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The Legend of Toad

He’s so much more than an avatar for the presidential penis—though he and the president do share a lot in common

It seems like months ago now that we learned, per his alleged sexual partner Stormy Daniels, that President Trump’s pecker is more of a knob than a wang: “He knows he has an unusual penis,” she writes in a new memoir, Full Disclosure. “It has a huge mushroom head. Like a toadstool… I lay there, annoyed that I was getting fucked by a guy with Yeti pubes and a dick like the mushroom character in Mario Kart…”

Of course, it’s been barely 24 hours since this jaw-dropping description of Trump’s “smaller than average” but “not freakishly small” phallus became public. Yet the horrified reaction carried us swiftly past the initial oddity of the comments. For Daniels didn’t stop at comparing the commander-in-chief’s compact unit to a toadstool, which may have been disturbing enough. No, she also sketched it as “the mushroom character in Mario Kart,” better known as Toad, a Nintendo fixture who dates back to 1983’s Super Mario Bros. In so doing, she has — consciously or not — invoked one of the most ambiguous, controversial and meme-able bits of digital intellectual property out there.

In the first place, people were annoyed that Daniels had identified Toad as principally a Mario Kart persona. Again, he’s been around for 35 years, and he’s one of the Mushroom Kingdom’s most trusted representatives, always eager to lend a helping hand to the Italian plumbers conscripted into saving it. In some games, he’s actually quite powerful. So the Mario Kart reference could simply reflect Daniels’ own gaming habits or interests; it is, after all, one of the most popular titles the company has ever produced. Yet the nod might encode a subtler, secondary jab at the president. Anyone who plays Mario Kart, even casually, tends to find out that Toad, as a racecar driver, has the fastest possible acceleration in the game. Was she saying that Trump is… quick?

Or that he has a sexually transmitted infection?

From there, things just get weirder. Last year, a Polygon video producer launched an ongoing effort to get Nintendo’s official Twitter account to retweet an image of Toad wearing a diaper. The notion proved so appealing that it spawned a subgenre of fan art and shitpost arguments as to whether Toad’s official garb has always included a diaper. Basically, as Nintendo’s characters age and endure in the social media age, they’ve become fodder for various memes and theories regarding what is canonically true about them — and the company may end up refuting or confirming whatever they like. Nobody of authority appears to believe Toad wears a diaper, but in what cannot be mere coincidence, Trump is also sometimes rumored to be wearing a diaper, and artistic renderings frequently depict him this way. The Trump-Toad connection has legs.

Branching off of the diaper conspiracy, Toad — like Trump — is the locus of some pretty weird body horror. We’re always noting the grotesquerie of his appearance, from the puckered asshole of a mouth (indistinguishable from his eyes) to the cheap tan to whatever the hell is going on underneath his combover. It makes complete sense that we’ve been forced to visualize his horrible toadstool cock as the equivalent of a stumpy cartoon who is frequently reimagined in wildly different guises. Just as pro-Trump editorial cartoonists like Ben Garrison draw him as a muscled adonis he’s never been, Toad enthusiasts love to give him washboard abs, supermodel thighs, and um, a nose.

Another controversy reawakened by this news cycle concerns Toad’s cranium. Is that mushroom thing part of his head, or a hat? One might ask the same of Trump’s trademark coiff, or his red MAGA cap. In Toad’s case, Nintendo insists the mushroom is a material extension of his body — and that instances of him removing it in the short-lived animated Super Mario Bros. Super Show! don’t reflect canonical reality. The entire dispute can’t help but add to our revulsion, because what if Trump’s tip is detachable?

Finally, in 2014, Nintendo saw fit to set the record straight on the gender status of Toad, an adventure companion named Toadette and the rest of the Toad community. Back then, game producer Koichi Hayashida told GameSpot: “This is maybe a little bit of a strange story, but we never really went out of our way to decide on the sex of these characters, even though they have somewhat gendered appearances.”

In other words, Toad’s sexual characteristics are as ambiguous as everything else about him; perhaps he’s a male-presenting female Toad. If there’s one prism through which Trump views the world, it’s traditional, gender roles. Perhaps Stormy Daniels is secretly a Nintendo superfan and signaling that Trump, for all his pretensions of masculinity, is deeply insecure when it comes to his identity and would be happier living like Toad: genderless, unbothered by his non-standard size and shape, empathetic instead of aggrandizing.

Whatever hint she’s dropping, I hope he gets it. The rest of us really need to move on.