Friday, September 30, 2005

Choose Your Favorite Stereotype!

Whenever I go home, I always end up rooting through what I find in my room — books, old video games, stacks of VHS tapes and other artifacts from my life before college. Not wanting to rock the boat, I did just that today. Eventually, I came across a video game that I can remember playing back in the days when I could sink hours into just sitting there, twiddling my fingers and manipulating little characters on the screen. And I stopped and thought about the game and what I remember from it — and then it hit me.

Macha. Jesus.

Macha, whose Japanese name is "Mamacha," is one of the forty or so playable characters in a game called "Chrono Cross." That's a lot of playable people for a video game, so the makers apparently got a little creative and threw in some types who weren't knights or samurai or robots or whatever. Macha is a housewife. She's also quite possibly one of the more racist stereotype-looking characters I can remember seeing in a video game.

It never occurred to me when I actually played the game, but this character — a sassy, fat maternal type who fights with a frying pan and can fold enemies like laundry — is the "mammy." Her Japanese name even sounds like "mammy." This stock character once showed up quite a bit in American movies and TV shows and whatnot, but the advent of civil rights and political correctness pushed her away. For good or for bad, the mammy is gone because any American creative type would know that suggesting her as a legitimate representation of black people or black women or mothers or housewives would draw disdain and possibly a strongly worded letter campaign.

But despite all this, here Macha is, in all her stereotypical glory. And she looks fairly happy, too. So I thought about it a little and I realized that Macha found her way into a game because its makers were Japanese. And though Americans would know that the mammy is an offensive image to a lot of people, I'd imagine Japanese people wouldn't. They might not have been privy to the effects of the Civil Rights movement and political correctness. For that matter, they might not even be privy to black people, for all I know. As a result, the people who made this game threw Macha into the mix because they wouldn’t have ever recognized her as representing anything bad. She’s just another stock character — like a knight or a samurai or a robot — that they could send out to save the world.

And I guess I'm leaving it up to you whether that is good thing or a bad thing.

4 comments:

  1. pedro c.1:50 AM

    You did notice that the entire "Cha" clan (Pacha, Macha-I think you could even play the sister) were supposed to be Polynesian, right? Look at the way she's dressed.

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  2. The "cha" clan: Korcha, Macha, Orcha and Mel -- the last of which should be "Melcha" but isn't. Anyway, I wouldn't necessarily say tha the family is supposed to be specifically Polynesian. The whole game takes place on an archipelago, but most of the characters are some vague Caucasian-Asian race. The "cha" clan represent the conspicuous ethnics. Whether she has a flower in her hair or not, she's a mammy. I say so.

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  3. Anonymous9:26 PM

    Why is her name shortened to Macha in the American version?

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  4. Probably because English uses one character per sound. Japanese packs more sounds in per character. I'd guess it came down to the developers just not wanting to reconfigure the screen for a seven-letter name.

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