This Artist Used The 'Super Mario Bros' Theme Music To Make a Very Serious Video About Sexual Assault
The princess is in another castle.
We never thought the music behind Super Mario Brothers sounded sinister before. After seeing ":::-:: (6 - 4)," a video short by Ana Valdés, we might have to reevaluate our answer. The three-minute short shows an unknown assailant repeatedly puncturing Valdés' back with sunflowers to the tune of the familiar soundtrack. The video, according to Valdés, is also a visual and audio representation of "the use of women as metaphorical dart boards for male aggression in concordance with the romanticization of sexual violence."
Valdés, an actress and recent graduate of NYU, directed the piece and also gives an impressive performance in it. When I first watched the short, I found her choice of music to be unsettling. Wanting to know more, I emailed Valdés to ask her about her choice for the soundtrack, her larger view regarding violence against women, and whether or not we can expect more of the same from her in the future. I caught up with Ana in a coffeeshop after learning her video was accepted in the Am I Write Ladies? showcase in Brooklyn. AIWL is a recurring series that features new live and visual artwork from women and gender non-confirming artists. Here’s what we learned.
Let's talk about your piece. What does it mean for you? What is it about, essentially? Let’s go from there.
Ana Valdés: The piece is mostly autobiographical. It’s a representation of my own experiences with sexual violence and gender-oriented violence. And I haven’t quite found a way to express or to talk about it, I find it’s very hard to explain how it may affect you or what it looks like. It can easily be romanticized or concealed as something that’s flattering when in fact, it’s more damaging than anything. So that’s kind of the main message of the piece.
Yeah, with some of the imagery that you use with the flowers—it’s very visceral and slightly disturbing. I felt uncomfortable the first time I watched it, and I’m sure that might’ve been your intention.
AV: It definitely was. The whole point of the flowers was that I wanted to mask the needles that were hidden within them.
Are those actual needles? Or did you use props?
AV: Those are real needles. Everything in the video is real. Through editing, it’s actually a really funny story. I used a turtle shell that I made. I made it like a blue screen-green screen [which she later edits out with CGI] and it worked well for the most part, expect there was one point where one of the needles did pierce all the way through, so that was fun. [Laughs] I wasn’t looking to perform blood at the time.
I don’t blame you. Needles are scary. I noticed in the statement that you sent me, the woman in the video—which is obviously you—is described as an unknowing participant in a game. What exactly is the game? Is it itself sexually based? Or is it related to sexual assault?
AV: In my experience, what I’ve found many times is that gender-oriented violence tends to be treated like a game. It can be something silly like, “Who can get the most girls?” “Who can—" I think we’ve been living that a lot recently, with the whole premise of “Fuck that bitch,” and everyone cheering it on kind of like it’s a game, like it’s a bullfight. That’s why I wanted to incorporate, that where the Mario Bros music comes in. It’s a very popular game. It’s something we all know the tune of. We all know what it looks like, but we choose not to look at this little game that goes on in everyday life and everyday routine.
I was going to ask if the Super Mario soundtrack was something specific thing that you were going for or not. It’s interesting that you’re staging it in those terms. We’re talking about bullfighting, and picking up women… I remember a decade ago, Neil Strauss, the pickup artist wrote a book about a secret society of pickup artists. He called it “The Game,” and wrote about the assigning points and values towards women, and forming a plan of attack based on strategies.
AV: Right. I’m deviating a little bit. The reason why I chose that as well is that I love video games, but it’s a very male-dominated environment. The story is about Mario who’s going to save the Princess [Peach.] The princess is rendered kind of useless. She’s not really part of the adventure. She’s not really part of the story.
She’s an object to be rescued.
AV: Exactly. An object to rescued or from Bowser, taken and held hostage. I guess going along with that, the reason why I chose sunflowers is because of Diego Rivera. Him and [his wife] Frida Kahlo had such a tumultuous relationship. I was inspired because I’m from Mexico, I was inspired to bring a woman who’s gone through all of this suffering, all of this violence, and hardship and include flowers that Diego always put in his paintings. It’s always women giving their back to it [the viewer], and half-naked, and hugging these flowers. It’s a relationship between being attacked by something and at the same time being so used to it, you see it so much that you kind of embrace it in a way.
I thought it was interesting since the princesses in the Mario franchise have names like “Peach” and “Daisy"…
A: I tried to bring it all in.
Do you see yourself scoring your work with other types of music, or is this one part of a larger series in which you use game music?
AV: It’s Part 1 of 2. The second part has the same kind of music.
Is that completed or are you still working on it?
AV: I’m still working on it. It was all shot in one go. The editing of it has been so heavy that I decided to [split it] in Part 1 and Part 2. I think talking about gender-oriented violence and sexual violence tends to go into two stages. The first part is you see what’s happening, and you expose what’s happening. Then the second part is the consequences of it. “What happens after it’s done?” That’s Part 2. It’s not meant to be part of a larger series as of now. I might change my mind.
Can I get a hint of what happens in the second part? Does anything happen to the hand that’s inflicting this damage?
AV: Nothing happens to the hand. It’s the full removal of the flowers. And for the most part of the video, the woman is just looking forward and she’s aware eventually of what’s happening, but she doesn’t full-on see the damage that has been done. That’s part of Part 2.
What brought this on? What made you want to create this other than your own personal experiences? Did you want to speak to a larger storyline?
AV: A larger storyline?
Being female and raised in this environment. I mean, it’s hard to be female. Like everything is coming at you, at all kinds of angles. Is that something you wanted to speak to?
AV: It something that I have wanted to speak to. I’ve been developing this video for a long time now. It’s been in the works for months. What recently brought it up for me more, I just entered a new relationship. A relationship that has been a lot healthier, a lot better. Where all of this hasn’t been, all of the violence hasn’t been a part of it. I think I became inspired, like “Ok, now that I’m kind of transitioning out of it, now that I’m no longer really in it. Now is the time.”
Which Mario game is this by the way?
AV: Super Mario World. It’s the one where you go through all the different worlds, you get all the stars, and save the princess. It’s that one. I recently downloaded it, and I started playing it. I had this weird— it’s a memorable piece of music, and it just stuck with me, so while I was doing all this is when it all came together.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.