Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Vagina Dentata in the Mushroom Kingdom

It's late, but I'm seized by the urge to write. When this mood strikes me hard enough to pull my mind away from sleep, strange things that I haven't fully processed fly to the front in ways that make me think something may be a good idea when, in fact, it's actually not worth committing to type or even worth wasting mental energies on. Regardless, I'm awake now, and this is being written. So there.

As I mentioned before in the admittedly strange post on the faux-Greek goddess from a bygone video game, I've been following the progress of an upcoming Nintendo title — tragically saddled with the very Japanese title Super Smash Bros. Brawl — that, for all intents and purposes, will exist to delight me and solely me. It's a Drew fantasy — a culmination of pop culture crossovers the likes of which haven't been seen since Battle of the Network Stars blessed airwaves. In short — for those of you who don't remember or were so turned off by the depths of my geekdom that you simply refused to read either of the two Palutena posts — there will soon be a game which, upon insertion into my Wii, will pit the various Nintendo mascots, famous and little-known alike, against each other in battle, making for a kind of fanboy dream match in the grand tradition of the Flash-versus-Superman footrace debate. Masahiro Sakurai, the game's design director, has been giving daily glimpses of its progress on a blog — a brilliant marketing ploy that the brains behind TV shows, movies, music albums might want to consider — and I, like the entertainment-addled sheep drone I am, have been happily reading each post.

A little more than a week ago, Sakurai posted images from the game's story mode, which I imagine will attempt to make some sense of why these disparate characters — each with different body types and rendered in different artistic styles — would be interacting with and then beating the stuffing out of each other. (Example: Why would Donkey Kong have any reason to fight Link from Legend of Zelda? And if the fight has to happen, why wouldn't Link just stab the ape and be over with it?) The snippet of the story mode that Sakurai provided focused on the first boss character revealed so far, a giant, eyeless, lumbering, anthropomorphic plant monster named Petey Piranha.

Meet Petey.

braah! i should make you feel weird for so many reasons!

(A quick break: God, I love the Japanese. If it weren't for them, I would have never had a need to type out the phrase "giant, eyeless, lumbering, anthropomorphic plant monster.")

A relatively newer video game character who hails specifically from the Super Mario Bros. games, Petey is actually a hyped-up version of a minor monster that may be familiar to anyone who played the original Super Mario Bros. for the NES. Remember those strange Pac-Man-esque plants who hide in pipes, only to nip Mario's behind, cause him to die and drive many an inept seven-year-old to throw down their controller in frustration?


Yes, those things. The age of video games has advanced quite a bit since 1985, at least graphically.

Anyway, Sakurai's post details that Petey has somehow grabbed a hold of Peach and Zelda — Nintendo's two leading ladies and arguably the two most famous damsels-in-distress in the history of video games. Not only does this herbofreak nab them both, mind you, but he also has trapped them inside two princess-sized birdcages, with one each held in one of his leafy "hands." The heroes then fight him, which you might think would be easy, given Petey's lack of eyes. Aside from lunging with his toothy mouth, Petey's main form of attack is swinging the cages — at you, at the ground, or directly into each other.

That last sentence forms the essential "what" of this post — the moment when mere pop culture nothing goes to strange levels and, at least in my head, demands examination. I've always said that there's something to video games. There has to be. People make them. Those people come from cultures with perspectives on life, death, sex and overall existence and something — something, I'm arguing — must filter into the final product and, thus, into the brains of the children and twenty-five-year-olds who play them. Personally, I think the scene Nintendo is offering with this bizarre fight is so laden with blatant, Freud-ready sexual metaphors that I laughed out loud when I first read of it.

First off, let's look at this wasabi-induced nightmare they're calling Petey Piranha. I'm initially drawn to his "head," which consists of big, rounded lips and a fringe of colorful petals. And let's not forget the very human pink insides. Despite that his name is "Petey," this plant monster, to me, is a passable example of the vagina dentata or "toothed vagina" motif. Observable in art and folklore to the point that it calls up quite a few results on a Google image search — one that is not exactly safe for work — from various world cultures, the idea of a ladyparts that can violently snap off a misterpart is, as far as I remember from Prof. Waid's class, a representation of a man's fear of sex, at least on its most basic level. Add to this gynecological symbolism the fact that Petey is, on his most basic level, a flower and the fact that he wears bikini bottoms and you get something spawned in the depths of a repressed gardener who's mother didn't love him enough. (Hide the shears.)

Now that we're on the same page as to what Petey is, let's look at what he's doing. First off, he's not being friendly. That fearsome roar clearly comes from a guy who has showed up specifically to cause trouble. He has also somehow imprisoned the two princess — demure, pretty, dress-wearing ladies who, especially in the early age of video games, took the passive "save me" role — and locked them up, effectively separating them from the male characters. (In the clip, Mario even gets cannonballed into the distance, leaving only the asexual, pink puffball Kirby to fight it out. Whatever happens at the end of this mess, nobody will be getting laid.) Then, as if to hammer the point in, Petey uses the imprisoned feminine characters as weapons, creating a situation where his opponent has a choice between being seized on by his toothy vagina mouth or being beaten silly by the imprisoned epitomes of video game femininity. And that's not even touching on the literalization of the porn premise "banging chicks in cages."

Fuck. They make this stuff for kids?

Screw Grand Theft Auto. At least that game is blatant in its attempt to corrupt the youth. This game is taking beloved, trusted video game icons and placing them in some of the most subversive, psychosexually suggestive situations I could dare to think of.

And I love it.

I just can't believe it happened, is happening, and will happen. Is Nintendo just trying to mindfuck their loyal customers? Or are the game's developers merely trying condemn the practice of passive femininity by literally knocking two princesses senseless? I suppose I should also mention the small bit of video game trivia I've picked up over my years of playing that might further help someone interested in trying to explain exactly what is going on with all this: In other countries, the character of Petey Piranha is known as "Mutant Tyranha" and is female. Does that make this all better? Or worse?

And seriously, if Banging Chicks in Cages isn't already the title of a porno, then it should be.


  1. Fascinating! I've been eagerly awaiting this game, as well, and I look forward to it even more now that I get to fight a flower/vagina monster.

    Fantastic article! And I've enjoyed reading several of your other posts as well. Thanks for getting in touch with us at GitM.

  2. Holy crap... this shit needs to be included in National Treasure 3

  3. Came here from Jade Reporting and, well, wow. o.O I'm a little speechless.

    One (printable) thing that comes to mind, though -- does the princesses' health in any way affect the fight? Cause I mean ... really ... it should, but that would be annoying ...