Pirates: Too Much Information?

Hard to know what to share with our children these days, especially when to children the news sounds like play. Or, is it the other way around? Navy seals have won the day. Trial awaits the pirates, boys and men.

Ironically, piracy, as a theme for children, has been hugely in vogue for birthday parties, Halloween costume, and storytelling. Magazines like Real Simple and Cookie run an articles for a pirate-themed party replete with fish and chips. And the high-end catalog, “Chasing Fireflies” offers both peace sign attire and pirate costumes for dress-up play and alternative fashion statements.

Why the popular return of pirates? Orlando Bloom, Kiera Knightly and Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean rule Disney and might have something to do with it. But why? These movies could have have flopped like Brad Pitt’s Achilles in Troy.  Why do some myths ignite our culture and others fizzle?

On the face of it, pirates seem to represent greed, aggression, and lack of impulse control. They they live outside the law. Are they symbols of the greed that has caused our economies to collapse? Maybe so. Pirates capture so many parts of our imagination.

Greed can be its own undoing. Children understand this early. We have to conquer our selfishness our we won’t have friends. If two children rip at a toy in a tug of war, play is over. Resources are limited. Sharing begins.

Pirates are also knuckle-headed—they provide comic relief in the land of the “all-bad.” Pirates are antiheroes, the Sancho Panza, the court jester who is not truly evil—maybe even good at heart, like the Pirates of Penzance, who would never harm an orphan. Unlike the monsters spawned from imagination who live under the bed or in nightmares, children enjoy pirates. Pirates can be conquered. Pirates can be tricked. As a recent children’ book extolling the virtues of parents explains “pirates are fools for gold.” Pirates teach us that greed can be recognized. Children’s pirates are ugly. They don’t look like us. They stand out the way a giant does and we recognize them from the knives between their teeth, their tall back boots, and their trusty parrots.

Pirates can represent the part of the child that is at war with civilization—the self that wants things and the self that needs people. Pirates also represent the power of the outsider. Girls may adore these movies because girls often live in their imagination without real role models to follow.  Much more fun to be a pirate, one might think, than Amelia Bedelia or Ramona the Pest!  Girls, in their minds, can ‘sail the seven seas’ and explore new worlds. How else to explain the incredible popularity of Dora, the formulaic cartoon explorer, who conquers Swiper and new territory daily with only a map, a backpack, and her own pluck.

As I heard from mothers in recent weeks, some chose to tell their children about the real pirates. They followed the capture of the ship and the triumphant rescue. Children feel safe when they see the President make wise choices. But they may also feel confused as they love their own excited play.

Children are not the only ones who find that the rules of life are not always fair. Perhaps it is time for Robin Hood, the ‘good pirate‘ to return….

Photo credit: katiew

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