The Eus Yram

 

Have you ever heard of the Mary Sue? It is a trope in fiction, especially in fan-fiction, where some character is hyper-competent. As you can find at the linked Wikipedia page, the term was coined in 1973 in a Star Trek fanzine. Some say Rey from The Force Awakens is a Mary Sue. Some say Superman is the equivalent for men, a Marty Stu. Some say that Captain James T. Kirk was also one. Another that has been said to be a Mary Sue is Brie Larson’s Captain Marvel character. That’s all well and good. It’s a great name for the hyper-competent character who easily overcomes all obstacles.

But I have been noticing characters on the other end of the scale. They are hyper-incompetent. Nothing goes right for them. They are usually male. I remember reading a book a few years ago where, by the time the so-called protagonist found out his wife was sleeping with her hippy spiritual guru, I was rooting for the guru. The main character was just that unlikable. That book ended with a possible note of promise, although I’m not even so sure of that. The protagonist was committed to a hospital to dry out from alcohol, or some such, where he met a woman. Instead of taking the promise of better days seriously, I was thinking, “She’s a crazy person. Think of where you’re meeting her excrement-head. This will go no better than your last relationship.”

My wife just watched a short film. I asked her about it when she finished watching. “How was it?”

“It was good, but it was really depressing. It is critically-acclaimed,” she explained.

“Doesn’t ‘critically-acclaimed’ mean depressing as all get out?” I asked.

“I suppose it does,” she agreed.

“Well, what made it depressing?” I asked.

She went on to describe the character and his life in the film where everything went wrong for him. Again, he was one of these hyper-incompetent characters who are hard to like.

What is going on with these characters? Is this something that has been around and I have missed it? Or is it something relatively new? I know about characters like Charlie Brown and Sad Sack in the funny papers. Or good old Sureshot Crackshot, or whatever his name was from the old US Army training films. Charlie Brown is a “lovable loser.” He’s a kid. Kids are not expected to be hyper-competent. They’re expected to learn. And he is lovable. He’s a nice, sane kid surrounded by less nice or sane kids and animals. Sad Sack and Sureshot Crackshot are both very humorous characters. They’re likable and lazy or a likable idiot made to demonstrate what not to do in the army. Beetle Bailey is another of these types. But these characters I am now encountering are not lovable or likable. They’re incompetent losers who should be losing. They’re perfect examples of why I should be allowed to play shoulder golf. (Preferably with the authors of these characters.) Again, have they always been there, and I just missed it? Were there characters like this in Greek tragedies? I don’t like a lot of G.B.Shaw’s characters, but at least they aren’t hyper-incompetents. They are closer to Mary Sues/Marty Stus, which is a good reason not to like them. But have these anti-Mary Sues existed before the last decade or so? They are not anti-heroes, more like anti-protagonists who definitely don’t have the power to even be an antagonist. They are nothings.

And thinking this really is a new thing, I think this phenomenon needs a name of its own. Since it is the opposite of a Mary Sue, I propose calling them Eus Yrams.

What do you think Ricochet? Have you encountered this sort of character, these anti-protagonists, these Eus Yrams? Where have you encountered them? Have they been around for a while? Do they only appear at a civilization’s death? Are you seeing this trend, too?

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  1. Judge Mental Member
    Judge Mental
    @JudgeMental

    Charlie Brown would come out okay in the end, same usually with Sad Sack (and Beetle Bailey) by avoiding the Sarge long enough to take a nap.  Don’t know about the others, but that’s their saving grace.

    These characters are a sign of the times.  Look at how dark movies got in the 70s.  People are expecting the end times.

    • #1
  2. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Judge Mental (View Comment):

    Charlie Brown would come out okay in the end, same usually with Sad Sack (and Beetle Bailey) by avoiding the Sarge long enough to take a nap. Don’t know about the others, but that’s their saving grace.

    Yep, that’s why these are not the characters I am speaking of.

    These characters are a sign of the times. Look at how dark movies got in the 70s. People are expecting the end times.

    That is along the lines I was thinking. Except the ’70’s were better than these guys. Sure, they had anti-heroes as protagonists, but they were still protagonists.

    • #2
  3. Samuel Block Support
    Samuel Block
    @SamuelBlock

    Arahant: But have these anti-Mary Sues existed before the last decade or so? They are not anti-heroes, more like anti-protagonists who definitely don’t have the power to even be an antagonist. They are nothings.

    A few characters in cinema come to mind along the lines of what you describe: Jim Carrey’s from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Adam Sandler’s in Punch Drunk Love, Vincent Gallo’s from Buffalo ’66 and The Brown Bunny, many of Wes Anderson’s; Ben Stiller probably takes the commercial cake, compared to these “indie” movies. 

    These came out between the early 90s and late aughts, and I like most of them. These characters were frustratingly soft, but sympathetic. The best of these let us root for America’s postmodern little guy – the kind who grew up with a single-mother.

    The archetype is wearing thin though, as the redeeming qualities are vanishing.  

    • #3
  4. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    AFAIK, a Mary Sue isn’t just hyper-competent, but also there’s no credible reason in the storyline why they’d be that way. Lots of people are born with great talent that is already clear in childhood–Mozart; Alexander the Great. Probably Arahant, too. But a Mary Sue shows no signs of combat training or other indications of education that would let him or her reach this state. Like Richard Pryor in Superman III, he just has the knack, and no other explanation is given. 

    I don’t doubt that Rey could have been trained into the person she instantly becomes when needed by the story, but I’d like to have seen a little more evidence. I mean, fer chrissakes, even Mulan’s growth into a warrior was vastly more realistic, and Mulan wasn’t even a live action character. 

    • #4
  5. Randy Webster Member
    Randy Webster
    @RandyWebster

    MacGyver comes to mind.

    • #5
  6. Zafar Member
    Zafar
    @Zafar

    Courtesy wikipedia:

    A Mary Sue is a type of fictional character, usually a young woman, who is portrayed as unrealistically free of weaknesses.[1] Originating in fan fiction, a Mary Sue is often an author’s idealized self-insertion. Mary Sue stories are often written by adolescent authors.[2]

    The term Mary Sue was coined by Paula Smith, as a character’s name in the 1973 parody short story “A Trekkie’s Tale”, which satirized idealized female characters widespread in Star Trek fan fiction. A male character with similar traits may be labeled a Gary Stu or Marty Stu.

    From Paula Smith’s Bildungsroman:

    “Gee, golly, gosh, gloriosky,” thought Mary Sue as she stepped on the bridge of the Enterprise. “Here I am, the youngest lieutenant in the fleet—only fifteen and a half years old.” Captain Kirk came up to her. “Oh, Lieutenant, I love you madly. Will you come to bed with me?”

    “Captain! I am not that kind of girl!”

    “You’re right, and I respect you for it. Here, take over the ship for a minute while I go get some coffee for us.”

    Mr. Spock came onto the bridge. “What are you doing in the command seat, Lieutenant?”

    “The Captain told me to.” 

    “Flawlessly logical. I admire your mind.”

    Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, Dr. McCoy and Mr. Scott beamed down with Lt. Mary Sue to Rigel XXXVII. They were attacked by green androids and thrown into prison. In a moment of weakness Lt. Mary Sue revealed to Mr. Spock that she too was half Vulcan. Recovering quickly, she sprung the lock with her hairpin and they all got away back to the ship.

    But back on board, Dr. McCoy and Lt. Mary Sue found out that the men who had beamed down were seriously stricken by the jumping cold robbies, Mary Sue less so. While the four officers languished in Sick Bay, Lt. Mary Sue ran the ship, and ran it so well she received the Nobel Peace Prize, the Vulcan Order of Gallantry and the Tralfamadorian Order of Good Guyhood.

    However the disease finally got to her and she fell fatally ill. In the Sick Bay as she breathed her last, she was surrounded by Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, Dr. McCoy, and Mr. Scott, all weeping unashamedly at the loss of her beautiful youth and youthful beauty, intelligence, capability and all around niceness. Even to this day her birthday is a national holiday on the Enterprise.[6]:94–96

    So it might be a reaction to this ‘the hero/heroine overcomes everything’ despite nutty assumptions.

    If you check the suggestions to aspiring authors on many websites, the idea is to make the protagonist emotionally deeply flawed – apparently it encourages audience engagement with the protagonist and their progression through the story better than a Mary Sue that sort of turns people right off. It’s a marketing decision.

    • #6
  7. Bluenoser Member
    Bluenoser
    @Bluenoser

    I’m still stuck in my own “Eeyore mood” from last weekend. Any comments, by me, about identifying with “unlovable losers” would self-serving at best. 

    • #7
  8. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Gary McVey (View Comment):
    Lots of people are born with great talent that is already clear in childhood–Mozart; Alexander the Great. Probably Arahant, too.

    Most people don’t consider obnoxiousness a great talent. 😜

    • #8
  9. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Zafar (View Comment):
    If you check the suggestions to aspiring authors on many websites, the idea is to make the protagonist emotionally deeply flawed – apparently it encourages audience engagement with the protagonist and their progression through the story better than a Mary Sue that sort of turns people right off. It’s a marketing decision.

    There is flawed, and then there is deeply-flawed über-loser. Having a protagonist having to overcome a flaw is the source of one possible form of conflict in a story. As I remember the list, it’s man vs. nature, man vs. man, man vs. himself. There may be a few others. But overcoming the flaw is man vs. himself or one might say man vs. human nature. Those are certainly the best stories, since they allow the character to change and grow, which is what we want to see in a protagonist.

    Man vs. nature are often the competent man or woman against a deadly external foe, such as a blizzard or hurricane.

    Man vs. man are often similar stories, except the conflict being between two competent men or women or mixed. And if both men are hyper-competent nearly to or at the Marty Stu level, you get something like the Skylark series. Since you wanted the quote of Wikipedia right there instead of just a link:

    R. D. Mullen declared that “The great success of the stories was surely due first of all to the skill with which Smith mixed elements of the spy thriller and the western story (our hero is the fastest gun in space, our villain the second fastest) with those of the traditional cosmic voyage.”

    Unfortunately, two near Marty Stus in conflict do not make such a great story either.

    Now, if you combine man vs. nature, man vs. man, and man vs. himself, you might really have something.

    • #9
  10. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Knowing the sources of conflict and how to use them are great for story writers. The problem with both the Mary Sue and the Eus Yram is that there is not a good conflict, internal or otherwise. Even when Mary Sue dies in the end, it’s seldom a good conflict that brings it on. There is no change in the protagonist in either of these types. There is no growth. Mary Sue is ridiculously hyper-competent from beginning to end. Eus Yram is ridiculously hyper-incompetent from beginning to end.

    The thing with the Eus Yram is that there is no there there. There is no conflict because Eus Yram is a doormat. It’s too easy for the forces arrayed against Eus Yram, even if those forces are no better than a hippy spiritual guru who happens to be stupping Eus Yram’s wife (and maybe Eus Yram, too). “Oh, well, if you want to, I suppose,” Eus Yram would probably say if he were told to strip and bend over.

    • #10
  11. Randy Webster Member
    Randy Webster
    @RandyWebster

    Randy Webster (View Comment):

    MacGyver comes to mind.

    MacGyver is almost an anagram of Gary McVey.  Coincidence?  I think not.

    • #11
  12. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Randy Webster (View Comment):

    Randy Webster (View Comment):

    MacGyver comes to mind.

    MacGyver is almost an anagram of Gary McVey. Coincidence? I think not.

    They had to get an actor who was taller to play him, though.

    • #12
  13. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Gary McVey (View Comment):
    Lots of people are born with great talent that is already clear in childhood–Mozart; Alexander the Great. Probably Arahant, too.

    Most people don’t consider obnoxiousness a great talent. 😜

    Good teachers could identify the underlying talent and nurture the good while attempting to moderate the bad.

    Nowadays, they just medicate the bad. It’s a good thing we went to school before attention deficits were classified as a “disorder.”

    • #13
  14. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Percival (View Comment):
    It’s a good thing we went to school before attention deficits were classified as a “disorder.”

    And a good thing I found caffeine to make me bearable for other people.

    • #14
  15. MWD B612 "Dawg" Member
    MWD B612 "Dawg"
    @danok1

    Arahant: Have you encountered this sort of character, these anti-protagonists, these Eus Yrams? Where have you encountered them? Have they been around for awhile?

    I recall Jon Favreau’s character in Swingers as being a complete loser. The character annoyed me so much I couldn’t stand to watch more than 30 minutes of the movie. So I don’t know if there was any sort of redemption for him, though I’d be surprised if there weren’t.

    • #15
  16. Charlotte Member
    Charlotte
    @Charlotte

    Adam Sandler as Howard Ratner in Uncut Gems.

    Bird in Kenzaburo Oe’s novel A Personal Matter.

    Both of these guys were unceasingly loathsome.

    • #16
  17. Matt Balzer, Imperialist Claw Member
    Matt Balzer, Imperialist Claw
    @MattBalzer

    Judge Mental (View Comment):
    Charlie Brown would come out okay in the end, same usually with Sad Sack (and Beetle Bailey) by avoiding the Sarge long enough to take a nap.  Don’t know about the others, but that’s their saving grace.

    Beetle Bailey is also scoring dates with Miss Buxley so he’s gotta be doing something right.

    • #17
  18. Muleskinner, Weasel Wrangler Member
    Muleskinner, Weasel Wrangler
    @Muleskinner

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Gary McVey (View Comment):
    Lots of people are born with great talent that is already clear in childhood–Mozart; Alexander the Great. Probably Arahant, too.

    Most people don’t consider obnoxiousness a great talent. 😜

    Done right and properly directed, it can be an art form.

    • #18
  19. Muleskinner, Weasel Wrangler Member
    Muleskinner, Weasel Wrangler
    @Muleskinner

    Is the new Sherlock Holmes ( Benedict  Cumberbatch) an example of sorts? Holmes’ incompetencies that were always part of the character are really played up. House M.D. might be another example. They are good at one thing, and one thing only.

    • #19
  20. Skyler Coolidge
    Skyler
    @Skyler

    To me the worst example of this post-modern nihilism is Paul Auster.  I’ve read two of his wretched books and they were both the same.  A successful, competent man descends into an animal state and by the end of one book is left living under a rock in Central Park, naked and incapable of speech. 

    This is what academia thinks is meritable art. 

    • #20
  21. Charlotte Member
    Charlotte
    @Charlotte

    Muleskinner, Weasel Wrangler (View Comment):

    Is the new Sherlock Holmes ( Benedict Cumberbatch) an example of sorts? Holmes’ incompetencies that were always part of the character are really played up. House M.D. might be another example. They are good at one thing, and one thing only.

    Sherlock is definitely portrayed warts and all, but Cumberbatch has so much charisma that it’s impossible to dislike him or not root for him, despite his insufferable personality.

    • #21
  22. Seawriter Contributor
    Seawriter
    @Seawriter

    I don’t think the trope is that new. In 1891 Mark Twain wrote a story about a hyper-incompetent protagonist, Luck.  I could probably find older examples. This is just the first one I recalled.

    • #22
  23. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Seawriter (View Comment):

    I don’t think the trope is that new. In 1891 Mark Twain wrote a story about a hyper-incompetent protagonist, Luck. I could probably find older examples. This is just the first one I recalled.

    No, that story is not at all the sort of thing I am talking about. First, one has an unreliable narrator in the old military instructor/officer turned priest. But the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and Scoresby’s record stands on its own. Even if we take the story at face value, Scoresby was a winner, even if the wins came through amazing levels of sheer luck. (Although there are plenty of hints otherwise within the story.) Second, Scoresby seems to be quite likable. Now, the instructor/officer/priest may be a rather unlikable fellow, but if anything, we have a Forest Gump figure in Scoresby. I don’t consider either to be what I am talking about.

    The anti-protagonist I am talking about does not win. He loses every time, and deserves to do so.

    The Man Who Wasn’t There has Billy Bob Thornton’s character, who may be as close as I can come in the popular media. He does nothing in the entire film other than smoke and cut hair. But even he isn’t loser enough.

    • #23
  24. HankRhody Freelance Philosopher Contributor
    HankRhody Freelance Philosopher
    @HankRhody

    I’m thinking here of the Big Lebowski. I don’t think it counts because, although the Dude fits the definition of a hyper-incompetent, it’s not clear that he fits the definition of “protagonist” since he doesn’t actually move the story along. He’s just sort of there, man. 

    • #24
  25. Matt Balzer, Imperialist Claw Member
    Matt Balzer, Imperialist Claw
    @MattBalzer

    HankRhody Freelance Philosopher (View Comment):

    I’m thinking here of the Big Lebowski. I don’t think it counts because, although the Dude fits the definition of a hyper-incompetent, it’s not clear that he fits the definition of “protagonist” since he doesn’t actually move the story along. He’s just sort of there, man.

    I don’t know about that. He’d have to attempt to do something before he could fail at it.

    • #25
  26. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    HankRhody Freelance Philosopher (View Comment):

    I’m thinking here of the Big Lebowski. I don’t think it counts because, although the Dude fits the definition of a hyper-incompetent, it’s not clear that he fits the definition of “protagonist” since he doesn’t actually move the story along. He’s just sort of there, man.

    But he is also likable, and he does get some alone time with Maude Lebowski. That ain’t losing.

    • #26
  27. Muleskinner, Weasel Wrangler Member
    Muleskinner, Weasel Wrangler
    @Muleskinner

    Arahant (View Comment):

    HankRhody Freelance Philosopher (View Comment):

    I’m thinking here of the Big Lebowski. I don’t think it counts because, although the Dude fits the definition of a hyper-incompetent, it’s not clear that he fits the definition of “protagonist” since he doesn’t actually move the story along. He’s just sort of there, man.

    But he is also likable, and he does get some alone time with Maude Lebowski. That ain’t losing.

    It isn’t winning, either, at least as far as “winning”–not losing–is related to any effort on his part. Maybe “abiding?”

    • #27
  28. JosePluma, Local Man of Mystery Thatcher
    JosePluma, Local Man of Mystery
    @JosePluma

    Lovable loser?  I think Li’l Abner had a character like that.

    Travis Bickle from Taxi Driver is more a Eue Yram type.

     

    • #28
  29. Sisyphus Member
    Sisyphus
    @Sisyphus

    Holden Caulfield. Official answer.

    • #29
  30. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Sisyphus (View Comment):

    Holden Caulfield. Official answer.

    I like it. Unlikable. Loser. No redeeming social value. Definitely ahead of his time.

    • #30