Back in the '90s, MTV was still awesome, and Daria championed the viewpoint of young people everywhere. She was one of the few MTV characters who gave intelligent, introverted teens a role model that they could look to for inspiration and commiseration.
It’s impossible to overstate the importance of a show about an intelligent feminist who doesn't care about all the things young people are told to care about. At the time, Daria could be held up as a beacon of progressive thought. It’s only in hindsight that you realize the character you modeled yourself after was a complete narcissist and a terrible person.
Every Daria episode is rife with situations that highlight the ways Daria was unlikeable, and posits inexcusable reasons Daria wasn't very nice. As an adult, watching the five seasons and two made-for-TV movies conjures up a lot of confusing feelings.
You can easily lose count of all the times Daria was actually an *sshole to the jocks who, conversely, treat her rather kindly. Reckoning with the the problematic aspects of one of your teen idols is never easy, but the healing begins here.
Daria Hooks Up With Her Best Friend's Boyfriend
Daria spends much for the fourth season being a standoffish jerk to Jane's boyfriend, Tom. This is normal behavior for the cartoon curmudgeon, but her fervent dislike of her best friend's boyfriend isn't spawned by feelings of neglect, it's because she's harboring a secret crush.
Rather than talk to Jane about her emotions, she acts like a weirdo until the season finale, "Dye, Dye, My Darling." In the episode, Jane confronts Daria about her obvious feelings for Tom, and Daria responds by gaslighting her only friend. At the end of the episode Daria and Tom make out, hard. What an awful person.
Daria Insults Her Friend's Extremely Personal Artwork
In the episode "Dye, Dye My Darling" Daria is presented with Jane's newest painting, titled "The Lady or the Tiger." Rather than praising the work (or even providing constructive criticism), her first reaction is, "Very nice. Or is it a cry for help?" When your best and only friend shows you a personal work of art, do not react like this.
To make things worse, the painting is inspired by Jane's insecurities. Jane feels that she needs to be more like a tiger in order to entrance Tom, who she (correctly) believes Daria is trying to steal away. In this scenario it's as if Daria looked into her "best friend's" soul and gave it a big thumbs down.
Daria Doesn't Recognize Her Own Privilege
Daria's greatest fault is that she doesn't understand that she's only able to act snidely as a result of her lineage. She's certainly not from old money like Tom, her eventual boyfriend, but she nonetheless has advantages that she never recognizes.
In the episode "Partner's Complaint," Daria and Jodie attempt to get a loan for an economics project, and Jodie is initially denied because of the color of her skin. It's not until she drops the name of her father, a prominent Lawndale businessman, that they're able to get the loan.
Daria immediately gets on Jodie's case for relying on her father's name. Neither the show nor its protagonist seem to understand how hard Jodie has to work to be accepted in her predominantly white community.
While both characters are exceptionally smart, Daria's wits give her permission to be snide because America accepts the archetype of the irascible white genius. If Jodie were to be so unkind, she would undoubtedly be treated like an outsider in her community.
Daria revels in being a misfit, but she is only excluded because of her mindset, clothes, and interests (all of which could easily be changed). Jodie doesn't have this luxury, since she has no control over the features that inspire prejudice in some characters. Whereas Daria thinks it's cool to not fit in, Jodie has to constantly fight for basic societal acceptance.
Daria's Feelings Are The Only Ones That Matter
Throughout Daria's entire run, the titular character is uniformly portrayed as a hero. Even when Daria is acting like a horrible friend, or brutalizing anyone who is at all different from her, she's still presented as the protagonist.
Daria is at her most petty in the episode "See Jane Run," when she grows jealous of the popularity that Jane receives for joining the track team. Since athletics lie outside of Daria's comfort zone, "misery girl" does everything she can to sabotage Jane's success, which amounts to yet another storm of snarky comments.
The main takeaway from Daria's actions is that if you don't feel good about yourself, you should tear everyone else down until you feel better.