It’s-a me, Mario!
When I was a child, my sisters and I were gifted an Atari Pong gaming console. Not long afterwards, we received an Atari 2600 unit with assorted games. Though I wasn’t particularly skillful at it, my favorite game was Pitfall!
At around the time the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) was released, my family didn’t have the money to purchase a console and no game system was donated to us. In order to play Nintendo-style games, a trip to local arcades was required.
Still, visiting the home of a neighborhood girl, I was able to play Super Mario Bros. and Contra. For those familiar with the Konami Code, associated with actual gameplay and not from a lore perspective, you likely thought you were hacking the system, as I once thought I had.
When living in a children’s home, the cottage in which I was placed had a Super NES. Many hours were spent playing Super Mario World, during which I—acting through the avatar of Mario—tried to save Princess Peach from the antagonist, Bowser.
Being completely honest, I wasn’t proficient with gameplay on any home, arcade, or other videogame system. In fact, my skill level was downright terrible.
Nonetheless, I typically enjoyed games that didn’t offer the challenge of a one-on-one experience, like Mortal Kombat or Tekken—both in which I was usually dominated by superior players. Therefore, any Mario-style game after Super Mario World was a little too arduous for my level of play.
Had I known of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) throughout my younger years, I could’ve realized that losing a game wasn’t what led to anger and discomfort. Rather, my belief about losing was what caused my unpleasant experience. We live and we learn.
If I had to pick a single videogame character with which I have a lifetime of familiarity—having mostly enjoyed the entertaining experience of winning, losing, pleasure, and pain—it would be Mario. Accordingly, I was excited to hear about the release of The Super Mario Bros. Movie.
**From this point on, spoiler alerts related to The Super Mario Bros. Movie will be discussed**
As a lackluster videogame player, I admittedly know very little about the lore surrounding Princess Peach, or simply “Peach.” From personal gameplay in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, she essentially served as a damsel in distress.
From my brief exposure to feminism while in grad school, I acknowledge that the belief of some people about a woman in peril needing salvation from a man is what leads to disgust, anger, and outrage. The inference is that females—girls and women—don’t need males to save them.
Furthermore, the recurring damsel narrative has appeared in shows, films, books, magazines, and other forms of media throughout my life. When left unchallenged, this trope may lead one to conclude that females are essentially conditioned to believe they are little more than default victims.
The logic behind this argument is something like:
Premise 1: All male savior figures are misogynist.
Premise 2: Mario is a male savior figure.
Conclusion: Therefore, Mario is misogynist.
Presuming the reader grants the premise I’ve steel-manned herein, depicting Peach by using a modern perspective would require an alternative illustration of her abilities. After all, what feminist-minded individual would support a misogynist lead character?
Consequently, in The Super Mario Bros. Movie, Peach is represented as a Mary Sue character architype. According to one source, this representation is:
Usually a young woman, who is often portrayed as inexplicably competent across all domains, gifted with unique talents or powers, liked or respected by most other characters, unrealistically free of weaknesses, extremely attractive, innately virtuous, and/or generally lacking meaningful character flaws.
I defy anyone who has seen the film to competently and honestly challenge this proposal. Aside from the fact that Peach doesn’t know from where she comes or retain knowledge of anything prior to arriving in the Mushroom Kingdom, she essentially has no flaws.
The Mary Sue architype denies Peach of a hero’s journey—the process of overcoming adversity, through pain and suffering, and returning from a perilous journey transformed by the experience. Who can possibly relate to perfection?
In the film, when discussing Mario’s many failed attempts at achieving success through training, Peach outright states, “I got it right away,” indicating she forewent the challenge of overcoming failure. What room is there to grow when one doesn’t begin from a flawed state of being?
Granted, I’m discussing a fictitious character. All the same, if the idea of presenting a female character to which other females may aspire is the impetus of empowering representation in art, what audience member who is a fallible human being will be able to relate to Peach?
Presenting a Mary Sue as representative of female potential isn’t even wrong, because it’s so far from attainable status that it’s infantilizingly farcical. The notion is unfalsifiable, because there are no perfect females to which we may point and say, “Her! Be like her.”
The logical form of unfalsifiability is represented thusly:
X is true (when X cannot possibly be demonstrated to be false)
As an example:
Peach is a role model for girls across the world. Unfortunately, due to the patriarchy, we can never know for certain just how perfect girls and women can become.
Does the illogical representation of an infallible character appeal to you, dear reader? For those who have watched The Super Mario Bros. Movie—especially those who have daughters—did you walk away thinking, “Peach was an accurate representation of female empowerment”?
What I observed was a princess whose impeccable skills were grossly overstated throughout the film. As well, I witnessed Peach mocking Mario’s height and heard her audaciously declare of Mario—after whom the film is named, “He’s not important!”
I also heard Toad boldly declare of Peach, “She can do anything!” Reader, are you getting the theme yet? Peach is the hero who can accomplish any task and Mario is essentially nobody.
When I was first approached about playing Peach, I was, A) extremely honored, but B) a little bit hesitant just because in my head, before I met everybody, I thought, “Oh, I really want to do this, but I only want to do it if she is a modern — not only princess, but ruler.” She’s really a leader in this. I felt like we could create a more three-dimensional character that had her own agency.
In and of itself, Taylor-Joy’s comment is benign. It’s what I’d predict an actor would say if wanting to virtue signal about modern talking points. However, paired with a Mary Sue screen presence, the foreboding quote correctly predicted the image of perfection manifested through Peach’s character.
Another tortured trope appeared in the film when Peach sought help from Cranky Kong, who asked why the princess believed he should help her. Peach replied, “Because we have heart and with your strength, we can win!”
In a blogpost entitled Green with Anger, I discussed the exhausted canard of female characters using emotion as a superpower. The Super Mario Bros. Movie doesn’t depart from similar criticism.
Using REBT, I sometimes treat clients whose unbridled rage results in anything other than heroism. There is nothing inherently wrong with having anger or righteous indignation. However, to have it and wield emotion as a force of oppression may not be as desirable as one may think.
Therefore, in my practice of the REBT method, I promote Stoicism. Perhaps one who values emotively-fueled behavior—rejecting the notion of beliefs influencing our behavior and instead simplistically concluding that the actions of others cause us to reflexively respond—will renounce REBT.
As well, one may altogether appreciate Mary Sue characters. I’m not here to say such gratitude is bad, evil, or otherwise. Critically “wrong,” perhaps, though not abhorrent.
Personally, I admire how both Mario and Luigi undergo hero’s journeys in the film. Though the creators of The Super Mario Bros. Movie missed an opportunity to portray a similar odyssey for Peach, perhaps she will undergo meaningful character development with a sequel.
Noteworthy, some may find the latter character to be a tad too nihilistic for their taste. Among Lumalee’s wise quotes, I appreciate the following:
· “In an insane world, it is the sane who is called ‘crazy.”
· “Time, like hope, is an illusion.”
· “There is no escape. The only hope is the sweet release of death.”
· “Life is sad, prison is sad, life in prison is very, very sad.”
· “There is no sunshine, only darkness.”
· When faced with impending death, “Finally, mercy!”
· When being lowered into a lava lake, “Weeeeeee!
· When being pull from the lava lake, “Boooooo!”
· At the end of the movie, “Now, that’s a happy ending. Or, is it? Because, everything’s over now and all that’s left is you and the infinite void. Kinda’ makes you wanna’ play saxophone, huh?”
Whether existential, nihilistic, or absurd, I dug Lumalee enough to watch the film twice. Then again, I’ll choose a daft pragmatist over a Mary Sue any day of the week.
I grew up briefly playing Mario games, though due to my gaming ineptitude, I wasn’t captivated by the lore of the so-called “Nintendo Cinematic Multiverse” (NCM). Aside from my ignorance-informed perspective, Princess Peach may be a godlike character who has no flaws.
Watching The Super Mario Bros. Movie, I was left with the impression of Peach virtually serving as little more than a Mary Sue character. All the while, she labels Mario—perhaps the most recognizable character in the NCM—as merely unimportant.
While I don’t disturb myself by irrationally demanding that Peach shouldn’t, mustn’t, or oughtn’t to dishonor male characters within the NCM, I wonder what utility there is in offering females a superficial depiction of perfection—a standard to which they will never attain. Ever!
Likewise, men functioning as Gary Stus—male versions of Mary Sues—are equally as unhelpful, as far as I’m concerned. Each of us are fallible human beings at our very core.
Furthermore, cultivating the idea of indulging irrationally-influenced emotions may not serve as a helpful strategy in the long run. It may actually lead to an unintended outcome.
After all, the disgust-driven stealing of a man’s personal property, because he flirts and asks for a smile—as was the case with Mary Sue character Captain Marvel—isn’t heroic. It makes the offending perpetrator a villain.
In the same way, body-shaming Mario, declaring him insignificant, and relying on “heart” to win one’s battles—all depicted by Mary Sue character Peach in The Super Mario Bros. Movie doesn’t evoke the “ruler” objective Taylor-Joy reportedly sought to embody. It makes Peach look weak, insecure, and delusional.
If this is the future direction of the NCM, pandering to a “modern” audience, I delight in the ultimate collapse of the industry, as implored by Lumalee. Kinda’ makes you wanna’ put everything on a bagel, huh?
For those of you who reject the nihilist perspective, renounce the idea that any of us are perfect, and who seek a method to improve your position in this imperfect world, you may be an appropriate fit for services with me. Come, those who are not Mary Sues or Gary Stus.
If you’re looking for a provider who works to help you understand how thinking impacts physical, mental, emotional, and behavioral elements of your life, I invite you to reach out today by using the contact widget on my website.
As a psychotherapist, I’m pleased to help people with an assortment of issues ranging from anger (hostility, rage, and aggression) to relational issues, adjustment matters, trauma experience, justice involvement, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety and depression, and other mood or personality-related matters.
At Hollings Therapy, LLC, serving all of Texas, I aim to treat clients with dignity and respect while offering a multi-lensed approach to the practice of psychotherapy and life coaching. My mission includes: Prioritizing the cognitive and emotive needs of clients, an overall reduction in client suffering, and supporting sustainable growth for the clients I serve. Rather than simply helping you to feel better, I want to help you get better!
Deric Hollings, LPC, LCSW
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