movies matter | criticism by maryann johanson
Tue Dec 22 2015, 02:25pm | 16 comments
Prediction: We are going to hear a lot more whining from a lot more men who cannot stand to have a woman take center stage.
Let them whine and gnash their teeth in the dark. Rey is standing on the biggest pop-culture center stage of all. This is a thing that is happening, and they can’t stop it.
I’m trying to celebrate the whining, because it means those of us on the side of tolerance are winning. We’re fighting over what “normal” looks like, and any of us who survived high school knows what it’s like to feel out of place (or, in this case, to give up a trivial amount of privilege).
I’m trying to celebrate the whining, because it means those of us on the side of tolerance are winning.
Oh yeah. As I like to say: when sexists and bigots complain about something in pop culture, it means pop culture is moving in the right direction.
No, a Mary Sue is a character like Lucy… from “Lucy.” It’s clear that Rey is a three dimensional character with flaws and imperfections. Some people…
No, Lucy is not a Mary Sue character, either. No redefinition/mutation/bastardization of the term gets you to that. Now we’re just pitting female characters against each other. The whole meme of the Mary Sue just needs to go. It’s taken what started as an observation about an idiosyncratic trope of fan fiction and turned it into another way to dismiss stories about women.
Well, I thought Lucy’s story felt a lot like fan-fiction… hence my using her character as an example.
But yeah, it’s just an unnecessary adjective for poorly written characters anyways.
“OMG THEY RUINED STAR WARS WITH A MARY SUE! THEY DID IT ALL WRONG!”
Well, The Force Awakens is the fastest movie in history to hit $1B box office. So I’m guessing the team are all like…
exactly… it’s term of mockery and derision that male fans level against the writing of female fans… i don’t understand why James Bond isn’t considered a “male mary sue” (should be another term for that) or why all those Star Wars pastiches written by actual pro authors aren’t considered ridiculous male fantasies. the term “mary sue” has to go. no all female fan stories, featuring women as the smart, clever, brave heroine were badly written or badly plotted — the assumption was made just *because* they were written by female fans.
“Gary Stu” and “Marty Stu” have been used occasionally, but haven’t really caught on. But yeah, James Bond is Ian Fleming’s wish-fulfillment character (there’s some evidence that it’s how he felt espionage really worked, in spite of the job he was doing during the war that should have proved to him that it wasn’t).
And because those female fans dared to ship them with beloved male characters. Kirk hooks up with nearly every woman with a pulse = fine. Kirk and Spock kiss and declare their undying love for each other = great. But don’t you dare make Kirk or Spock or both of them fall in love with your filthy Mary Sue.
I’ve seen so many people try to come up with their own definitions for the term ‘Mary Sue’ and twist themselves into contortions while arguing why this powerful female character is a Mary Sue and that powerful female character isn’t. At the end of the day, Mary Sue is nothing more than an insult to throw at a female character that you don’t like. Why is this character a Mary Sue? Because you don’t like her. Why is Batman not a Mary Sue? Because you like him.
It’s unhelpful, it’s often sexist (given how many male characters are allowed to get away with stuff that regularly gets female characters bashed and how some people don’t even bother with the Gary Stu/Marty Stu label: they’ll just flat-out call a perfect male character a Mary Sue), it makes writers afraid to write strong female characters, and it’s meaningless.
Mary Sue is nothing more than an insult to throw at a female character that you don’t like.
Or perhaps it’s a way to express disdain for a female character taking center stage, and doing everything male protagonists typically do. I mean, how many movies with male protagonists depict them as people worthy of being adored by everyone, no matter how awful they are? And yet a stereotypical Mary Sue is someone who legit is worth adoring because she’s awesome. It’s ridiculous and silly, but more plausible than a total jerk of a (male) moron being adored.
Oddly enough, the first time I ever heard the term “Mary Sue,” it was being used by one of the female members of my science fiction reading group and when she was asked to give an example, the first name she came up was the Wesley Crusher character from Star Trek: The Next Generation. Apparently he was not too popular with certain Star Trek, fans back in the day.
so, as you can see, it was thrown at a male character as an *insult* as are most “female” designations when used to a male. (sissy, pussy, *girl* are just a few that come to mind).
He was not. And he certainly came across as Roddenberry’s Mary Sue.
In middle school, my dorky friend and I made Wesley a bumbling redshirt in all of our silly fanart and fiction. He was by far the least popular character for most of the kids I knew.
One of the most annoying aspects of Mary Sues (and we used the term for both male and female characters) was the blatant pandering. We got the immediate sense that the writers expected young viewers/readers to automatically identify with the Sue, even though they were often the least interesting character. A favorite target of our ridicule was “The Game” in season 5 – a perfect showcase of a writer transparently using a Sue (Wesley) to try and connect with a younger demographic and failing miserably (yet hilariously).
It’s a shame that the label has apparently been appropriated by people who wish to criticize any skilled, important female. Although it has lost much of its original fanfictional meaning, I still find it to be a useful shorthand if a character:
1) Is clearly out of place, and no reasonable explanation is given or implied for the exception made in their case.
2) Has no social connection to the world (friends, family, history), very little character development, and uses contemporary speech and thought patterns in contrast to the rest of the cast.
3) Is conveniently more skilled at everything than the “professional” characters that surround them.
4) Is admired and respected by the other main characters immediately leading to at least two of them fall deeply in love.
5) Is the age of the target demographic and eerily resembles the author when they were the age of the Sue.
Rey is not a full Sue for me because a reasonable explanation is given for her solitary existence and relative lack of personality (Luke suffers from blandness as well in Ep 4). Her speech is no more contemporary than that of the other characters. Her skill set is credibly established early on to a certain extent. It’s yet to be seen if Reylo is canon, but as far as we know, none of the main characters have fallen in love with her although Han and Chewie do admire and respect her very quickly. And 5) does not apply at all as far as I know.
Despite the obvious efforts made to provide some depth, believability, and context to her character, I maintain that she is dangerously close to being a Sue – by simply cutting and/or rewriting about five minutes in three scenes, 1) through 4) would come into play more strongly. I’m confident that after the next movie, any residual Sue will be inevitably swept away by solid character development and a more substantial plot.
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