Super Mario Bros.
The next game shows us a more assimilated immigrant. At this stage Mario is showing a more Americanized life style; expanding from the entry points of America (basically just New York City) to more and more cities. The stereotype of Italians only being employed as plumbers continues to pervade the series, but Mario uses this trait to his advantage, using pipes to commute from point to point. This serves several purposes as a metaphor, the first being that of a subway or train, which would be the main form of transportation at the time. The symbolically cramped space that a pipe implies is indicative of the cramped, unhealthy conditions of the poor cars on trains. The pipes also symbolize the use of plumbing to earn the money to buy train tickets and go out to the inner cities of America. The pipes give us a bit of insight into just how filthy the general living conditions were for Italian-American immigrants. The irony is that it was very unlikely that any immigrants had any actual interior plumbing. So not only is it an indictment of the building quality and the transportation conditions, but also a comment on the irony of the Italian plumber, who would himself lack any plumbing.
One of Mario’s chief persecutors is the Goomba, a metaphor for the common man. This foot soldier of the American refusal to accept other cultures with any semblance of speed is the most common and most easily defeated enemy in the earlier Mario games. The progression of the games brings about a decline in the number of Goombas as Italian’s continue to make strides in being accepted by the general population. In this series they mainly serve as an annoyance to the progress of Mario through the game instead of any real threat to his completion.
Arguably the most infuriating enemy of any game series ever created, the Hammer Bros. are one of the most dangerous and unpredictable elements in the original Super Mario game. This enemy is representative of the Pinkertons, a security firm that helped to put down, violently, the protests and strikes that many Italian-Americans participated in to help further their advancement into the United States culture. The hurling of hammers, the ability to jump between levels of the stage, as well as adjust their strategy to react to Mario’s position are indicative of the Pinkertons’ very professional approach to the violent oppression of strikes. Another interesting bit of symbolism is the “sheet” of hammers that the Hammer Bros. use to hinder Mario’s advancement. It gives an example of how the Pinkertons’ used a scare tactic approach to dealing with protesters, basically forcing them to decide whether it was worth the possibility of violence to go forward with their strike. Mario, ever the optimist, charges valiantly forward on all occasions, resulting in many a frustrated death.
Some other allusions to the history of the Italian-American’s assimilation are the introduction of Bob-ombs. This is an obvious link to the Haymarket protest that resulted in the bombing and killing of 7 people. While the bombing was blamed on the protestors, the corporations are most definitely the ones that bombed the protest. This is symbolized in the game as Bowser, who is obviously a figure of the CEOs, using his troops of Bob-ombs to hinder Mario’s progress. The ability for Mario to appropriate these enemies for his own purpose, however, is a clear example of how the unionists of the time used the bombing as a sympathetic device to garner the support of the public. Still, the Goomba’s incessant march to destroy Mario makes it quite obvious that no matter what, the public would not be swayed from their opinions of Mario, read Italian-Americans, as violent anarchists.
This game is also the first to introduce Bowser to the Mario series as the main antagonist. He has no reason to steal the Princess, at least none that is explained to us, let alone for attacking Mario in the first place. This works into the irrational hatred that people have for immigrants. Because there is no logical reason to dislike an immigrant, it makes the opposition brawny, but blind and slow. Because Bowser has no reasoning to go along with his actions, he is slow and stupid, though large and powerful. He also controls all of the areas that Mario must travel through, like the corporations of late 19th and early 20th century America. Bowser is the chief controller of all the soldiers that assault Mario, from the lowly Goomba, to the frustrating Hammer Bros. The corporations of the day released all kinds of propaganda at the time to dissuade the public from listening to the ideas of the unionists, as well as using firms like the Pinkerton’s to violently put down protests. Almost all of the real resistance to Italian-American immigration came from anti-union corporations spreading lies that all immigrants were violent anarchists that wanted nothing more than to kill decent, hardworking Americans and destroy their places of work. In the end, it was the corporations that Mario had to overcome to win and retrieve his Princess.
Another introduction to the Mario series in this game is the Toadstool character. This benign character is as much a part of the Italian culture as Mario himself. Mario, being the protagonist, is the hero of the common Italian-American, and Toadstool is a representation of that common Italian. In Mario’s quest to free his princess, he also happens to be bringing freedom to his people. Mushrooms, which of course is another name for Toadstools, are a very recognizable part of Italian culture, being part of their traditional cuisine. As Mario frees these commoners, they in turn are able to further the spread of their culture, much like the spreading of spores, introducing Italian cuisine and other parts of their culture, such as anarchy and labor unions, ironically. By doing this Mario not only furthers the spread of equality, but also shows a deeper caring for his people, and shows the unselfishness of the Italian towards others.
As we can see, there is much more to this series of video games than meets the eye. This series is a very direct and impressively well-done look at American History. It is impressive that such depth could be put into a story with such limitations as an NES game has.