The Mary Sue Syndrome--A bad TV cliché
Ain't I just a little angel?
Beware of Mary Sue
Ever since the invention of the Internet, when TV fans became able to vent their frustrations about a TV show to the world, the term "Mary Sue" became well-known. A "Mary Sue" is a derrogetory term which is applied to a certain type of cliched character.
What is a Mary Sue, you might ask? Well, first of all, a 'Mary Sue' does not necessarily apply to a female character. It can be a male, as well. (Sometimes called a 'Gary Stu', in that case.) The name 'Mary Sue' originally comes from a 1973 parody short-story by Paula Smith, called "A Trekkie's Tale", published in the Sci-Fi Fanzine 'Menagerie'. The story gained new life when the internet came along. "A Trekkie's Tale" is about the adventures of Lieutenant Mary Sue, "The youngest, smartest cadet ever to graduate from Star Fleet Academy, at the tender age of 15". Lt. Mary Sue was an all-too-perfect character, skilled in everything and sought after romantically by Kirk, Spock and McCoy. She saves the day in the end, of course.
When the internet made this little-known story popular, fans latched onto it as a nickname for an annoying type of cliched character often seen on TV, especially in sci-fi shows.
A 'Mary Sue' character will either have an unrealistic, compendious skill set that outshines everyone else, or otherwise, she/he will simply be praised by the other characters for a small contribution. All her/his ideas are praised as brilliant, all her/his jokes are laughed at, (even if they aren't funny) and any insight she/he offers will be seen as amazing deductions, no matter if they are glaringly obvious or moronically simplistic.
A Mary Sue is able to persuade anyone to see her/his way of thinking, regardless of how weak her/his argument is. People will trust her/him right away and people who just met her/him will immediately be taken with 'Mary Sue' and start talking about how amazing she/he is. Other characters will spend much of the episode talking about how special the Mary Sue is, even if she/he hasn't done anything to give that impression.
A Mary Sue is pure goodness. She/he doesn't actually have to do anything to prove it...Mary Sue is just good! Mary Sue is better than the rest of us; not by anything she/he does...She/he is just better because she is! Anyone who doesn't like the Mary Sue is either portrayed as an unsympathetic character, or will change their opinion by the end of the story and admit that the Mary Sue is indeed wonderful. Mary Sue will often redeem the villain through the power of her/his goodness.
A Mary Sue will generally have no flaws. However, if she/he does, those flaws are either overlooked by everyone or considered endearing. She/he is never blamed for any problems she/he causes, and is always easily forgiven for doing things that other characters would be lambasted or punished for.
Mary Sue is always in the spot light, sometimes even more-so than the hero. Even though the Mary Sue is usually a supporting character, she/he will either save the day at the end of the episode, or otherwise be the object that everyone is fighting over. A hero will often see the Mary Sue as the inspiration that keeps him fighting, even if the audience can't see the appeal. (Well, except for the appeal of the invariably good looks of the female Mary Sues, who are always very attractive.)
A Mary Sue will usually have a tormented background to make her/him more appealing and sympathetic to the audience (Since we can't sympathize with this perfect character otherwise.) Usually they will have had a bad childhood, or have overcome something like poverty or the death of a loved one.
A Mary Sue will often have some special destiny. At first they are just a downtrodden regular (albeit perfect) person, but later will be revealed to have an important place in the universal scheme of things.
The point of a Mary Sue is not in what she/he does but in how others react to her/him. A Mary Sue exists to be praised; an object to be idolized by others. She/he inspires others with contagious goodness, even if the Mary Sue never actually does anything of note.
A Mary Sue is generally a wish-fulfillment character. The writer often sees her/himself in this character and puts herself/himself by proxy in the story through this character, which is why the Mary Sue character usually gets the biggest happy ending of all the characters in the show.
Examples of Mary Sues:
The most famous example of a Mary Sue is Wesley Crusher from Star Trek: the Next Generation. Wesley has most of the characteristics of a Mary Sue. He has unrealistic skills (He is a genius in science and engineering at 15); he is constantly praised by all the other characters for being so special and wonderful; he frequently saves the ship; Although he is only 15, he keeps coming up with solutions that the senior crew members have overlooked; He sees good in characters that others don't see and is proven right at the end; Even when his experiments almost destroy the ship (As in the episode "Evolution" when his nanites almost doom everyone, or the episode "Remember Me" where he almost gets his mother killed) no blame is ever assigned him. His few errors are overlooked; he has a tragic background (he lost his father when he was a young boy);and he is later revealed to be a special "spirit traveller" who can cross dimensions at will and leaves the 'Trek' universe behind to explore the multi-verse.
Another example is Lana Lang from Smallville: Lana also has most of the Mary Sue qualities. She is the object of affection for the hero (Clark Kent) and villain (Lex Luthor), as well as the local football star; Many of the baddies who show up become obsessed with her; she is beautiful, smart, an 'A' student, a cheerleader and runs her cafe 'the Talon' in her spare time; She has no flaws; Everyone loves her and praises her; She has a tormented background (she lost her parents when she was young); No matter what she does wrong, at the end, Clark Kent will end up overlooking it or, often, apologizing to her; And ultimately, she becomes super hero herself with powers the same as Superman and we're told by people from the future that she has a destiney as great as Superman himself.
Rose Tyler from Dr. Who is another example; Rose has no discernible skills but her pure goodness either reforms the villains, inspires the heroes or teaches a much-needed lesson to the guest star; All the male characters fall in love with her at some point and compete for her attention, even the 900 year old alien hero who never even looked at a women before he met the irresistible Rose; Any female character who criticizes her is seen as jealous of Rose's perfection and beauty; Even when she screws up (Such as almost destroying the universe in "Father's Day") she is immediately forgiven; The hero constantly declares her as the thing that keeps him fighting (Even though he was fighting evil for 800 years before he ever met her); Even after Rose left the series, the Doctor spent the next year telling her replacement how wonderful Rose was; In the end, she becomes wealthy, gets her own cloned Doctor boy-toy as a boyfriend and becomes a government agent.
These are just a few of the major examples of the classic TV 'Mary Sues', but you get the idea. There are many more.
So, are there any 'Mary Sues' on the shows you watch?
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