Nostalgia for the Unremarkable

In 1997, two things happened that had a lasting impact on my life: I entered high school and the MTV series Daria premiered. Those in the audience keeping score will realize that by correlating these two facts, my age can be readily deduced. I am often taken aback when I revist a piece of beloved popular culture from my youth. Typically, as in the case of Michael Bay's run with the Transformers series, I am horrified that my memory has greatly inflated the quality of a story. In this case, however, the quality of the story is unchanged; but the context of my life has changed so much that what I get from the story is complete different.

ZeldaQueen and I recently found out that all five seasons of Daria (apart from the two movies Is It Fall Yet? and Is It College Yet?) are available on Hulu Plus. As is inevitable with my tendency towards geeky obsession, this discovery inevitably lead to much marathon viewing.  As I write this article, we are nearly finished with the second season. Regardless of how much I love the show, it has led me to some rather odd thoughts. Foremost among these are feelings of nostalgia for my time in high school. I find these feelings vexing for two reasons.  First, the content of the show is primarily about the everyday tedium of life as a high school student, ranging from parents who don't seem to understand your feelings to peers who have no interest in discussing your favorite new book. Second, my own high school experience, while not the subject of a gothic novel, was generally unremarkable.

As I have thought about this more while writing, the two points are more related than I had initially assumed. My memory of high school was that I spent much of my time loathing it as the worst, while most of the adults around me offered various aphorisms similar to "these are the best years of your life".  This dichotomy is also characteristic of Daria. Reflecting on this now, with the sense of perspective that comes from age, I can reliably say that high school was neither the best of times, nor the worst of times. In the end, high school, like every other stage of life, typically include good and bad, highs and lows. While this perspective contains a greater truth than the usual work of fiction, it lacks a compelling narrative.

Why should I feel nostalgic for high school and further, why should a show that reflects the discomfort of adolescence bring forth these feelings? I believe answer lies in one word: identification. When I was in high school, I felt that I was an outsider. I may have been involved in more activities than Daria, but that did not alleviate my feelings of alienation. I identified strongly with characters on the show, especially Daria and Jane. When I watched the show, I wished that I had been gifted with the quick wit and cutting sarcasm of these two girls. Even now, as a "well-adjusted" adult, I sometimes still find myself feeling like the outsider. What has changed, is that I now recognize that these feelings are incredibly common.

 At this point, I will likely have to go to my default behavior, experimentation. I think its time that I invite my brother over and have him watch the series.  I'm interested to see what someone ten years younger than me thinks about this series. At the very least, I should be able to return in a few weeks with some interesting anecdotes.