Olive Face, Italian Voice: Constructing Super Mario as an Italian-American (1981–1996)
Keywords:Voice Acting, Italian-Americans, Video Games, Ethnicity, Blackface
This study examines the development of Super Mario’s Italian-American character in the United States (1981-1996) to suggest looking at vocal typecasting and aural representation as overlooked signifiers of performed ethnicity in the arts. As a technological and cultural history of Italian face and voice, the study draws on emerging conceptualisations of aural blackface to discuss the more ambivalent place of Italianicity in the transnational space of ethnically charged signifiers. Framing Mario’s characterisation through the notions of olive face and olive voice, the study addresses the ambiguous place of visual and aural Italian-ness as Otherness as an in-between of whiteness and blackness. Approaching character development through voice acting by combining screen, stardom, celebrity, franchise, and digital games studies, the paper looks at the production and cultural history of two milestone video games from the Nintendo franchise, Super Mario Bros. (1985) and Super Mario 64 (1996), in relation to related artwork and character-licensed products, including the Super Mario Bros. film (Buena Vista Pictures 1993), and the animated/mixed live action Super Mario Bros. Super Show (DIC/Viacom 1989). The study thus approaches diachronically, through the lens of performance and comedy, the cross-media development of Mario’s olive voice through its domestication in the United States, leading to licensing processes and the establishment of Mario’s Italian-American features. Considering the ambivalent historical alignment of Italianicity with white privilege in the United States and globally, the paper frames Super Mario as an ambivalently “ethnic” construction, cautiously navigating global audiences by encapsulating commonplaces of Italian-ness, Mediterranean-ness, and Latin-ness.
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Copyright (c) 2022 Marco Benoît Carbone
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