why would they do that? If there's something I've learned by living alone with Trent it's that: 'If it's not broken - don't fix it.' Or in this case..."
-"If you've got a good concept - don't change it, chances are you'll only make things worse." Daria filled in. "You're right. Change is a subject that most people perceive as something positive - probably because deep down they're dissatisfied with their sorry lives and believe that a 'change' has to be for the better."
-"Lousy optimists."
-"And therefore you can usually get people to accept anything by talking big about change and development, regardless of whether your proposal is about getting medical aid to people in third world countries or jumping into a well. Should someone refuse to jump into your well, you can always point at him and scream 'reactionary'. Since this is the worst of labels one can put on another person in our society - he'll probably prefer the well."
-"I wonder if that isn't the most cynical thing I've ever heard you say?"
Daria and Jane looked at each other, then as on a given signal both grunted: "Nah."
-"The point is, as you already put it: Change should never be an end in itself. Change done just for the sake of change is useless at best."
-"You know, the show turning out this way... That's pretty sick and sad."
-"Yes, quite ironic isn't it. After you remove the foundation of something and have only the facade left, the whole thing can turn into a parody of itself."
-"Of course they would never admit to that, you know. They'd only say that the show has improved."
-"Of course they would - and will, I'm sure. It's just that they still have their past to deal with. The previous golden days of the show will always pass judgement over the 'evolved' era. Naturally they can claim that it's the other way around - but in doing so they would also admit that they didn't really have a clue as to what they were doing back then - the new philosophy being in total contradiction with the previous one and all."
-"I suppose they could still claim that the whole thing was planned this way from day one. You know, a starting good, getting 'better' kind of thing."
-"And in doing so admit to the worst of all alternatives."
-"Which is?"
-"Making a show under the parole 'Sick Sad World' with an agenda to attract people who think this world is a sick sad place, only to slowly reveal the 'error' of their ways." At this point Daria let her voice slip into dripping sarcastic imitation of Mr. O'Neill that Jane had never heard before nor even in her wildest imaginations thought possible. "After all, the world isn't so bad. Just look at the birdies and think beautiful thoughts, and everything is going to turn out fine. We can all come together as one, put our differences behind us despite a history of war and misery, and it's sick and sad that some people don't realise this. YES! If we only do this thing we may be able to help some poor kid with low self esteem get over his or her problems."

Silence once again filled the room for a few seconds, then Jane begun to chuckle.
-"I didn't know you could do that?"
-"Do what?"
-"That voice thing... It was almost like expressing emotion."
-"God forbid. You know I'd have to turn in my Cynic's Society membership card if I did that. After all, what is a cynic who exposes emotion, but a contradiction in terms?" Daria gave Jane a pseudo-frown, and Jane just smirked in return.
-"Point taken... So...? What's the conclusion from all of this?"
-"That life sucks?"
-"Yeah, but besides that."
-"Not knowing the specific details, it's kind of hard to tell."
-"But the show is going down the drain?"
-"With the same probability that the next president will be an idiot and that we'll be going to school next week."
-"Damn. And I actually felt optimistic about that show."
-"Hey, I think that's our conclusion."
-"The price of being optimistic is being wrong."
-"Given the circumstances I don't have enough of a case to raise any objections..." Jane sighed. "So how long until it turns into the world's sickest, saddest soap opera?"
-"Give it one or two more seasons and you'll see."
Jane let out another sigh.
-"It was one of the few things on worth watching."
-"I know."
-"Should have known it was too good to last."
-"I know."
-"Isn't there any show that can keep up with our exclusive taste?" Jane asked - truly wondering why everything on TV was so far away from what she wanted to see.
-"Or is that exclusive lack of taste?"
Both smirked briefly at each other.
-"Well it wouldn't seem that way..."
-"Guess it's back to watching the good old stuff then."
-"You mean recorded episodes?"
-"No, I mean the ceiling."
Another smirk was exchanged.
-"Too bad. I'm going to miss it."

Daria reached out for the remote control and looked at the screen. A man in a white coat (apparently a scientist) was pointing at an anatomic chart of a fish. In the foreground there was an aquarium (that seemed quite out of place in the lab, that in reality was just sidescenes in a studio) with a large goldfish in it. The goldfish had really nothing to do with the chart, and it didn't even seem like the guy was going to dissect it. The fish was merely eye-candy, as cute a representative of the pisces family as possible. This was something Quinn might like. A thin white line briefly flickered across the screen just before it went black, leaving only the dim reflection of Daria's face to be looked at...

---End credits (Music: "Crank the knife"; by Tourniquet)

Didn't like the story? Didn't think you would...

Boring disclaimer: "Daria" and all related characters are trademarks of MTV Networks, a division of Viacom International Inc. The author does not claim copyright to these characters or to anything else in the "Daria" milieu, he does however claim copyright to the storyline within this work of fiction. This fanfic may be freely copied and distributed provided the contents remain unchanged, provided that the authors name and e-mail are included, and provided that the distributor does not use the story for monetary profit. [But, hey let's face it. If you could make money with this, you'd really be one hell of a salesman :).]

How to contact the author:
(What? Do you want to send me hate mail? Okay, then.)

Author: Daniel Suni
E-mail: daniel.suni@kolumbus.fi
Snail mail:
Karistimentie 2 D 110
00920 Helsinki 92