I think Halloween costumes are a cultural barometer. I read that there’s been an 87% jump in pet costumes this year… are we really in a recession? Predictably, dead celebrities (Michael Jackson), cultural buffoons (balloon boy) and pariah (Bernie Madoff) are some of the most popular costumes this year. And, there’s always a demand (yawn) for “sexy nurse”, “sexy witch”, “sexy pirate” and “sexy kitten” costumes. But what surprised me most this year was the #1 costume purchased on the Internet: Mario. Hailing from the Japanese video game (cir. 1983) from Nintendo called Super Mario Bros. Yes, Mario is a pop culture icon and Mario Bros. Is the best selling video game series of all time… but why now?
what does this say about culture?
Mario Bros. features two plumbers, Mario and Luigi, whose tasks are to investigate NYC sewers for strange creatures, with the game’s objective being defeating all enemies encountered uderground. The appeal of Mario is:
- Nostalgia (heck, the game is nearly 30 years old!)
- Simplicity (simple premise, simple game to play)
- Accessibility (he’s Joe plumber!)
But, does anyone else see the uncanny resemblance between Mario and Groucho Marx? Coincidence? I think not.
Groucho (Julius) Marx, the lead of the genius quintuplet Depression-era Marx Brothers (the original M.Bros.), was smart, funny and self-deprecating. He looked and behaved oddly, with ticks and OCD tendencies, as if the Great Depression doled Groucho some kind of back-alley shock-treatment. Groucho was not a nice person in the movies, typically insulting or making fun of pompous, important people: the rich and powerful, those with status and prominence, doctors, lawyers, diplomats, politicians, academics and divas. He said what we wished we had the balls to say.
Self-deprecation is IN right now (humility is HOT, hubris is NOT). A lot of us are tending to undervalue ourselves and our abilities, either because we’re suffering from self-esteem or we don’t want to stand out. And isn’t Groucho’s modus operandi what American culture is doing right now – cutting down the rich and powerful? Putting people in their place? Equalizing things? Aren’t we all a little frazzled and whack-a-doodle from the economy? Banks? Politics? Global threats? Don’t we all long for a simpler time…where plumbers, like Mario, can blissfully go about their business with a little spring (or, sideways somersault, ground pound, back flip, wall kick) in their step? Or, get a chuckle from a pair of Groucho glasses-and-nose?