Apparently, there’s an actual debate about whether Mario, Nintendo’s franchise player, is meant to be a human being.
Nintendo has been on a quest of late to prove that Mario, the company’s most recognizable character, is human.
It was during a Switch event in January that Nintendo demonstrated new gameplay from Super Mario Odyssey. During the demonstration, Mario was brought to New Donk City, a fictionalized version of New York City, where Mario leapt atop cars and scurried around parks. Unlike other Super Mario games, where the only humans are Mario and his pals, New Donk City was populated with businessmen and women, artists and street performers — all of whom loomed over Mario.
From Motherboard (referenced by Polygon):
But those humans, those conventional humans, are a sharp contrast to Super Mario, who is a pudgy red firecracker of color who can’t be bigger than a Cabbage Patch Doll and can stand comfortably atop a streetlight. Prior to this upsetting revelation, we were left to imagine what Mario’s homeworld looked like based on evidence in the games. Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach, and other humanoid-seeming beings all share a certain body type, so one could assume that people from Italy, Brooklyn, or wherever Mario came from, looked approximately the same. We could assume their odd bodies were just a stylistic choice Nintendo made. Now it is clear that this is not the case. Mario and his better-looking brother Luigi are aberrations.
Ok. Why is Motherboard fat-shaming/short-shaming Mario? Why is Luigi objectively better looking? Because he’s thin? Because he’s tall?
And why does no one care that, at base, the it’s-a-meee characterization of Mario, an editorial choice made by Nintendo in 1990, is a blatant stereotype? And before you say the Captain Lou Albano version from the Super Mario Bros. Super Show was also stereotype, so, you know, samesies, consider that Captain Lou was an actual Italian with roots in New York City. His live-action Mario was silly, but his animated counterpart was smart, resourceful, and heroic. That’s a function of the writing, but also of what the Captain brought to the character when given the chance.
As an Italian-American, I’ve written before about the typical portrayal of Italians and Italian-Americans in popular media. We’re either criminals or infantile buffoons, full stop. Even Fonzie started as a hoodlum.
Certainly, though, grown-up reporting and responsible characterizations of Italians and Italian-Americans outweigh the stereotypes? You tell me.
Is Mario a human? Nintendo says yes. That we’re even having this conversation without talking about the implications of the way he is characterized is, to me, offensive. Sure, Motherboard managed to call his voice “patronizing” in a piece last year, right before they started swarth-shaming. Boo to all parties involved.
Except Captain Lou.