Kirby is funny. No matter how badass he’s being, that’s hard to deny. Here’s a guy who eats his way through trouble. Everyone else has heavy artillery; at the end of the day all Kirby has is a giant, gaping mouth.
But Kirby isn’t only funny, he’s strange. A circular blob that sucks up enemies? In other situations, he’d be downright creepy. Lucky for him, he’s also adorable. We think, “Look at how cute you are in that hat!” and stop thinking, “Oh my God, what are you eating?”
However silly it may seem, Kirby’s approach to combat makes him quite unique. Normally, eating is a tactic only bad guys use: monsters, zombies, freaks. And eating your enemies to gain their powers — well that’s at the root of real-life cannibalism too. But real-life cannibals hardly receive a Kirby-esque reception, at least not these days.
Kirby might be getting away with it, but, as a culture, we don’t deal well with the thought of consumption. Little old ladies coo, “I could just eat you up!” and it sends shivers down our spines. As for eating as fighting, Kirby’s area of expertise, we’ve demonized the very idea. “Brains! Brains!” chants your typical zombie, drooling at the sight of tasty human flesh. Even phrases like “I will eat you alive” have entered our vernacular as markers of horrific conquest.
Why are we so weirded out by eating as fighting? There are lots of reasons, not the least among them the loss of selfhood boundaries implicit in the act of consumption. But it’s also a matter — surprise, surprise — of sex.
“Normal” fighting, in video games as in real-life, involves outward aggression. You wack someone with a sword; you shoot them with a bullet; you bunch them with your fist. You are invading their bodily integrity with an extensive of yourself; your integrity, on the other hand, stays totally intact. Weapons enter and create wounds, cuts, holes. This is penetration.
Eating, however, involves a wholly different approach. Instead of the self reaching out to harm the other, the self destroys the other by taking it inside itself. Bodily integrity is no longer the issue; consumption, not wholeness, becomes the mark of power.
How does this relate to sex? Simple: penetration and consumption are the two complementary opposites that make up the sexual act, involving, in the traditional sense, a man’s penis and a woman’s vagina. One penetrates, one consumes.
Thing is, though these are two equal parts of one moment, they’re not equal to us. For better or worse, we live in a male-dominated society — which is to say that the ideology of the male perspective has been accepted as the standard. We see things from the male perspective; the female is made other, strange.
Fighting is no exception. “Male” aggression is what we consider normal: penetration and destruction of bodily integrity. Penises really are weapons — not because they are used destructively per se, but because, in an ideological sense, weapons have literally been modeled from them.
Once we accept the “male” stance as the natural human stance, “female” aggression, or power in consumption, makes us very uneasy. Mythology is haunted by teeth-lined vaginas, by women who consume their lovers. Instead, we prefer to think of women as passive in the sex, of women being fucked, never women fucking. We see penetration as the act, and never consumption.
In order to calm our fear of “female” aggression, we’ve taken the power out of eating. We’ve coded it as benign. As for eating as fighting, it’s laughable. At the same time, though, it retains a certain amount of power — a power that reflects our own fear — in its otherness, its demonization. Consumption is grotesque, sick, bizarre, and so it is powerful.
That’s one of the keys to the Kirby attraction. He allows us to experience the culturally safe, silly representation of eating as fighting, and, simultaneously, to explore that funny feeling that maybe there’s more to sucking up enemies than there seems.