Daria Morgendorffer: A Character Study

MTV-produced programming in recent times has shown females to be shallow and despicable. Geordie Shore, Jersey Shore, My Super Sweet Sixteen, Snooki & Jwoww and other such programs are part of an unfortunately large list of recent MTV-produced programming where females live simply for superficial and self-serving needs without any evidence of integrity. However MTV also produced Daria, a program with a female centered character whose integrity in her actions and opinions are not accountable for females within recent MTV-produced programming.

Daria is set through the high school years of Daria Morgendorffer, a self-defined outsider whose contempt for shallow cheerleaders and idiotic jocks is equally matched by sometimes questioning her teachers’ and families’ ethics, wherever it be their deceit or hypocrisy. She also diverted herself against moronic aspects of high school, having no interest in physical appearance or appealing towards popularity, showing her stern character. This article will contain analysis of four Daria episodes which contextualised Daria as a sincere female character which is nowhere to be found amongst females in recent MTV-produced programming.

1. Malled (Season One, Episode Five)

Daria with her economics class

Malled showed Daria enduring a visit to a personal hell in a state-of-the-art shopping mall with her economics class. Daria’s thoughts on the subject are made clear when she responses to her sister Quinn’s praises of the “super mall” in her typical sarcastic reply, “if you play that John Lennon song backwards, it says, Imagine all the people, browsing in a mall. Isn’t that weird?” Daria was standing for her ethics by criticising people’s trivial preoccupations with consumerism. Whereas Daria was tackling issues with consumerism, MTV-produced programming from recent years such as My Super Sweet Sixteen where spoilt participants over-indulge in lavish gifts and extravagant foods conveyed as entertainment for MTV viewers. This contrast distinguishes Daria in terms of female representation as a special exception, she conveyed the hazards of consumerist excess. Daria later revealed that a class meeting with mall executives is manipulated into secret market research. The mall executives respond by blackmailing Daria’s economics class with vouchers in which she replies “you don’t get it, there’s a principle involved”. Daria’s perspective makes clear commercialism’s shallowness in turn reflecting her stern integrity. Daria was not influenced by gifts of vanity, continuously fighting against commercialism which engulfed her fellow students. Daria’s representation in Malled regarding commercialism is nowhere to be found in the obsessive consumer culture on MTV in recent years especially My Super Sweet Sixteen‘s spoilt brats getting expensive cars and clothing.

2. Arts N’ Crass (Season Two, Episode One)

Daria and Jane’s School Art competition entry

Daria and her best friend, fellow outsider Jane tackled assumptions of feminine beauty in Arts N’ Crass. In contrast to recent MTV-produced programming where stereotypes of feminine beauty are normalised, Daria and Jane aimed to break them down because they were infuriated by the same stereotypes at their high school. In contrast to Daria, recent MTV-produced programming like Geordie Shore, Jersey Shore, My Super Sweet Sixteen and Snooki & Jwoww have females parading around with too much make-up and expensive clothing conveying shallowness. This underlines Daria as a MTV-produced program which contained a sincere female character. Daria and Jane’s school art competition entry contained an image of a typical teenage beauty with a profound message, ‘she knows she’s a winner, she couldn’t be thinner, now she goes to the bathroom and vomits up dinner’. This is powerfully sincere in contrast to their fellow classmates’ entries such as Brittney’s clichéd anti-alcohol and drugs, reflecting Daria’s stance on integrity over obsession towards physical appearance which females within recent MTV-produced programming constantly do. Wherever it be the ladies from Geordie Shore and Jersey Shore using their physicality to attract men, there is an ultimate downside within this reality which might not be shown in Geordie Shore and Jersey Shore (rather it is sensationalised) yet Daria exposed it. Their entry soon causes controversy with Principal Lee confiscating and redefining its context, however Daria along with Jane consolidate their integrity by defacing it. Daria defacing the entry was a defying statement within her characterisation affirming sincerity which is sourly missing from recent MTV-produced programming where moral ethics are non-existent. Instead they are replaced by egotistical urges with little depth. Daria’s defiance for her ethics in Arts N’ Class was an admirable characteristic.

3. The Lost Girls (Season Three, Episode Five)

Daria suffering from Val’s attention

The Lost Girls is similar to Malled in the sense that Daria continuously fought for her ethics against superficiality. She is unwillingly forced to spend a day with Val, owner of a self-titled teen magazine after Mr O’Neill submitted Daria’s essay to Val. Daria thinks the magazine is superficial with articles such as ‘What TV’s hottest hunks thinks of your blackheads’. Val is the polar opposite of Daria, cohering the latter’s sincerity. Val spoke in slang, was superficial and oblivious to her contradictions. Daria was offering a damning critique of Val yet there are striking similarities with Val and recent MTV-produced programming. Val’s obsession with her physical appearance mirrors the ladies from Geordie Shore and Jersey Shore reaffirming their physicality to attract men or focusing on moronic aspects of life. It is tragic that females within recent MTV-produced programming have personalities similar to Val’s values which are upheld towards its audience. Daria stood out as the special exception by continuously breaking down Val’s persona in particular being shocked by Val’s age of 28 feeling she is a fraud, “pushing yourself as a role model when all you care about is how you look”. Daria once more fought for her ethics against a tirade of superficial, shallow ignorance revealing Val’s pathetic nature. Daria having the capability of criticising superficial ethics reflected the sincerity incorporated into Daria’s characterisation.

4. Prize Fighters (Season Five, Episode Eleven)

Upchuck, Daria and Jodie starting their University Scholarship interview.

Prize Fighters placed Daria somewhat unwillingly against fellow students Jodie and Upchuck for a University scholarship. She is hesitant to be involved in the process, feeling it is negatively subverted. This went against Daria’s ethics regarding education that something which is “supposedly based on merit can be bought”. Daria’s unwillingness to break from her ethics continued in her disgust at Jodie and Upchuck’s attempts to coy-fully gain the University scholarship through desperate means. Daria’s perspective made it understandable why she felt the situation was undesirable, education should be a respectable concept and not subverted for sheer greed. Daria engaging in subjects of education for its audience for them to debate Daria’s predicament. It lets audiences engage seriously with their intellect unlike audiences for Geordie Shore, Jersey Shore, My Super Sweet Sixteen and Snooki & Jwoww who only relish sensationalised events for cheap entertainment. Daria’s perspective conveys her as a sincere character who would not deceive her ethics shown in the direct and sarcastic answers she delivers to the University scholarship interviewer, treating it like the charade it was. Daria’s contempt continued to show her sincerity that has not been and never would be duplicated by female participants within recent MTV-produced programming because they never engaged in serious context, it was just mindless entertainment.

So why should Daria’s characterisation be vigorously emphasised? It is important to reflect in the context of MTV-produced programming that females can have a positive representation, not as shallow or despicable but containing virtue and sincerity which Daria had. It raises questions as to if Daria has tragically become a bookend to quality MTV-produced programming which has been missing in recent years. Daria having such characteristics which were respectable still transcends today ultimately showing her significance being far superior than females in Geordie Shore, Jersey Shore, My Super Sweet Sixteen, Snooki & Jwoww, and other such programs combined.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Contributing writer for The Artifice. I have a deep interest in films, television and the arts.
Edited by Jordan, Mary Awad, Misagh.

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  1. Daria rules.. but in real life she would be the outcast cuz ppl are shallow, dumb & cruel

  2. Stephnie Beach

    Daria had everything an audience could want from it’s comedic sarcasm to one thinking about the world around them. The show was timeless!

  3. I really miss Daria. EVERYTHING was better in the 90’s.

  4. i officially want to spend my evening watching reruns of Daria

    • Kimbery Leung

      Done that the past month, no-regrets-what-so-ever.

  5. Christina Cady

    I have only watched a few Daria episodes but from the episodes and countless gifs I’ve seen I think that it is a show that has really aged well. That is something that, as you pointed out, can not be said of much of what is seen on MTV today. Thanks for the article, this show is on my to watch list!

    • Ryan Errington

      Thanks for your comment Christina. Not only has Daria aged well regarding the points I mentioned in the article, but it also contains relationships between characters at High School or at home which are universal.

  6. Mary Awad

    I never saw the show but I really enjoyed the article. I guess Daria stood out in her world just like her show stands out compared to the others. Nice job.

    • Ryan Errington

      Thanks for your comment and your editorial advice Mary. Daria was indeed a stand out character which is what made me a fan of the show.

  7. Brittany Goodin

    I love this more than I can put into words.
    I always loved the show, and a lot of my friends just didn’t enjoy her bleak, sarcastic humor.

    • Ryan Errington

      Thank you goodinbf. Daria is an acquired taste. Daria’s outlook on society along with her honestly has always drawn me into her character.

  8. God, I miss this show.

  9. Merrill

    I miss the music to Daria the most…it was like a insight to late 90s early 2000

  10. Great article, and quite distressing to think about really! It’s interesting, though, that Daria was a spin-off of a male-orientated show. It therefore doesn’t prove that MTV would ever commission a show with such a positive representation of women on its own merits. Here’s hoping they do someday soon, though.

    • Ryan Errington

      Thanks for your George. You say MTV wouldn’t have produced Daria if it was not a spin-off from Beavis & Butthead. There is an element of truth within your comment, however surely MTV must have seen something within Daria’s character to approve production. Therefore it could be argued MTV commissioned Daria for its positive representation of women on its own merits.

  11. Sheba Anthony

    Daria’s okay. She’s smart, perceptive, and sees things for what they are. Though she’s a bit anti-social and contemptuous towards everybody. She appears to dislike everybody and only opens up to a few people who she deems worthy of her respect. I used to watch this show a couple of times during its run, and have had a considerable measure of fondness for it. It’s not one of my favorite shows of all time, but it’s still a classic.

    • If you haven’t seen the last episode of Daria, you really should. Daria’s character flaws are blatantly exposed and dealt with, and it becomes understandable as to why she acts the way she does. Even throughout the series, when Jodie and Daria interact with each other, Jodie analyses Daria’s behaviour and contrasts it to her own. In a sense, you could say that Daria and Jodie are the same person (with slightly differing qualities), only they take a polar opposite perspective on social interaction and participation. Also, the Psycho Therapy episode is a valuable one.

      -Daria Opinionated Mini-Analysis and Recollection-
      If I’m going to be honest, I didn’t really like season 1 all that much except for the last episode, since the characters had little depth apart from Daria and maybe Jane/Jodie. The last episode brings with it undeniable depth and fleshed out characters. With the majority of the season using the characters as vices to convey its thoughts about themes and concepts presented throughout, such as commercialism in Malled, the next season managed to present both fleshed out and interesting characters all around (except, of course, the majority of the fashion club and the dumb duo) in conjunction with themes and concepts. Of course, it gets better at it as time goes on, and this represents the show’s theme of growth. That is why I love Daria, even despite its flaws.

  12. I used to watch this show when I was a kid. And now I’m in high school and have bad eyesight, I have the same hair, and I’m the same height as Daria. Only thing is that I’m more artistic like jane, always late and I don’t get good grades. I guess I became a copy my childhood hero.

  13. I love Quinn!

  14. What a coincidence, I just bought the complete Daria series and blew through it within a few days. I pretty much love everything about her character and the her setting. However, I’m still trying to decide if I liked her character development throughout the series (well, at least between seasons 4 and 5) because it’s so subtle that I imagine that people might have become bored with her very quickly. I know I can only bear misanthropy for so long before I feel a little jaded. At least I can bear it more than today’s content on MTV.

  15. Jessica Pedersen

    Oh, Daria. What a fabulous show. I might need to go bust out my complete series after reading this, you’ve made me rather nostalgic!

    Daria, at the time, had been SO “cutting-edge.” I remember watching it in my living room, and my parents over hearing a line here or there, and having them wonder how the show was getting away with some of their lines.

    I loved the comparison between episodes of Daria and current MTV shows. It definitely goes to show the interesting direction the network took. I find it so strange that the same network that wrote this hilarious show with important social commentary is the same company that now produces shows like My Super Sweet Sixteen.

    The only thing I can say for MTV now, with their reality shows and other messes of programming, is that it might be inspiring teens that watch it in the opposite direction. I know I’ve read studies (how legitimate they are, I don’t know) about teenage pregnancy dropping after Teen Mom coming out. I know I certainly stopped to check myself after watching the brats on My Super Sweet Sixteen, but I was much older than their target demographic, so I’m not sure if it’s the same thing.

    I wouldn’t mind more characters like Daria around, that’s for sure.

    • Ryan Errington

      Thanks for your comment Jessica. Certainly is intriguing to note MTV’s direction in recent years, sadly its a sign of the times.

  16. TheKukkiBeast

    I think that MTV ruined itself when it started airing all of those horrible shows. In the age of Daria people were willing to listen and get a good message from a TV show. Now all we get is commercialized crap. It is truly unfortunate.

  17. Sunni Rashad

    Ah Daria, for a character so complex she really was quite simple. An anti-conformist trying to stand opposed to any form of conformity while not betraying her personal image of self. She definitely is missed in this day and age.

  18. Jane Harkness

    Your article may have persuaded me to finally start watching this show. Daria seems like a really refreshing character.

  19. giselle

    this was just the same 3 sentences repeated over and over again.

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