My book has been pirated repeatedly in the last few weeks. Apparently, it is quite popular when completely free. In honor of that, um, honor, I’m writing about pirates today.
If you are not the parent (grandparent, babysitter, friend, teacher) of a young child, you may be surprised to learn that piracy is all the rage with the under-eight set. Think Captain Hook, not copyright violation. High fashion for kiddies is adorned with skulls and crossbones. Pirate toys are more popular than candy. Few people seem to believe this is cause for worry. In fact, most parents get really excited about pirate play. It seems cool and transgressive, a type of pretend play that inspires daring and bravery.
In fact, the pirate craze is completely mainstream and commercial and, though, yes, pirates have to be brave, they are also by definition, focused on wealth accumulation, even more than those Disney princesses in their finery.
I hear a lot of anti-princess talk but no complaints about the widespread celebration of piracy. Articles and books have been written on the topic of the kiddie princess industry. I’ve been in those conversations bemoaning our daughters’ obsessions with all things pink, sparkly, and princess-y.
The princess thing is annoying, and there is plenty to dislike about a “hobby” that promotes appearance & wealth based valuation of women/girls/ people. I have to say, though, I’d rather my children model their behavior on royalty than pirates, either those of the internet or the high seas.
Cinderella, Rapunzel, Snow White. They all had their strengths and weaknesses, and though the princess industry tends to focus on gowns, jewels, beauty, and husband snagging, girls imitating princesses aspire to be polite, kind, helpful, and optimistic. Those are good things.
What exactly are we promoting when we buy into the pirate craze (and, yes, this one, too, is fueled by Disney)? Pirates are a very real threat to many people. They are violent criminals. They are also, I suspect, like most criminals, people who lack other options. Piracy (on the seas) is an ugly, desperate way to make a living. Basically, pirates are high stakes muggers. They kill a lot of innocent people.
Book piracy (and other theft of arts/music/movies) is not nearly as abhorrent, but, still, not a career path I’d like my children to seek.
I am not one to dictate my childrens’ or others’ pretend play. There is definitely some yo-ho-ho-ing in my living room, and the occasional “Ahoy, Matey.” Imaginative play is a good thing, even when it veers into the dark and criminal. I’d be worried if my kids never pretended to be “bad guys.”
I’m actually pretty uncomfortable judging any kind of child pretend play or even adult fantasy, and I can already hear your objections to this blog. I sound puritanical and joyless, right? Pirates are exciting. Maybe we should all embrace whatever fantasy Disney pitches our way. I mean, it’s not like American kids are growing up convinced that they and their country should take anything they desire, even if violent means are necessary.
I know I’ve got that train engineer cap I wore as a kid somewhere. Maybe, just maybe, I can convince my kids to aspire to union membership instead of violent robbery.