Lizard Kings

"You Make Me Wanna" is a column celebrating pop culture-fueled sexual awakenings .

After almost three decades of bad dates, regrettable hookups, and epic love affairs, it’s become clear to me that there’s a certain way I long to be treated—like a goddamn princess. To be exact, I want to be treated like Princess Daisy from the 1993 movie adaption of the video game Super Mario Bros. This movie first acquainted me with my conflicted desire for diligent, decent boys and deplorable, degenerate boys courtesy of my crushes on the main hero and villain of the film.

Developed by Nintendo in 1985, the original video game Super Mario Bros. is about a princess who has been kidnapped by a turtle-like brick shithouse called Bowser (also known as King Koopa). Like total heroes, a pair of brothers called Mario and Luigi fight through eight different worlds to save this archetypal damsel in distress. In many ways, the film remains loyal to this basic premise. But it also takes baffling creative liberties with the setting, twisting the game’s iconic surrealist kingdom into a hyper-realistic dystopia. Super Mario Bros. is a bad movie. But when I was seven, it was my everything.

The plot follows struggling plumber Luigi as he falls in love with orphaned archaeology student Daisy. Their first date goes awry when Daisy is kidnapped by two of Koopa’s henchmen and pulled into a parallel dimension called Dinohattan. Koopa is eager to merge his world and the human world together and believes Daisy (who, like him, is descended from dinosaurs) is the only person who can help him. Luigi follows his new love into this parallel dimension to save her, dragging Mario (Bob Hoskins) along with him. Along the way, they encounter police corruption and a political revolution, and Daisy discovers her biological father is alive and well. The story is confusing, but just know that (spoiler alert!) Mario and Luigi save the princess at the end of it all.

Throughout the movie, two forces, representing good and evil, fight to possess Daisy (Samantha Mathis). On the good side, there’s Luigi (John Leguizamo), the blue-collar plumber with a tragic backstory (he was orphaned as a child!) and a big heart, who just wants to make a home with the girl of his dreams. On the evil side, we have the germaphobic dictator King Koopa (Dennis Hopper), a power-crazed egotist who wants to use the same girl for his own personal gratification.

As a kid from a working-class household, the sight of Luigi—a knight in polyester armor who stops at nothing to save his dream girl and bring her back home to the life she’s made for herself—was a revelation. Luigi doesn’t just want to bring Daisy home; he wants to build a home for her. The rich, regal princes of the fairy tales I’d read growing up were unappealing to me. I wanted a hero who understood my life and wouldn’t want to change me—and could fix my sink, if it needed fixing. And if ever an evil king were to steal me away through an inter-dimensional portal, it’d be Luigi I’d want to save me.

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Meanwhile, despite being the total opposite of Luigi, Koopa also stirred something primal and lustful within me. A powerful man with a serious hang-up about germs (he washes his hands obsessively and repeatedly throughout the movie), Koopa has a serious fetish both for getting clean and for getting dirty—in literal and metaphorical ways. Koopa loves mud because "it’s clean and it’s dirty at the same time," whilst in another scene he implies that Daisy would definitely get it because she’s "so fresh and so clean."

He even waggles his ludicrously long dino-tongue at the princess and mews, "You know what they say about little girls don’t you? They never forget the first time they were kissed by a lizard." Koopa is a fucking abomination, but he was my abomination. I wanted to be clean yet dirty in a mud bath with him, the man with the monster tongue.


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As a kid, I was openly attracted to Luigi and secretly harbored a dark crush for Koopa. As an adult, I’ve bounded between these two archetypes in my romantic life like the princess trapped between the two worlds of the movie. I want to be wooed by hard-working men whom I know can take care of me, but I’ve also been irrevocably drawn to flings with monstrous egotists looking only to serve their own well-being. As I grew up and my curiosity got the better of me, I had various brief encounters with creepy Koopa types, and none of them were great. These were guys in bands who truly believed they were the second coming of Jim Morrison (a man who, similar to Koopa, also called himself the Lizard King). Men who treated women as disposable playthings, who casually carried cuffs or ropes on a night out with them just in case they got lucky. They were vastly compelling to the side of me that craved self-destruction, but they were ultimately disappointing. It turned out many of them weren’t actually kinky, but just emotionally and physically cruel. They satisfied a gross, aberrant desire within me but ultimately they made me long for someone respectable and worthy, not self-serving and sleazy.

In Super Mario Bros. Luigi is very much the former. At the end of the movie after defeating Koopa in one final showdown, Daisy kisses the younger Mario brother, but also reveals she’ll be staying in Dinohattan with her newly-discovered father rather than returning to Brooklyn. Luigi is heartbroken, but he doesn’t stand in Daisy’s way. He gives her complete freedom, and it’s sexy as hell. That’s exactly the boy I wanted when I was seven, and it’s still the sort of man I want today—Koopas be damned. Well...or it’s possible that, all along, I’ve wanted a plumber in the streets and a lizard in the sheets, and that’s fine—so long as I get treated like a goddamn princess.

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