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Whatever Happened To Mario's V-Sign?


Remember how when Mario would exit a stage in Super Mario World, he'd turn toward you, the player, and flash a V-for-Victory sign?  That was the plumber's near-trademark gesture for quite a while, showing up again in not only Super Mario 64, Super Mario RPG, various portions of Super Mario All-Stars, and Super Mario Kart, but also lots of promotional character artwork produced around the same time.  Over the last decade, Mario stopping using the sign, and while some would think that this is nothing notable, others like Kombo's Lucas DeWoody sense a politically correct conspiracy in the works.

Some of Mario's earliest and most T-shirt friendly artwork depicts him flashing his famous “V for victory” sign. While that artwork was used as early as 1989, the symbol made its in-game debut with 1991's Super Mario World and would go on to be featured in tons of Mario titles all through the rest of the decade. Everything from Super Mario Kart to Super Mario RPG featured the sign. Seems harmless enough? Well, that famous “V” sign also stands for something else in popular culture. Just ask Ringo Starr if you need to know. While in Japan the “V” symbol means “victory”, it became known in America as a common expression of peace during the 1960s flower power era. To this day, a lot of Americans still immediately recall the thought of peace protesters when the symbol makes an appearance.

As you (should) well know, America's population is currently deeply divided over the opinion of our status as a warring nation in the midst of our Middle East battles. Regardless of your personal opinion on American foreign policy, there are a lot of people out there who believe we should be at war, and their feathers get ruffled when they see sign of a peace protester. Is it for that reason that Mario – an icon more widely loved that Mickey Mouse – has conspicuously stopped flashing his famous sign? Driving the point home, Nintendo of America recently redrew and reissued some of that familiar old-school 2D Mario artwork, likely for use in retro memorabilia. While the artwork is true to the classic style, something is obviously missing.  Nintendo also seems determined to do what they can to scrub the classic Mario victory pose from their history. When Mario Kart 64's Mario Raceway made a return appearance in Mario Kart Wii, Nintendo very obviously removed the artwork depicting the familiar Mario stance with something less “controversial”.

The V-sign had faded away so gradually that I hadn't noticed until Lucas raised the issue, and at first I'd just assumed the sign's retirement was just the latest in a long, ongoing reinvention of the character.  After all, the Mario from the Super NES and Nintendo 64 years is stylistically different than the original Mario from the arcade and Nintendo Entertainment System generations.  Why shouldn't he change further as time goes on?  Then Lucas brought up that when games from the V era are re-released, the V-sign is painstakingly removed.  Now I'm wondering if there isn't something to his theory.

I don't believe that Nintendo is pandering to any one political side out there, but is instead trying to keep their beloved and profitable character neutral in any such potential discussion.  This is nothing new in recent years.  While popular characters of the time were part of World War II, today's modern corporations typically do not want their creations taking a side in any conflict beyond corporate rivalries (Mario versus Sonic the Hedgehog, etc.) lest they offend a portion of the marketplace (particularly in an era where any perceived political undertone is blown up endlessly on twenty-four cable news and, of course, the Internet itself).  As much of a Mario fan as I am, I can't say that the loss of the V-sign impacts me or my view of the character in any way.  Mario is defined by many elements, but what he does with his hand when he completes an objective is not one of them.