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The Power Glove as a phallic symbol and coded sexual messages

by Josh Eiserike

The 1989 film “The Wizard” is unique for its time for many reasons, but chiefly because it’s a film where the target audience is more interested in the product placement than the film and story itself. The story- which it’s a safe guess that the average 10-year old is unconcerned with- involves a mentally handicapped boy who runs away to California, presumably, his older brother (Fred Savage) deduces, to compete in the World Nintendo Championship.


At times the film gets laughably heavy- subplots involving negligent parents, a lonely girl who lives her life on the road (Jenny Lewis, years before she’d achieve indie rock stardom) and the real reason the mentally challenged kid is walking to California with his lunchbox. But none of this really matters to the kids who saw this in the theaters at its time of release (full disclosure: I was one of them). All that matters is what video games are being played, what levels the characters reach and what tricks, cheats and codes the movie reveals (indeed- a whole generation of children learned how to find the warp whistle in “Super Mario Bros. 3” because of the finale of the film- a big commercial/debut for the game).


This scene in particular sticks out in the minds and memories of those who saw it then- and recently- in relation to the blatant product placement. The references to “The Good, The Bad and the Ugly” would likely fly over the target audience’s heads, but the message is clear: Lucas, the “villain” video game Wizard is the champ because he’s got the Power Glove.


“What is that?” Jenny Lewis asks, in awe.

“I don’t know,” Fred Savage responds.


It’s not too hard to see the sexual imagery here—and no coincidence that Lucas plays “Rad Racer,” a driving game, (Cars, another coded sex object indicating the power of the driver) to indicate his sexual superiority over the virginal Savage and Lewis. Lucas schools them in the game and responds, more to the audience than the characters, “I love the Power Glove. It’s so bad.”


The sexual innuendo is quite clear to an adult viewer when Savage retorts, putting his arm around Lewis, “Yeah, well, just keep your Power Gloves off her, pal.”


Or, as Laura Mulvey writes, “The paradox of phallocentrism in all its manifestations is that it depends on the image of the castrated woman to give order and meaning to its world. An idea of woman stands as lynch pin to the system: it is her lack that produces the phallus as a symbolic presence, it is her desire to make good the lack that the phallus signifies.”


This scene in particular shows just how castrated Lewis (and the other protagonists) really is in contrast to Lucas and the phallic symbol, the “Power Glove.” There’s no way the target audience could have recognized this upon seeing this film in 1989. However, the coded message is clear: Lucas is experienced and he is going to school these virginal characters, impressing them with how sophisticated and awesome he is.

The Wizard- "I love the Power Glove"

Scene from the 1989 film "The Wizard" displays gender roles and superiority in context of a video game controller.

from The Wizard (1989)
Creator: Todd Holland
Distributor: Universal Pictures
Posted by Survey of Interactive Media