Nintendo’s Kirby is a gelatinous ball of nightmares
Kirby has always unnerved me. The Nintendo character appears to be a delightful, pirouetting fairy – sucking up enemies to spit them out as projectiles. But there is something unnerving about a gelatinous pink blob with an insatiable hunger, whose life seemingly consists of a relentless pattern of consumption and vomit.
The sexless sprawl of Kirby reminds me of the Greek hero Prometheus, who was punished by Zeus for the crime of gifting fire to humanity and was forced to endure daily evisceration by vultures. Tied to a rock, each day Prometheus has his liver eaten by wild birds, and each night it grows back. His body is torn apart and pieced together, never complete. Or perhaps Kirby is closer to Tantalus, who was cursed to stand in a pool of clear water, beneath a tree laden with ripe fruit – both forever out of reach.
Regardless of the mythic comparison, there is something tragic about Kirby’s condition that belies the creature’s love of tiny hats and wooden swords. Beneath its wet eyes and perpetually flushed cheeks is a mouth that often curls into a thin, hateful frown; as if Kirby’s terrible existence of hunger has twisted its worldview into something altogether more repulsive than its innocuous demeanor suggests.
Look at this strange, abject being. The fleshy globule of Kirby’s body is removed from the human body; it is clean, rounded, hairless. It is all these things, yes, but at the same time it is an uncanny perversion of our flesh. It is a feverish nightmare of elasticity, of muscle tissue stretched beyond human capacity. It is body horror in its purist form; a Cronenberg apparition of our bodies distorted beyond sense, beyond comprehension, made into something terrible by the unremitting feasting of late capitalism.
The food never holds. As much as Kirby eats, it can only spit it out again. The fruit turns to ashes in Kirby’s maw. The beast inhales everything around it, but can never keep it down. It spews everything it touches back into the world, left only with a hunger that never ends. Kirby can consume until its skin is distended, but there is no purpose to this intake, there is no sustenance. Searching for meaning, Kirby finds only indigestion.
Perhaps I should pity Kirby. After all, the creature’s life is hopeless in its torture. It is unlikely that it chose this world, and there is a degree of nobleness in its persistence, despite the hunger, despite the meaninglessness of its existence. But can you pity a tumour? Can you show compassion to something that devours those around it, and shows no remorse for its actions? Kirby is deplorable, not because of its strangeness, but because Kirby is our worst selves, directed by greed, shorn of cares and considerations until we are little more than semi-conscious stomachs.
Kirby scares me, because I see myself in its eyes.