Is Pirate Play Really Appropriate for Kids?

Would you let your kid dress up and play rapist? Murderer? Kidnapper? Armed robber? If they're a pirate fan, chances are you already do. And unlike, say, an outlaw cowboy (is there a kid on earth who's still into cowboys?), a pirate is not a rogue version of someone with a decent job. Rape and plunder is the very reason for their existence.

I've been one of the biggest fans of the pirate revival of the last decade. Loved Johnny Depp in the first Pirates of the Caribbean. I think the pirate supply store at 826 Valencia in San Francisco appeals to both kid and hipster parent like nowhere else. And it's cute that something so 1950s as pirates has seen a resurgence. A kid with an eye patch is so quaint -- it's like seeing a kid in a coonskin cap.

But pirates are not imaginary. They've always existed and they still do. 


The pirates of Somalia have been terrorizing travelers for years now. But a few weeks ago when they broke out of their normal hostage-for-money pattern and killed four American tourists, I got to reflecting. Is this really a line of work we should be celebrating?

Yes, this sounds like the height of PC, over-parenting bogusness. And if I had a kid who cared about pirate play I'd almost certainly let them run around freely with sword and headscarf without saying a word. (My 7-year-old daughter has almost no interest. She'd probably demand that she be Keira Knightley if she saw any of the Pirates movies. I'm doing my best to keep her from knowing such skin-and-bones starlets exist.)

Of course, if you take a look around, we encourage kids to celebrate murderous mayhem all kinds of ways. Darth Vader is a genocidal maniac. He killed the entire system of Alderaan in an instant and would have been happy to destroy many more. Yet we think the kid in the Darth Vader commercial is nothing but awesome. (How could we not?) And until pretty recently, kids used to commonly pretend to be the Antichrist, by dressing up like a devil on Halloween. What could be more weirdly innocent? And what ever happened to that? Guess it went the way of ghosts and witches.

But I think if we're honest with ourselves, we have to admit this is pretty messed up. Somehow we make it okay because they're playing the part of old-timey pirates. Which somehow makes it okay. Yes, they violently stole, raped, plundered, murdered, but it was a long time ago! Now it's just about costumes and talking funny. 

Enough time passes, and everything is okay. Mark my words, in 200 years, kids will be dressing up like Nazis and our great-great-great grandchildren, their parents, will find it just fine -- and think killjoys like me are ridiculous.

Or, to draw a closer analogy to pirates -- they may well dress up like terrorists. Done up with as little members of Al Qaeda or the ETA or the IRA. And how cute they'll be with little bombs strapped to their chests!

What if you dressed your kid as a modern-day Somali pirate? With machine gun, hostage, bandanna ... Seems pretty twisted, right? It would never happen. Well, just wait a few hundred years, it'll be fine.

Is your kid enamored with pirates or other popular evildoers? How do you deal with it?


Images via OakleyOriginals/MikeBaird/Flickr

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