Daria is the perfect black sheep in the very large and
diverse family of animated characters. Her misanthropic attitude, dry monotone
voice, and utter contempt for almost everyone else in her life besides her best
friend Jane, made her stand out instantly when the show premiered in 1997. In a
piece, Tyler Coates wonders if Daria was, in fact, a jerk, and I cannot
help but disagree.
Coates focuses on Daria’s relationships with the surrounding
cast, and the many instances when she acts in a borderline abusive manner:
When the new kid in school, Ted, lobbies for her
affection, she’s more focused more on how weird he is (he’s a former
home-schooler testing out the waters of high school socialization) rather than
how much she enjoys being around him. And she holds an incredible amount of
resentment toward Quinn, so much so that she goes out of her way to present her
to the masses as an empty-headed teen (which, honestly, feels like a
redundancy) in a school documentary project without considering her sister’s
own feelings; she stands down at the last minute when their mom steps in and
suggests Daria consider the big picture.
I don’t disagree with the nature of her actions, but its
important to consider the integrity of Daria as a character within the right
context. If she did not exist within the show’s universe, would the other
characters have acted any differently? If not, perhaps that’s an indication that
Daria influence is negligible after all. Consider the many ironic instances
where Daria inadvertently helps a fellow character despite her initial
objectives. She does make a difference, but do the ends justify the means or is
she still considered a jerk?
Perhaps the person to focus on most closely in such an
analysis is Daria’s own sister, Quinn. Whatever grief the younger sister is
given, it is more often than not returned in kind; usually in the form of
feigned ignorance or outright denial that the two are even related. Daria may
not get her comeuppance, but she doesn’t get a free ride either. The other
characters actually help keep her in check as well.
Daria is also not invincible. There are times when even she
requires emotional support, or advice. While it’s true that only the audience
is privy to these moments, the fact that we are shown the character’s
vulnerabilities is important too. It demonstrates that she does have some
degree of compassion, and while she attempts to hide it as best she can, the
fact that it exists at all, and does influence her actions on some level, is
proof that she’s not entirely evil.
Lastly, Daria is a teenager; as-is most of the cast. Even if
she is a jerk, she’s still a teenager with all the social stigma and growing
pains that that entails. In other words, she’s at exactly the right age when
everyone is acting like a jerk whether they know it or not. That’s normal, and
despite being a bit closer to the extremes than most, it’s still not outside of
the realm of possibility for Daria to act the way she does. The key question is
whether those same traits continue into adulthood; which the show only alludes
to but never decisively portrays.
Daria was a show that continues to stand out amongst the
crowd in a way not unlike the eponymous character. It continues to define
convention, and despite showing a little bit of age, remains remarkably fresh
after almost 20 years. It’s highly unlikely that that would be the case without
such a unique, quirky and resolutely determined protagonist. Would people have
watched for so long if she truly were a jerk?
This College Humor video (below) is unrelated to the above commentary – but if you are as big a fan of Daria as we are, we suspect you’ll enjoy it.