Recently I asked a question on Twitter that had been bugging me for at least half an hour: Could the Queen identify Super Mario from a picture? Would she be able to look at a picture of Mario and say something like “that’s Mario”? It’s an interesting problem, I think, because on the one hand Mario is one of the most recognizable brand mascots on the planet, but on the other, the inner life of the Queen is as unknowable as the inner life of a zebra. A lot of smart and, ultimately, bored people weighed in, and you can see their thinking in the replies. They make some good points.
But I’ve come to realize that this question isn’t one isolated to Queen Elizabeth II alone. The world is full of elderly people, and all of them will either know or not know who Mario is.
NOTE: Some of the people in my list are dead, but were alive at a time where Mario-awareness was a possibility.
This isn’t a question of whether or not the person has played a Super Mario game or even watched someone play a Super Mario game. The only test is whether, if shown a picture of Mario, the person would be able to say something like “That’s Mario.” They can’t say “That’s a computer game guy” or “That’s the little jumping fellow from the whatsit.” They have to know his name, but that’s it. Let’s begin.
Queen Elizabeth II
I have already discussed this at length with my wife, my friends, and a number of strangers, so I’m going to keep it brief.
The Queen knows that Mario is a computer game guy, let’s just get that right out of the way. A lot of The Queen’s job is going out into the world and talking to people and looking at things, and if you do that for a long enough period of time, you’re going to encounter Mario. That’s just statistics and I’m not going to argue about it. It’s completely insane to suggest that no one — in the hundreds of thousands of interactions that Queen Elizabeth II has had with people — has ever told the Queen who Mario is. Whether it’s one of her grandkids or a flustered aide on the way with her to meet the Japanese Prime Minister, or just someone at a function having a brain episode while looking for something to say — someone, somewhere, some time, has explained Mario to the Queen. I don’t know how it went. I’m not here to speculate on that, but it happened.
The only relevant question is one of retention. Did she retain that information? This would require a conscious choice on the part of the Queen to store the identity of Mario somewhere in her mind-palace, and, unfortunately, I just don’t see that happening.
Verdict: Knows he’s from a computer game, does not know his name, if pushed would guess “Alfonso.”
My friend Mark did a PhD on Bob Dylan, so I asked him if he thinks that Bob Dylan would be able to identify Mario from a photograph. He stressed that his PhD was not on whether Bob Dylan knew who Super Mario was, but that notwithstanding, Mark said that he thinks it’s pretty likely that Bob could look at a picture of Mario and say something like “Oh yeah that’s Mario.” He also points out that on Dylan’s latest album, he references Indiana Jones, so “he is aware of ’80s pop culture.” This does not feel instinctively right to me, I don’t see how awareness of Indiana Jones confers or even implies awareness of Mario, but as I don’t have a PhD on Bob Dylan, and Mark does, I’m willing to accept that he has the greater insight here.
Verdict: Bob Dylan Probably Knows Who Mario Is
Orson Welles died in October of 1985. Super Mario Bros. was released in September of that same year. That gives us one month where Orson Welles technically could have identified Mario from a picture. In that month, five days before he died, in fact, he provided the voice of Unicron in the animated Transformers movie. Is it possible that someone on the set of that film might have mentioned the new popular game to the man who made Citizen Kane? Let’s say no.
Pope Francis I
I didn’t really look into this one at all, and will admit that I’m purely going off “vibe” here, but I have a strong conviction that Pope Francis I, Bishop of Rome, would be able to identify Mario from a picture.
A lot of this list is guesswork, but this one I know for sure. When Rushdie was in hiding following the pronouncement of a fatwa from the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, he escaped from his troubles by obsessively playing Super Mario World. That’s just a fact, in the way that “owls are a kind of bird” is a fact.
This is from his third-person narrated memoir.
Marianne came around and scolded him for playing video games...he had grown fond of Mario the plumber and his brother Luigi and sometimes Super Mario World felt like a happy alternative to the one he lived in the rest of the time. “Read a good book,” his wife told him scornfully. “Give it up.” He lost his temper. “Don’t tell me how to live my life,” he exploded, and she made a grand exit.
Not only does Rushdie know who Mario is, but also Luigi and, I don’t think this is too much of a stretch, Yoshi, Bowser, and the Koopalings.
Verdict: Yes, no question.
Dennis Hopper played King Koopa in the 1993 live action Super Mario Brothers. Despite this, or possibly because of this, I don’t think Dennis Hopper could have ever identified Mario from a picture.
Born in 1952, Shigeru Miyamoto was a pioneer in video games, creating some of the best known titles of all time, including Zelda, Starfox and Super Mario. Not only did he develop the Mario character and games but as a function of his job would have regularly attended games industry events where Mario art and iconography would have been prominently placed. With this in mind, the idea that he wouldn’t be able to identify Mario from a picture borders on demented. Let’s go to the next one.
Verdict: Practically impossible that he doesn’t know who Mario is.
Joyce Carol Oates
Joyce Carol Oates has, on at least one occasion, been in the same room as Salman Rushdie, and on that alone I am confident that she would be able to identify a picture of Mario. I’m not suggesting that Rushdie carries a picture of Mario around with him at all times, but I am suggesting he might force it into conversation in the green room of a writers’ festival, and that by the power of the novelists descriptive language, Oates would have a pretty good idea of what Mario looked like, and what his deal was. It’s possible that she might respond to a picture of Mario with “oh that’s Salman’s little friend” but I’m fairly sure she would remember the name.
Verdict: Yes, via Rushdie.
Cormac McCarthy does not know who Mario is.
Joe Biden knows who Mario is.
I went back and forth on this for a long time. It’s true that a woman once publicly compared the 45th president of the United States’ penis to Toad from Mario Kart, which has to factor into the analysis here. If someone told the press that your penis looked like a character from the Mario franchise, there’s a good chance you’d recall Mario. But like the Queen, it’s an issue of retention. I ended up asking the man who seems to have a greater insight into the mind of Donald Trump than any other writer alive. David Roth told me this:
Ordinarily I think he generally does know who most every person on TV is...he's a gossip and has a good memory for shit like that. Given that Mario is by most accounts not real, that would seem to argue against Trump knowing who he is. But because Trump's brain is stuck in like a permanent 1989 I think maybe he does? Like there's probably a photo of him posing with a guy in a Mario costume at the NFL Pro Bowl from 1991 out there on the wires. So my guess is that he does know who Mario is, but mostly remembers him as a real person.
Verdict: Could identify Mario, possibly believes Mario is real and has wronged him in some specific way.
This has been A List of Old People Who I Believe Do and Do Not Know Who Mario Is. Thank you for your time.
Ben Jenkins is a writer from Sydney, Australia