If Mario Isn’t a Plumber, What Is He Even?

Games Features Mario
If Mario Isn’t a Plumber, What Is He Even?

I used to consider Mario my friend and the world’s friend. No matter what job I got, from killing basement rats to hunting the most dangerous game (man), it seemed like Mario was on my side. Like me, he was a working stiff who routinely gobbled mushrooms to impress well-born women. Like Mario, I had been made in Japan to appeal to American audiences. Like Mario, I was a broad ethnic stereotype who was somehow never that offensive. Like Mario, I worked and loved in buildings that were cruelly disfigured at the whim of angry apes, or as the normals call them, the zoning board.

Most of all, there was an economic tie uniting us. Mario was a plumber, and plumbers are well known for keeping it real. Nothing on earth is realer than sewage, and the men who tame it. As I frequently tell my dungeonmaster, I also believe in keeping it real.

At first my love for Mario was of the temperate, moderate variety. I rarely if ever chose his side in debates, and barely prayed to him. But after several years of wild living, Mario was my port in a storm. I considered him as I would an ex-wife with a jar of my teeth: I send him my money regularly, and that’s fine, because sure we’ve had our squabbles, but he has a piece of me when it’s all said and done. As the years went by, Mario blossomed in every profession. I didn’t mind. He was grounded in plumbing. He hadn’t forgotten the old neighborhood, it seemed. I viewed Mario as an extension of my own life, and to an extent, my own peerless body as well. Whenever I cried at circus commercials, it seemed as if Mario was there, whispering “IT’S-A GONNA BE FINE” to me at max volume—and max caring. We were just two regular Joes. Mario was a plumber. I was a man who admired plumbers, and produced the reason for plumbing to exist.

Imagine my surprise—and my Aniston-like sense of betrayal—when Mario announced this week that he was done with the class war and had surrendered his title as plumber. According the America’s leading purveyor of grandpa rage-strokes, FOX News:

Mario is about as close to a mascot that Nintendo has, and for some reason the Japanese gaming giant felt compelled to update his CV. Everyone knows Mario as a pipe-sliding plumber but he’s actually a jack of all trades. “Mario was once a plumber … but that was a long time ago,” Nintendo says on its website.

“A long time ago?” This isn’t the war, you eel-souled fiends. Is Mario a working man, or isn’t he? Mario isn’t Mike Rowe, who can spend years pretending to be what he isn’t. Either Mario is a blue-collar dude with epic time management skills … or he’s a layabout playboy whose main goal is dilettanting around. Like our current President.

Tech publication Kotaku noticed that the character’s profile on Nintendo’s official Japanese-language website states that Mario used to be a plumber. Translated to English it reads: “All around sporty, whether it’s tennis or baseball, soccer or car racing, he does everything cool. As a matter of fact, he also seems to have worked as a plumber a long time ago.” Despite the reminder of his many talents, it didn’t mention any new profession for the famous Italian character.

Wasn’t it Aristotle or Aristotle Onassis or Mr. Owl who said, “Whatever drugs or your Internet friends tell you, you are not what you say you are—you are what you repeatedly do. Plumbing is not an art, but a habit.” Mario is a master of pipes, just as I am a master of memes and bookmarking skateboard videos. That’s who he is. That’s what he does. How can he escape this? The man’s trademark is escaping down giant pipes and hopping over barrels, both of which are habits which only belong, properly speaking, to the proletariat. When was the last time you saw a banker eating stars to avoid death? See? My point exactly.

Not since Tomb Raider was revealed as a metastasized clump of pixels have I been so full of profanity, and profanity’s natural product, anger-sweats.

Mario isn’t a plumber? Did I write all that fan-fiction for nothing?

Mario being removed from the track of technical school is a body-blow from which I and my body will not recover anytime soon. If Mario is not a member of the working class, then he’s another one of those Brooklynites—Jayden or Atticus or Brax or Bruno or anybody you can imagine with a ukulele and a verve for cocktails—who takes up occupations because, oh, I don’t know, he’s in the mood. Part of Mario’s appeal is that he’s never in the mood. He saves Peach because it’s the right thing to do, not because he’s having a lark.

He does what he does because he has been thrown into the Lewis Carroll world of the Mushroom Kingdom. It’s not something he chose. But he might as well try to do the right thing while he’s there. That’s what makes Mario special: he’s giving up vital pipe income to curbstomp turtles. That choice makes him a hero.

If he doesn’t have full-time obligations, then everything he does is half as heroic. If the adventure stuff is all he does, then much of the wonderful and strange and strangely wonderful seeps out of the Marioverse. Mario ceases to be a superlatively moral everyman, and becomes a thrill seeker, like Hollywood Steve Bannon.

As a plumber-turned-adventurer, Mario is an everyman, just a dude—to quote my favorite funtime hymn, a stranger on the bus trying to make his way home, a holy rolling stone. By becoming a dabbler, Mario is no better than Sonic. And Sonic is basically the Wolf of Wall Street in pixelated form. Do you think Mario would enjoy that lifestyle? I thought not, but Nintendo has left me no choice. They’ve made Mario into Richard Branson in overalls, a good-time Charlie who jumps in go-carts and pretends to be a doctor not out of a need to do all the good he can in every place he can, but just because he’s got no better place to be. It’s-a not you, Mario.

Jason Rhode is a staff writer for Paste and personally responsible for the London fatberg.

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