Everyone's a superhero: A cultural theory of "Mary Sue" fan fiction as fair use

  • Chander A
  • Sunder M
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Abstract

Lieutenant Mary Sue took the helm of the Starship Enterprise, saving the ship while parrying Kirk's advances. At least she did so in the unofficial short story by Trekkie Paula Smith. "Mary Sue" has since come to stand for the insertion of an idealized authorial representative in a popular work. Derided as an exercise in narcissism, Mary Sue is in fact a figure of subaltern critique, challenging the stereotypes of the original. The stereotypes of popular culture insinuate themselves deeply into our lives, coloring our views on occupations and roles. From Hermione Granger-led stories, to Harry Potter in Kolkata, to Star Trek same-sex romances, Mary Sues re-imagine our cultural landscape, granting agency to those denied it in the popular mythology. Lacking the global distribution channels of traditional media, Mary Sue authors now find an alternative in the World Wide Web, which brings their work to the world. Despite copyright law's grant of rights in derivative works to the original's owners, we argue that Mary Sues that challenge the orthodoxy of the original likely constitute fair use. The Mary Sue serves as a metonym for all derivative uses that challenge the hegemony of the original. Scholars raise three principal critiques to such fair use: (1) why not write your own story rather than borrowing another's? (2) even if you must borrow, why not license it? and (3 won't "recoding" popular icons dstabilize culture? Relying on a cultural theory that prizes voice, not just exit, as a response to hegemony, we reply to these objections here. "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 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 for 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."

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Authors

  • Anupam Chander

  • Madhavi Sunder

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