, 40 tweets, 24 min read
Okay, so let me talk about Mario for a minute here. I realize there's a difference between the American and Japanese understanding of the character and there always has been, but Mario was originally presented as a blue collar worker. 1/?
Yes, there's the plumber thing, but he was also a construction worker in Wrecking Crew and I guess a carpenter in Donkey Kong. Very blue collar. He started making cameos in other games, but it was like, a boxing ref. 2/?
It's the original Mario Bros. that cast him as a plumber but I guess he was an Evil Animal Trainer in Donkey Kong Jr.? I dunno if Animal Trainer is as "salt of the earth" as being a construction worker, but it's no office job. 3/?
The plumber role is what really stuck because of Super Mario. The pipes became codified as an indelible part of Mario's iconography. Still very blue collar dude from Brooklyn, at a time when Brooklyn was low class and very immigrant-heavy. Lou Albano was an Italian immigrant. 4/?
Here's an article with some shots of Brooklyn in the '70s and '80s. vice.com/en_us/article/… It's funny that Mario started out as a foreigner's interpretation of an American stereotype of Italian American immigrants. But Albano took on the role with glee. 5/?
Lou Albano was 56 when he started playing Mario on TV. Bob Hoskins was 51 when he played the role in the movies. Again, a middle aged, blue collar dude from Brooklyn. Of course, the actor in this case was English, so already less authentic, but less jokes about pasta, too. 6/?
So does Mario show up as younger in Japanese media? I dunno, he's just a cartoon there. 7/?
But at a certain point in the early '90s he starts being in every role, not just blue collar ones. He's wearing a tuxedo and riding in a Rolls? Wait, he's a doctor? He's a singer? He's made of clay? 8/?
There's still some emphasis on his "stranger in a strange land" or "fish out of water" thing, though. Super Mario RPG really goes deep into Mushroom Kingdom lore, but part of why it works is that he is the outsider who became a hero and saved the day. 9/?
Then we have Yoshi's Island. It came out before Super Mario RPG. It also sets Mario in the Mushroom Kingdom (or at least Yoshi's Island which I assume is adjacent to the Mushroom Kingdom?) as an infant, not in Brooklyn. Not in New York. Not in the real world. 10/?
And Mario 64 seems to follow that line of thinking. He's from the Mushroom Kingdom and I guess... he's a plumber in the Mushroom Kingdom? And Italian? Is he still Italian? Is there an Italy in the Mushroom Kingdom? I wonder how many middle aged Italian dudes rode go karts. 11/?
Meanwhile, during the Nintendo 64 run in America, the Nintendo ads were trying to be edgy as part of a campaign to copy Sega's marketing tactics, so Mario gets arrested for Mario Party. In Smash Bros. ads, he's a sports mascot beating Yoshi & Donkey Kong. 12/?
Of course this kind of edge advertising continues well into GBA with the re-release of Yoshi's Island commercial showing sports mascot Yoshi smashing a a mom's car with an egg for no reason. 13/?
For the Gamecube, we're still using janky sports mascot costumes, but this Super Mario Sunshine one picking up garbage is even worse. It's funny how the premise of the game is "Mario goes on vacation and is framed for graffiti and has to do public service to avoid jailtime." 14/?
Being accused of graffiti is pretty blue collar, but is being able to go on an island vacation even realistically an option for (American) plumbers? I doubt it. Meanwhile, the Japanese ads for Sunshine & New Super Mario DS are just CG and in-game footage and people laughing. 15/?
Then Super Mario Galaxy ads in both the US and Japan are just in-game footage and people waggling Wiimotes et cetera. The New Super Mario U commercial has dubstep and people stylusing. In Japan the Switch port has snow parkour! Why? We've kind of lost the plot at this point. 16/?
Then we get to Super Mario Odyssey. Pauline from Donkey Kong is back and she's a crooner and also a mayor of a city. She's pretty human and so is everyone else in the city. But Mario is a glassy idea CG cartoon troll. 17/?
I guess I found where Twitter's threading breaks! Well, sorry, here's a second branch that I can't seem to avoid due to Twitter's rickety technology.
The idea carries over to the game as well. He's an inhuman weirdo in a world of normal humans. The original premise of Mario as normal Italian dude from Brooklyn sent to a cartoon world of fantasy is reversed where he is a cartoony fantasy character in a normal city. 18/?
So we've come to the point where the needs of being a mascot have so thoroughly stripped Mario of the original context of his character that what were class/race/national origin indicators are now simply symbols of Mario. 19/?
Mario's cap, overalls, gloves, and boots are all indicators of blue collar status. Gloves and overalls and boots are all working man's garb -- a plumber wears it because they get dirty. And only old men wear any kind of hat that's not a baseball cap in America. 20/?
His gloves are transformed into Mickey Mouse or Bug Bunny gloves and his heat, overalls, and boots are just meaningless -- just images. 21/?
As soon as we had Kirby eating Mario and absorbing his traits in Smash Bros. we see Mario distilled to just a hat. In Mario Odyssey when Mario possesses other characters, they have his hat and his mustache. 22/?
His thick mustache is not an indicator of being an Italian American any more. It's not an indicator of being a middle aged dude in 1980s Brooklyn any more. He is so far beyond his original context he is nothing and everything. He's an aristocrat! He's a king! HE'S A ZOMBIE! 23/?
This sort of concept creep is essentially required by capitalism. Sure, on the one hand, you can update an old concept successfully for a new era or even to criticize unexamined ideas in the original art, but that's not what's happening here. 24/?
This is not Nintendo returning the original 1980s work and going, "Hmm, maybe this was a broad stereotype of an Italian American. What if we reexamined this and hired some Italian Americans to make an authentic work about a blue collar Italian immigrant in '80s Brooklyn?" 25/?
This is more just sweeping it all under the rug and pretending the mustache and the boots and the outfit and the accent are just cute things cartoons have and that's it. It's a big, "Hey, look over there!" 26/?
The need to sell to as many people as possible in as many countries as possible requires you to file off all the rough edges and erase as much context and nuance as possible. It's why big Hollywood blockbusters are so lifeless and tame nowadays and as generic as possible. 27/?
The mini collapse the Japanese games industry had when trying to adjust to HD and Nintendo's one two punch of failure (the Wii U and the first two years of the 3DS) probably explain the acceleration of Mario's conversion into emptiness, but it was already in progress. 28/?
There's something sad about the grunge and weirdness lost when art becomes truly swallowed by the mechanisms of capitalism. I miss this kind of strangeness. It's grimy and weird and inconsistent and alive and fun. 29/?
You can argue that on a technical level, it's better that everything is all matching the same style guide and all the art is very high quality, high resolution, and very consistent now, but it's lifeless. Technically great, but dead all the same. 30/?
You can see the same process through other mass media characters like the Ninja Turtles or The Transformers. At first there's weird interesting stuff, inconsistent and bizarre, but often playful and strange. 31/?
Then it gets all under control and slowly converted into grist for a giant corporation. And do not get confused for one second: Nintendo is a publicly traded company worth like 30 billion dollars. They answer to shareholders. 32/? forbes.com/companies/nint… dfcint.com/dossier/who-is…
Am I saying that Nintendo is evil or that Mario was good when I was a kid and bad now that I am a cranky adult? No. I am saying that capitalism ruins art and erases meaning over time by requiring everyone and everything to become conservative as a matter of course. 33/?
The need to constantly grow, the need to always appeal to more and more people, the need to perpetuate forever is required by capitalism and corporations. Successful corporations are like cancer. They must grow and grow at all costs or die. It's a feature, not a bug. 34/?
Buy indie games and comics. Buy stuff at Itch.io. Support games made by @christinelove, @SukebanGames, @puppetcombo, @mcclure111, @98DEMAKE, @EthanRedd, @dataerase and @llamasoft_ox 35/?
Also I'm an independent VR dev! I'm making a VR project called Clarum! It's a non-violent dream sim RPG inspired by LSD: Dream Emulator and old '80s stuff like Xanadu and Ys. Follow me for occasional updates! 36/?
I have always really loved exploring in games, even (especially?) in games where that wasn't necessarily the point. Yes, I treated Grand Theft Auto 3 like a cartographer because that's who I am. 37/?
Also, read the webcomic I do with @idesofmerch and @ChriSobieniak, Homeless Dinosaur! homelessdinosaur.com
Oh, I guess I have a Patreon! Be the first to sign up? patreon.com/whydoisay 38/?
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