Call me naive, but I always thought Mario was safe from the internet’s need to sexualize childhood icons. Sure, there was probably some Mario hentai floating around somewhere in the digital ether — there is for every animated character — but I never imagine he’d become a mainstream sex symbol.
Alas, I was wrong, and all it took was a flash of Mario’s man-nips. Earlier this week, Nintendo released two screenshots of its highly anticipated Super Mario Odyssey game, including one of Mario running shirtless on the beach.
The image marked the first time we’ve ever seen Mario topless, and confirmed that the now-retired plumber does indeed have nipples. While the discovery came as a shock to some, things started innocently enough; internet denizens photoshopped shirtless Mario onto a cover of ESPN Magazine’s The Body Issue or with the cast of the recent Baywatch flop.
But some were titillated by Mario’s bare chest, so much so Entertainment Weekly felt compelled to blot them out.
One blessed soul turned Mario’s nip slip into the object of Ted Cruz’s horniness.
The meme-ing also hit a somewhat problematic note on Reddit when users photoshopped the Mario image to include chest hair and a gold chain, in a rather stereotypical nod to Mario’s Italian-American heritage.
I don’t know what it is about animation that sets people’s loins on fire, but we seem to be living in the heyday of sexualized cartoon characters. First, we objectified Frosted Flakes cartoon spokesman Tony the Tiger, despite his being, you know, an animal. And then there was Netflix reviving the beloved childhood edutainment series, The Magic School Bus, but with Miss Frizzle’s younger, hotter sister in the driver seat. In both instances, people cast their sexual proclivities onto familiar, but sexually ambiguous, childhood icons.
But Mario has always been resolutely sexless. His sole motivation in life is to wrest Princess Peach from the evil clutches of Bowser, but there is nothing erotic about it. If anything, Mario toils in a perpetual friend zone; after Mario defeats Bowser in Mario 64, Peach thanks him with a kiss on the nose.
After this week, Mario’s image as a noble, eunuch warrior has forever been tarnished. And all it took was one look at his twink chest.