A Spectre is Haunting the Mushroom Kingdom
In two days time Donald John Trump will take the Oath of office of the President of the United States. He will become the 45th President and preside over the world’s superpower. Alongside a nuclear arsenal, massive surveillance state, and the military, he will gain the treats attached to all the Presidential ceremonies. He will join the great continuity stretching from Washington to Lincoln to Kennedy to Johnson to Reagan to Obama to him. He will gain a Presidential library. Schools and memorials will be dedicated to his memory.
His inauguration brings to a close the long twentieth-century. With it, globalisation shivers and fascist isolationism is brought back with teeth to boot. President Donald John Trump. President Donald John Trump. The thing that should not have happened has happened. President Donald John Trump. President Donald John Trump.
So what does this mean for Mario?
For those who are have the self-awareness of Piers Morgan or a sycamore tree, those things are relatively synonymous, Mario is a videogame character created by Shigeru Miyamoto. He first appeared in Donkey Kong (1981), an arcade game in which an elusive ‘Jumpman’ climbed up some girders to rescue a woman from a barrel-throwing primate. Why this guy did not inform the security services of this situation is still debated by historians to this day. Further still the game was patriarchal propaganda, and the Mario series remains so to this day. Miyamoto initially wanted to use the characters in Popeye but could not secure the rights, so created a billion-dollar symbol instead. Probably one of the best “fuck you”s in human history.
Mario was then given his own few games on Nintendo’s first home console (Nintendo Entertainment System) and the mustachioed patriarchal inquisitor expanded his domain to become the dominant mascot of not just corporate Nintendo but to all of videogame-do. Mario was the lynchpin of a whole universe swirling around his existence. His brother Luigi materialised into existence. His true love Princess Peach was given a name. Bowser the giant dinosaur spike-turtle thing became Lord Antagonist.
In the core series, Mario is trapped in a time loop forever rescuing Princess Toadstool from the clutches of Bowser. In many ways, players are put in the shoes of a complete mass murdering vigilante who holds the sole purpose of maintaining the bourgeois monarchy that crushes the lowly proletariat.
Bowser, in many ways, can be read as the Leninist revolutionary whose minions are thwarted by Mario’s capitalistic machismo. As soon as Bowser arrives on the scene he seemingly redistributes wealth, shiny gold coins, throughout the Mushroom Kingdom. Mario, as the hero of the bourgeois elite, crushes everyone who stands in his way and scoops up the coins back into their ‘rightful’ pocket. He murders lowly Goombas and sentient bullets, all in a bid to return the Mushroom Kingdom to its ‘rightful’ state. Have you ever noticed our little murdering that Bowser and Co. actually do? Much of the series can be read as this working-class struggle in which Bowser tries to thwart the fascist surveillance state (why do you think Lakitu is everywhere?!) and redistribute power and wealth.
It is Mario who murders, tanooki suits, and endeavours throughout the Mushroom Kingdom. The Goombas, for the most part, are literally sliding from side to side not hurting a thing in the world. Mario even indentures Yoshi into forced slavery, taking extreme fascistic measures to combat the ideology that threatens Mario’s neoliberal elitist position. It reminds me of the desperation of the high capitalist class during the New Deal. One could even argue that Mario perverts the symbols of the working class for his own propagandist purposes, wearing the overalls of a plumber and adorning himself in a lush black mustache that could resonate heavily with the white working class support he would need to legitimise the inflicted violence.
Mario is not of these symbols, he is an enforcer of an order that oppresses the everyday dwellers of the Mushroom Kingdom who are excluded from the elites and cast into the wilderness. Do we ever learn of Princess Toadstool’s tax reforms? Are there separate lords and dominions? What we do know is that Mario is not even of the Kingdom. In Super Mario Bros. (1985) it’s actually Mario who enters the realm of the Mushroom Kingdom. Whether he is sliding between dimensions is unclear, but he was not brought up and raised in this Kingdom. He may or may not have been plucked by Toadstool and her advisers from the real world, to restore order to her kingdom because of his incredible ability to kill things by jumping on their heads.
Much of this lore is now left ambiguous by recent news. Super Mario Odyssey (2017) for the upcoming Nintendo Switch, will feature Mario travelling to ‘New Donk City’ in which actual humanoid humans are milling about the world. Some of them look weirdly at Mario. Yet they are completely different from Mario. They lack the same rotundity and the ability to murder things by jumping on their heads. From this we can assume that Mario is not actually ‘human’ in the sense that we recognise. Perhaps at the beginning he was a part of our world but his journey into the Mushroom Kingdom has changed his physique, character, and politics.
One may notice that Mario, throughout his releases, largely just lacks personality besides ‘brave’. This is obviously so he can appeal to literally every market on the planet. His brother Luigi is allowed to be a coward in the Luigi’s Mansion series (and can win even the greatest of challenges by accomplishing nothing), and even Yoshi is allowed to be cheeky here and then. Mario became increasingly void of personality throughout the series. Losing chunks of his humanity to the capitalist machine that he is forever destined to defend. Both on behalf of the Mushroom Kingdom and, in our world, on behalf of Nintendo. He is basically The Terminator but quasi-Italian and can turn into a cat by wearing clothes. Mario has now gone on to become a philosophical cipher that can ask the most prodding question; what does it mean to be human?
In the footage released by Nintendo of the upcoming release, we also see Bowser marrying his way into the royal family. Is it truly coincidence that this game will release on the centenary of the 1917 Russian Revolution? Out of sheer desperation, Bowser must make the ultimate sacrifice on behalf of the lowly proletariat and make marriage ties with the monarchy he has, for all his existence, attempted to upend. He too is, in some sense, gradually losing himself to the oppressive neoliberalism of the Mushroom Kingdom.
You might be, if you’re still somehow reading this, wondering why exactly I took the time to explain the lore and politics of the Mario franchise. You might be concerned for my mental stability. The cleverest of you may actually be asking the most pressing and significant question. The defining moment for our civilisation. What does Donald John Trump have to do with Wario?
Make Wario Great Again
At some point in the boardrooms of corporate Nintendo, the creatives and business folk were beginning to realise that there was a sizeable gap in the lore of Mario. Who did Mario fight whilst Bowser was preparing his next February revolution? It takes time for Bowser to raise the necessary militia and resources to overthrow the monarchy. In the meantime, Mario indulges in capitalistic feasts of pleasure such as Mario Party and Mario Kart with occasional interruptions by Bowser. Mario needed something to placate his time in the narrative between his fights with Bowser. And Nintendo needed to expand its line-up of merchandise so, anyway, they invented Wario.
First appearing in Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins (1992), Wario was revealed as a yellow-suited spitting-image of Mario save a few details. Wario was obese, rude, and was utterly and completely greedy. Wario is a portmanteau of warui (meaning ‘bad in’ Japanese) and Mario’s name. He’s bad Mario! Sad!
He is like the type of person to crash a charity auction and take credit for donations he never gave. He envisions himself as Mario’s rival. Seemingly uneducated and without the most basic empathy, much of his schemes are endeavours to acquire power and wealth for himself above all costs. Rather than Bowser’s goal of societal upheaval, Wario will watch it burn down as long as he reaps the rewards. He’s even prepared to do the work himself. As long as it benefits him, so long as he remains in control. He is the one alone who can fix things.
“You know what solves [crisis]? When the economy crashes, when the country goes to total hell and everything is a disaster. Then you’ll have a [chuckles], you know, you’ll have riots to go back to where we used to be when we were great.”
Wario’s politics are self-serving and egotistic; they are built out of his own brand. In Mario canon, he owns one of the largest conglomerates named Warioware Inc. that has spawned a series of absurdist mini-game compilations. Wario is not a revolutionary in the same sense of Bowser, as he is not attached to ideology in the same way. His only goal is wealth and power by any means and ideas necessary. At the end of Wario Land: Shake It! (2008), one of his few solo games, Wario rejects love and romantic companionship, and instead steals a magic bottomless bag of coins.
It’s not just in his politics that Wario mirrors Donald Trump, but in his personality too. Besides being so greedy and rude — with Trump bringing up ‘your mum’ in a debate — Wario also embodies that solipsistic and all-encompassing self-confidence. The complete God complex that might cause someone to name themselves as their own hero and believe yourself to be well above and beyond, with complete lack of awareness, those who could aid you. In his business, Donald Trump embodies the monolithic entrepreneurial capitalist complex that can destroy and raise aspirations (see also The Apprentice). His brand identity is his identity.
For Wario it’s basically true too. And they are both completely without awareness. Trump believes himself to be the ‘least racist person [anyone’s] ever met’, and Wario cannot go five seconds without thinking he’s the only one with class in the Mushroom Kingdom. Trump’s infamous and constant “RIGGED!” comments mirror Wario’s own complete belief that if he does not win then the system is against him As Wario says in Mario Superstar Baseball (2005), “Aargh! Mario! You musta cheated last game, but not THIS time. Chump! I’m the only one in this entire kingdom with any class whatsoever! This time, I mean business! Go time! It is ON!”
Can you see how even their style of speech matches perfectly? That exclamation point at the end of every Trump tweet. It mirrors exactly how Wario speaks. It is done for effect. As is his manner of speaking, simplistic and completely repetitive.
In fact, let’s compare Wario and Trump linguistically. You should read this:
Look, having nuclear — my uncle was a great professor and scientist and engineer, Dr. John Trump at MIT; good genes, very good genes, OK, very smart, the Wharton School of Finance, very good, very smart — you know, if you’re a conservative Republican, if I were a liberal, if, like, OK, if I ran as a liberal Democrat, they would say I’m one of the smartest people anywhere in the world — it’s true! — but when you’re a conservative Republican they try — oh, do they do a number — that’s why I always start off: Went to Wharton, was a good student, went there, went there, did this, built a fortune — you know I have to give my like credentials all the time, because we’re a little disadvantaged — but you look at the nuclear deal, the thing that really bothers me — it would have been so easy, and it’s not as important as these lives are — nuclear is powerful; my uncle explained that to me many, many years ago, the power and that was 35 years ago; he would explain the power of what’s going to happen and he was right, who would have thought? — but when you look at what’s going on with the four prisoners — now it used to be three, now it’s four — but when it was three and even now, I would have said it’s all in the messenger; fellas, and it is fellas because, you know, they don’t, they haven’t figured that the women are smarter right now than the men, so, you know, it’s gonna take them about another 150 years — but the Persians are great negotiators, the Iranians are great negotiators, so, and they, they just killed, they just killed us.
Donald John Trump, 19th July 2016.
I hope you survived reading that. Just look at how quick the tangents come. How quick he is to jump back into complimenting himself, assuring himself. You could psycho-analyse this as paranoid insecurities but this is just how Trump speaks. He’s quick to turn everything around to himself. His final spiel about the negotiations makes it seem like he alone can be the one to fix it. There’s specific parallels I could bring up in this speech like how Trump says “I’m one of the smartest people anywhere in the world — it’s true!” and Wario says “My brain is amazing! It’s full of wrinkles, and… Uh… Wait… What am I trying to say?” (Wario Land 4, 2001) Trump also builds up the negotiation as a complete failure on the part of the government — “they just killed us” — and he made his brand about being the best negotiator despite actually being so awful in negotiating his Apprentice salary he ended up with less than what was first offered.
Trump has been so quick to dismiss others as making a mess, with only himself doing anything to fight the problem. He even kept insulting Hillary Clinton’s schedule — “Sleep well Hillary — see you at the debate!” — in the exact same way that Wario insults his enemies, “He looks like a pushover… Too bad he’s not an enemy! I’m out here risking my life and he just sleeps all day!” (Wario Land 4, 2001). It’s that insatiable need to always dominate, to always be the loudest, to always speak more, even when you do speak the most, that defines both Trump and Wario.
Trump and Wario even have affinity for the same word — tremendous — as Trump uses it in basically every single speech. Wario also cannot stop saying “How could you forget Wario’s tremendous wit?” in Mario Party 3 (2000). That’s mostly because Charles Martinet only recorded a small number of voice lines for that game but, still, the point is there!
That ego extends itself to the pride, the comical, and the profane with both Trump and Wario. Trump constantly harks on about his good looks — “I’m very handsome” — and Wario has said countless things about his own face — “Yeahhhhh, that’s ME!!! More gorgeous than any Hollywood star! Get a good look at me while you can!!” Trump indulges completely and totally in showboating his crowd sizes as it is that instant gratification, the applause and raves, that he desperately craves above all other validation. Throughout the Mario Kart series, Wario is the same: “Nyah hah, hah, listen to my fans cheering me on! They want Wario to win this one, so let’s give ’em what they want!!” Trump and Wario are also, but annoyingly, witty at times. See Trump’s mocking of Rubio. Wario’s entire slapstick physicality is partly evidence for this too, but if you want something that displays his completely irritating personality, look no further than this. That’s the music that plays when you pause his own Gamecube game — Warioworld (2003) — and it’s the only thing I hear when watching Trump’s victory spiel again.
You might be asking yourself what do I mean by the ‘profane’? I could discuss bigotry, xenophobia, and use quotes and evidence from Trump’s life and campaign to display how he has all these qualities. Suffice to say if you’re reading this piece, you know all these things already. All you need to know is that Wario does not exactly treat Princess Peach with the greatest of respect. He doesn’t exactly grab ’em by the Plus Block but he does say at one point: “You’re robbing me blind, Peach! How about I just give you a kiss and we’ll call it even?”
“It’s an exploration of greed, stench, and stubby legs through interpretive dance.” — Wario, Dance Dance Revolution: Mario Mix (2005)
President-Elect Donald John Trump is literally Wario. He is, literally, the B-grade villain from the Mario franchise. They are the same exact person.
Henceforth you could refer to the next four years as presided over by President Wario and it would not make a difference. Half the journalists in the United States would not flinch, and most millennials would shrug and continue taking way too many selfies. Except that’s putting it in gross terms. Whilst millennials are using Instagram’s bandwidth a bit too much, baby boomers are destroying the environment and wrecking the world economy for generations. As I explained in my first post of the year, that whilst there’s much action we can take to fight the next four years of fascist overload, much of the turmoil to come is inevitable. The defeat of the left will be a self-fulfilling prophecy, regardless of how the left actually performs in any capacity. I explained at length, last week, exactly why I am nihilistic about the world’s prospects. It’s why I am, for the moment, allowing myself the breathing room of apathy. This may take a year or two, but caring about politics seriously is not something my mental health is prepared for.
What I’m trying to get at is that comparing Trump to Wario is necessary for the now. And by ‘the now’ I mean just in my case. It’s a shield, a coping mechanism, away from the sheer pitch black that awaits us across the next four years. I do not need to link to articles and predictions, or the backgrounds and desires of those that Trump is filling his cabinet with. These people are not actively malicious. I genuinely believe you cannot generalise a wholesale group of people as simply evil, because without the common ground of decency there’s very little you can practically work on together. But the people Trump’s appointing genuinely believe the things they’re doing are for the common good. That giving massive tax breaks to the top 1%, again, will actually work this time. That climate change is a non-issue. That healthcare needs to be earned and is not deserved.
That’s why Trump is Wario, because the reality is just too bleak to deal with right now. It is this coping strategy, of exercising humour, that is making it all the more easier. Maybe you too need to indulge in the giggles a little, before returning back to the reality.
Yes it is avoiding the seriousness of the situation and, yes, I am guilty of breaking it to tune into the cavalcade of political misery. I’m going to try and lessen my connection to the political tides this year, to make sure the immediate effects are lessened on my depressed little brain. I’m also going to endeavour to actually live out the thing that I’ve already broken. To not judge and crudely label entire groups. To view them as evil. ‘Tories’, ‘Republicans’, etc. The entire concept of those labels, and they’re used by the alt-right too (see ‘SJW’ or ‘Feminazi’), is all to avoid debate and boil people down to political stereotypes. It makes reality neater.
Like seeing Donald Trump as Wario.
It’s a quirk of human psychology; a hangover of evolution. Our brains are so, so tiny and squishy. We can’t even perceive time non-linearly! Sad! We’re still prone to the same tribal trap. It’s still all too easy to dismiss people because they identify or label themselves as something, and to further dismiss the complex belief systems of individuals. It makes reality easier, it means the brain does not have to process that much information, and that we don’t actually have to engage with people on any level.
I’m guilty of breaking my rule of trying to avoid political stereotypes to ensure richer discussion. I’m going to try not to break it again. I mean, if they’re Nazis and they say they’re Nazis and they’re probably Nazis then I think that’s the exception, right? If they’re actively malicious and completely (and maybe blissfully) ignorant of changing their mind then perhaps that’s the only point at which you can move on.
Because if one side isn’t willing to engage, to face the facts and not fake news, then there’s no point wasting valuable dialogue.
Donald Trump isn’t literally Wario, this explains it better than my words could. He certainly shares characteristics, ideas and politics with the character. But I could make the same comparison with someone like Count Olaf from A Series of Unfortunate Events or Sauron from The Lord of the Rings. It’s important, however, to allow yourself a respite from reality, but not too much.
That can mean analysing Mario lore and seeing extreme political analogy in a videogame series about a guy who jumps on heads to murder things. Wario, the ego-maniacal and greedy B-grade villain, would probably make a better President than Trump. But he won’t because he’s not real. And Trump is real. The damage he will do will be real. It will be painful. For the time being, it is good for my own mental space, and maybe for yours too, to joke in seeing him as a Wario-alike.
This is why I am not watching the inauguration. I cannot be a plus one to an event that will only result in self-inflicted anxiety and the same feeling of overwhelming grief. As said in previous writings, for me at least, the personal is political. I’m not steady enough to witness such a ceremony. I am torn between this side of my brain and the historian side, who wishes it could witness the history unfold. But for the sake of my whole neurons I can’t watch it. I don’t demean or dismiss anyone who chooses to, I can see perfectly why, but I’m not going to be privy in legitimising President Wario.
Fiction can of course only serve you so well in dealing with reality. It is good to indulge in jokes, but whilst the human brain is small it is capable of seeing both the complex and the comic. Comedy is tragedy plus time. Or was it bleach? Regardless, that fine line between the imagination, Wario = Trump, and the reality of, uh, reality, it is good to indulge these fancies for a time. But that break from the pain is just that. It’s a break. Be ready to come back swinging to right the wrongs and atrocities.
Consider the dreadful nature of the suspicions you have entertained. What have you been judging from? Remember the country and the age in which we live. Remember that we are English, that we are Christians. Consult your own understanding, your own sense of the probable, your own observation of what is passing around you. Does our education prepare us for such atrocities? Do our laws connive at them? Could they be perpetrated without being known, in a country like this, where social and literary intercourse is on such a footing, where every man is surrounded by a neighbourhood of voluntary spies, and where roads and newspapers lay everything open? Dearest Miss Morland, what ideas have you been admitting?”
Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey (1817)
That’s all Trump’s administration means for Mario lore. It means a small revitalisation of interest in it, because it is pretty funny to hearing the “WAH” of Wario and join him and Trump in your head. It also makes the ideological symbols of the Mario franchise a bit clearer. Bowser as the Marxist, Mario the Neo-liberal, Wario the Fascist, and Yoshi is probably an Anarchist. He eats people, is a dinosaur, and can fly, of course he’s an anarchist!
The only thing useful right now is to take some time to self-care, and then get angry. With empathy.