Anatomy of a Tom Hater
Why There is So Much Anger Towards Tom Sloane
By Kara Wild (With help from Alan Benard)

August 18, 1999 marked the first appearance of Tom Sloane on Daria. In the aptly titled episode, "Jane's Addition," he catches Jane's eye at a Mystic Spiral concert and almost instantly offers to take her for a ride in his car. From there, Jane and Tom quickly became an item, the first wave of "Tom hatred" surged... never to abate.

Why the Tom hatred? First, for those who are unfamiliar with Daria's later seasons, here is some background on young Thomas. Tom (whose last name "Sloane" was not revealed until the movie "Is It Fall Yet?", a full season after his introduction) is the slightly rebellious son of a wealthy family. He rejects his posh background, driving beat-up cars and wearing khakis with tennis shoes. This does not, however, prevent him from attending an exclusive prep school, nor from cheerfully accepting his family's use of nepotism to get into a top-ranked college. Indeed, the biggest question mark among Daria fans seems to be just how seriously to take Tom's rebellion. Is it a phase in the life of a rich son who will eventually fall in line, or an early sign of someone choosing the harder path?

Confusion about the true nature of this character is one motive fans have for Tom hatred. Another is the effect he had on Daria and Jane's friendship. The resolution of "Jane's Addition" brought hope that Daria and Jane would rise to the challenge posed by a new guy in Jane's life - a hope that proved to be empty. Throughout Season Four, the strain between the Partners in Crime was obvious, mainly due to Daria's resentment of Tom's monopolization of Jane's time. Those feelings started to change in "I Loathe a Parade," but Daria still remained distant from Tom until nearly the end of the season, when "Fire" arrived.

By then, Jane's relationship with Tom had broken down so badly that -- on scant evidence -- she cast a suspicious eye on Daria. "Dye! Dye! My Darling" had a strangely paranoid Jane tossing out the accusation that Daria was seeing Tom behind her back. Somehow, this turned out to be not-so-crazy when - after protesting just moments before that she had no interest in Jane's boyfriend -- Daria found herself locking lips with Tom in his car.

Daria confessed to Jane, but a fissure erupted between them nonetheless. They would spend most of the summer apart, Daria dating Tom while Jane nursed her anger at an artists colony. Finally, after undergoing a radical change of heart, Jane pushed Daria to keep dating Tom after they had broken up, paving the way for her return to the good-natured sidekick role. Even so, one never got the sense that Daria and Jane had patched things up. Maybe it was because Tom occupied Jane's usual place in so many of Season Five's scenes, making obvious her marginalization.

I believe that the fans' Tom hatred comes from three places. First, the frustration that Daria and Jane's friendship didn't get more respect during the "triangle trilogy," and attention during the somewhat lame fifth season. Second, questions of whether Tom was worth all the damage. Third, aggravation that one of the least-fleshed-out, most boring major characters in the Daria canon took up so much space.

It sounds a little odd to say that Daria and Jane's friendship didn't get enough attention, since we saw plenty of it in the first three seasons. However, problems were starting to creep up that merited more attention. In "See Jane Run" in Season Two, we'd learned that Daria's dependency issues annoyed Jane. In "Lane Miserables," we saw firsthand how truly dysfunctional the Lane family was, suggesting that the flipside of Daria's issue was Jane's problem forming and maintaining attachments. Addressing these character traits during its final seasons would have made Daria a powerful show about two friends without having to resort to a conventional love triangle.

But that cliche, that hoary chestnut, did bring up its intriguing questions. Like what made Jane so paranoid that Daria could be dating Tom. Like why Daria dated Tom, even though she (possibly) knew it hurt her best friend. Like how Daria and Jane managed to keep the peace throughout Season Five. All these good questions were left unasked, much less answered, and fans worked overtime suspending disbelief and wondering: What was the point?

If it was to prove that Jane and Daria's friendship was stronger than any boy-stealing, it might have been nice to have a more satisfying resolution than Jane's "I'm over it - go date Tom." If it was to show how Daria and Jane grew as people, that wasn't terribly obvious, either. The insecurity that Jane suddenly developed and suffered under throughout Season Four would never be addressed again. Daria -- who had either lied to her best friend or lived in pure denial -- spent much of Season Five getting mad at Tom and acting either petulant or apologetic. To quote Jerry Seinfeld, "Nobody hugs, nobody learns."

Then there's the question of whether Tom merited so much grief. Tom is definitely smart and good-looking in an Everyman sort of way. He comes off as generally reasonable and supportive. Even so, there are drawbacks to his personality. Tom can be reasonable to the point of smugness, and -- even when he is wrong (a rarity) -- he is often quick to contextualize it as someone else's folly. He has also demonstrated glaring moments of insensitivity. It was Daria who told Jane that she kissed Tom -- he offered no confession. He believed Daria's anger towards him in "Is It Fall Yet?" to be due to her fear of getting close, when guilt that she (and he) had betrayed her best friend was a far better explanation. The question of character arises once again, and Tom is found lacking. Did Tom not care about Jane? Did he view all of his girlfriends as expendable? Did he indulge in the sexist belief that their fighting was just a "silly girl thing," rather than a real crisis? Did Tom think he was worth all of the fighting because he was so rich and wonderful in every way?

We will never know. Daria's writers never let us go deep enough into Tom's head to find out. In all likelihood, they intended him to be a decent enough kid, since setting up Daria with the Devil's Spawn would not have made for a happy ending. However, the lack of concrete insights into his behavior left it up to viewers to fill in the blanks. Fans saw Tom acting in not-nice ways toward our favorite characters. He showed no remorse, nor took any responsibility for the train wreck at the end of Season Four. More infuriating, situations where Daria got angry with Tom were written as if she was the bratty child and Tom was the patient, caring adult. Tom never had to atone for his actions or grow and change because of them. As Cincgreen said in his essay, The Fall of Tommunism: "Does EVERYTHING work out for the boy?" Fans felt he should not be allowed to get off scot-free, and so when the writers refused to make him pay, we took him to task.

Beyond Tom's moments of insensitivity, many fans never warmed to him because there simply wasn't that much there. With his good looks and politeness, Tom was the perfect boy to bring home to Mom, but that alone should never have been enough to snare Daria or Jane. What qualities did Tom possess that enchanted them so strongly they were willing to sacrifice their friendship? Was Tom artistic? Did he volunteer at an animal shelter? Was he the best darn chess player this side of the Mississippi? Granted, the male population of Lawndale doesn't provide much selection, but if Friends to the End Daria and Jane were going to part ways, shouldn't it have been over someone more... special? Tom was bland. Nice, smart...but not unique. Not even cool.

It is entirely possible that the reason Daria and Jane fell headlong into their embrace of him was because they were genuinely sick of each other. They had no other close friends, and, to quote My Fair Lady, had grown so "accustomed to [each other's] face" they took it for granted. Tom was just compatible enough to provide a welcome alternative. If that were the case, it would make sense; however, the writers never told us so one way or the other. Instead, fans saw Daria and Jane putting everything on the line for a dull, patronizing, pampered guy.

So, there you have the three main reasons Tom haters hate Tom. And we cannot ignore yet another reason offered by an implacable, fervent minority: Tom took Daria away from her rightful intended, Trent Lane. The few Tom defenders claim this is the main reason behind the Tom hatred, and maybe they have a point. The first wave of Tom hate began shortly after "Jane's Addition," led by ardent Daria/Trent 'shippers. However, that does not account for every Tom hater, and using this criterion alone, I myself would not be one.

I never wanted Daria to get together with Trent, and liked Tom when he first appeared. After the realistic and non-cliched way in which the writers handled the "break up" of Daria and Trent, I looked forward to seeing how they would handle the two-girls-and-a-guy scenario. I think Tom hate developed slowly for me and many others, borne of disappointment and frustration, often full of ambivalence.

Here are some other rebuttals to typical pro-Tom arguments:

1) [Regarding the fact that he kissed Daria while dating Jane] Give him a break! He's a teenage boy with normal needs. His hormones were raging!

No offense, but do you remember what teenage boys are like? They're twits. Stupid, aggressive, annoying, and sometimes dangerous twits. But take heart: Girls aren't much better, if at all. Still, if you play the "but they're just teenagers" card to soften our stance toward Tom, you're out of luck. Real teenagers don't get off scot-free for their crimes, so why should Tom get a free pass for kissing Daria?

Further, Tom's appeal lies in the fact that he isn't like a normal teenager. Kevin, Robert, the Three J's... those are the "normal" teens. Tom is supposed to be smarter and more mature than typical teenage guys, or why else would Daria find him attractive? If he truly were a slave to his hormones, why should we see him as any better than Kevin?

I don't believe that Tom was a slave to his hormones. He knew what he was doing. He wanted to kiss Daria. Whether Daria wanted to be kissed that first time is open to debate, but she definitely did the second time. Tom and Daria may not have had deep intellectual reasons for kissing each other, but I don't believe that they were helplessly caught up in the sway of their emotions. In case you haven't noticed, I am holding Daria responsible as well. Tom instigated the whole thing, but Daria bears some blame, too. This is important, because Tom supporters often assume that Tom haters think of Daria and Jane as innocent victims. Which brings us to:

2) Tom has his faults, yeah, but Daria is no angel herself.

Very true. And, had we spent four years watching the show "Tom" about a well-meaning, intelligent kid struggling to form an identity apart from his rich family, things would be different. We would know what made Tom click, sympathize with him, chastise him whenever he acted like an ass. If some bitchy, sullen "Misery Chick" walked into his life, I'd be like, "Run awaaaaay!" Instead, we got to know Daria and her friend Jane. We peeked under that Misery Chick's mask and saw a vulnerable human being. Tom arrived three seasons in and failed to acquire any depth over the last two. While characters who had been around longer - like Ms. Li - were similarly maltreated, we still didn't like them any better, so why should we make an exception for Tom?

We care about Daria, so naturally we are more protective of her, even while acknowledging that she isn't perfect. Furthermore, if we look at situations like the kiss in Tom's car, it's clear that Daria was willing to accept blame and suffered a far greater punishment than Tom did, even though he didn't admit to his role until Jane was pounding him on the chest. Hardship begets sympathy.

3) You say you hate him because he's too perfect, then you say that you hate him because he behaved like a dick! Make up your mind!

He is both. Until "Is It College Yet?" Tom was never shown to be in the wrong - totally wrong, all by himself, with Daria in the right. This allowed him to act smug and condescending from time to time, while Daria always had to take back her words. A fan could objectively point out his personality flaws, and truth be told, would not have minded had Tom owned up to them with genuine remorse.

4) You just want Daria and Jane's friendship to stay the same, always. That's boring! Tom challenges Daria, and that scares you.

Actually, when Tom arrived, I was getting really bored with Daria and Jane's Wacky Adventures. I kept hoping for a shift in their dynamic that would present new challenges while showing that smart, mature kids could tackle their problems without the melodrama rampant in most teen shows. This could have been accomplished without the addition of a new character, but if a new friend or boyfriend were introduced, it provided an opportunity for the writers to do it well.

Plus, it's questionable whether Tom really did challenge Daria. Expose her stubborn nature and force her to compromise maybe, but she was doing that anyway, thanks to the scrutiny of pre-existing characters like Helen or Jodie. He also helped her acknowledge her sexuality, but not enough that she was willing to tear down the last barriers and do the deed. If anything, Daria seemed to keep an invisible barrier between herself and Tom throughout much of Season Five. Reaffirming Jane's pre-eminence in her life ("Boxing Daria") and dumping Tom in the final movie sent the message that Daria had made a mistake in putting a guy before her best friend.

5) Admit it - you really want Daria to get together with Jane!

I'll never tell!

Two years since the series' end, confusion still exists about Tom haters and their motives. On the surface, it seems like a huge amount of energy wasted on an animated character who really isn't that bad. But look closer, and it becomes easier to understand. Tom hatred isn't always blind and vicious. It manifests sometimes as strained tolerance, sometimes as annoyance, sometimes as undifferentiated rage ... but mostly as disappointment in Daria's writers. If they had to create a new major character, couldn't it have been one we could root for? Identify with? Or stand?

October 2003