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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?