Groups of friends often develop in-jokes and running gags over time, like memes on a localised scale. One of the most well-used in my experience crops up when a fictional character dies in tragic, dramatic and heroic style: we refer to such an admirable and Manly Tear-inducing exit as getting the ‘Pineapple Salad’. It’s given a passing reference in TV Tropes under Fundamentally Funny Fruit, but there’s nothing funny about getting the Pineapple Salad. Nevertheless, it’s the best kind of tragic.
This accolade is never given lightly. Given its origin, it demands to be an award of the highest order as a recognition of epic courage, selflessness and sheer badassery; spoilers for Super Dimensional Fortress Macross are coming up, by the way.
In the Do You Remember Love? movie version of Macross, Roy Foker dies a heroic death in in battle so his comrades might live; in the TV series however, the events play out differently…and in some ways it’s even more powerful. It happens during a fairly fast-paced portion of the story immediately after a dream sequence-induced clip episode, so a lot of other stuff is already going on. The Macross has returned to Earth, but the occupants are not allowed to leave the ship; Hikaru is recovering from war wounds in hospital; Minmay is suffering from the pressures of new-found fame and as a result there’s a growing rift between them.
The build-up to Roy’s demise is really well done because there are numerous sleight-of-hand plot points to ramp up the tension and simultaneously foreshadow the event. Hikaru is unable to accompany his wingmen, resulting in a last-minute substitute; there’s a promise to see Claudia again with a carefree declaration of what he plans to do when he returns from his mission (as someone quipped in Scream, “when someone says ‘I’ll be right back,’ they’ll NEVER ‘be right back’.”); then the ground crew who inspect Roy’s plane afterwards make a grim discovery in the empty cockpit.
Roy’s final moments are a surprisingly poignant and moving piece of work on the part of the show’s writers: it’s very quiet and low-key. You might be able to put two and two together and say “I saw that coming,” but even so, the ordinary-ness catches you off balance. Most heroic deaths (his in DYRL? included) show the character going out in a blaze of glory but this time it was, let’s face it, how death often is in reality rather than how it often is in stories.
Part of the appeal of the Heroic Death as a plot device is the fact that it celebrates the act of dying with one’s boots on. The idea that someone meets his or her end while at work or doing something productive adds meaning to their final moments of life, and the numerous connotations and inferences are therefore mostly positive. It’s a sudden end that doesn’t occur due to natural causes; it’s a hero’s death.
The original Pineapple Salad scene is nevertheless different from, say, its DYRL? equivalent, and most deaths occuring while wearing boots for that matter. The gunfire is behind them, there’s no fighting or shouting; it’s a quiet, friendly domestic scene quite removed from the violence that preceded it.
It’s more than a man dying with his boots on. It’s a man who has fought the good fight, drawn enemy fire away from a comrade, brought his men safely home then kept his promise to the woman he loves despite being gravely injured…and we don’t even realise how injured he is until afterwards because he didn’t draw attention to his condition. Instead, he joined Claudia for dessert then finally keeled over with a guitar in his hand.
Let me reiterate that last point.
Roy Foker died. With. A. Guitar. In. His. Hand.
Now look me in the eye and tell me this isn’t a true hero.
It’s also important to remember how the series portrayed him. For some reason, I always thought of him as the arrogant, womanising fighter jock but in both this and his younger self’s appearance in Macross Zero he’s more than that, and I feel as though I haven’t been giving him enough credit for it.
Take the peaceful, cool-headed Bruno Global. He often looked out of his depth at first, like Captain Smith on the Titanic: a distinguished veteran offered a prestigious job before he retires, only to see events take a dramatic and unexpected turn. Global is a well-decorated officer with an illustrious career and as such is a good leader in a crisis, but it’s just as easy to imagine him living a peaceful life smoking his pipe by the fire at home.
Roy Foker in contrast is one of those people for whom it is hard to imagine doing anything other than flying a plane. During their time on the ground, the Roy Fokers of this world feel lost and without purpose; they often cause trouble for themselves and those around them because their role as a pilot is so integral to who they are. Hikaru drifted into the job but Roy was destined to fly a plane, live dangerously and do risky, heroic things.
For the most part I look upon the heavy drinking, womanising archetype with disapproval but Roy somehow gets away with it. This is I think partly because he does things most of us secretly want to do – namely drinking a lot, chasing the girls and putting yourself into dangerous situations to look cool – but wouldn’t dare do ourselves. He has the balls and we haven’t.
There’s actually an element of self-control to Roy’s excesses however, in that he can be the sober professional and skilled role model when the situation demands it. Unlike the ‘loose cannon’ type of fighter jock, his ability to behave appropriately when really necessary is as effortless as his ability to misbehave without showing a trace of remorse when he can get away with it.
When at play, Foker was a man of questionable morals but when the proverbial crap hit the fan and there was work to be done, his unwavering resolve to Do The Right Thing was anything but questionable. Although his reputation was that of a man who partied hard, thought monogamy is used to make furniture and relished a fight, it’s ironic to think that his final moments were in the peaceful company of a long-term girlfriend while waiting for a healthy dessert. The pineapple salad.