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Daria - Episode-by-Episode Analysis

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College Bored
Social corruption is a recurring theme in Daria. "College Bored" is the first episode that touches on it, and not in a way that necessarily makes Daria look that good.

First, the satire. College is the main target of the writers' barbs in this episode and it's interesting to see how many of them still strike true. Competition for college intensified during the '90s, as pundits warned parents that a lack of a degree would doom their child to a bleak adulthood of minimum wage jobs.

Of course, as more and more students got degrees, the values of those same degrees plummeted. A BA is not necessarily that useful these days and there are plenty of graduates who struggle to get good jobs in an increasingly competitive market. Worse, too many colleges became more concerned about tuition money than education.

You can see this early on, with Ramona reading an SAT prep book for toddlers. This is barely satire, since in real life some parents would go so far as to enroll elementary school children in preparatory courses.

Daria dismisses the idea (and offers a prescient comment about moving back in after graduation) but still ends up going to a high school prep course (Push Comes to Love), which is predictably useless.

When Daria and Quinn finally visit Middleton, they find that learning is not really a high priority, for either the students or the administration. Jake can't even figure out what the high tuition costs cover and the assistant bursar is evasive. In all likelihood, it reflects the tendency in many colleges to have increasingly large (and expensive) administrative apparatuses. Education is a distant second priority.

The NY Times had an interesting article on this tendency in 2015, so it still goes on. (https://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/05/opin ... .html?_r=0)

The students aren't much better, spending their energies on anything other than work. This is brought home when Heather, the Morgendorffers' campus guide, gets a pre-written paper that she ordered. Seeing the paper's low quality, Daria offers to fix it up, and is soon doing a brisk business.

Cheating in college is nothing new, but it expanded dramatically with the rise of the Internet. The Internet made it easy to find people or even entire companies willing to write mediocre college papers for students. A particularly infamous real life example is Dave Tomar/Ed Dante, who made a living off of writing papers for college students, and later described his experiences in a book called The Shadow Scholar.

What all of this shows is that college is mostly about money. Kids are sent there not to learn, but to get the skills they need for good careers. The colleges use money to enrich their own administrators. Students would rather party and pay others to do the work for them.

And Daria happily becomes part of the problem. Cash is cash after all.

At this point, Daria's character is still being fleshed out. Season 1 Daria is, in general, more cynical and indifferent than she is later on. She doesn't have the same strong morals she'd show in later episodes ("Fizz Ed", "Prize Fighters").

Yet some of these later episodes ("See Jane Run", "Dye! Dye my Darling!") show her doing the wrong thing for self-benefit. In "See Jane Run", the issue even relates to school corruption. Thus, "College Bored" establishes that Daria has a moral blind spot. Her cynicism is not always just for show.

Notes:

  • The experiences of the other students in Push Comes to Love continue the theme. Neither Kevin nor Brittany learn anything (granted, they're pretty thick), while Mack gets a firsthand look at corrupt athletics.
  • Middleton is later shown as being a second-rung school. Raft is hopefully a bit better.