Yar, She Blows

If two’s a coincidence and three’s a trend, as all the marketing mavens tell us, then I have to wonder about current trend in children’s programming:


I don’t know when this happened. I certainly didn’t watch a lot of children’s programming between when I was a kid and when my child was born, but I don’t remember too many pirates in the shows I watched as a feckless youth. Most of my favorite shows were glorified infomercials for a series of action figures. Now that I think about it, I guess
that’s a form of piracy.

One example I see constantly is on The Wiggles , my baby’s favorite show. If you’ve never seen The Wiggles, it’s essentially four Australian guys singing surprisingly well-crafted songs. (They will get stuck in your head until you will be tempted to perform self trepanation. Trust me.) For 1-to-2-year-old babies, this shit is like heroin. One of the Wiggles’ many pals is a “friendly” pirate named Captain Feathersword. His pirate activity is limited to dancing with his crew, singing, and cackling maniacally, with very little emphasis on the plundering of booty.

But Captain Feathersword is far from the only pirate on kids’ TV. I guarantee you, watch a kids’ show now and you have a 75 percent chance of seeing a pirate as a supporting character. Either that, or there will a cameo by at least one bit character wearing an eye patch and growling “arr!”

I haven’t the slightest idea how this happened. I can’t even hazard a guess, and I suspect, like most changes in fashion, The Pirate Trend has no real cause. Why is pink the new black? Does it matter?

I’m just baffled as to why pirates are featured so prominently in children’s programming, since pirates aren’t the most likable historic figures. There were very few smiling, happy pirates who sang jaunty songs about eating healthy foods. Most real pirates did not lead
healthy lifestyles, and spent much of their waking hours raping, pillaging, and raping.

I felt much the same way when I saw Halloween-themed baby wear at a clothing store. They were adorned with cute little baby witches, ghosts, werewolves, etc. My first impulse was like most people’s: aw, that’s cute . Then I realized, wait a minute, there’s a fucking vampire on that bib. An undead horror that sucks the blood of the living. I want to put that on my child?!

The difference, of course, is that vampires don’t exist. But pirates were very real (and are still real, depending on which side of the globe your boat floats into).

One of my first post-collegiate jobs was working for a test-prep company. While there, I got a gander at an educational publisher’s comprehensive list of no-no’s for its books. The user’s manual for a nuclear reactor is less complicated.

The company’s fear of offending anyone cut wide across the political spectrum. Any mention of a specific holiday was verboten, in a bow to secularists. But so was a mention of anything remotely resembling “magic,” as that might raise the hackles of super-Christian folks who fear “witchcraft”.

Dice are an easy tool to use to demonstrate the laws of probability. But we couldn’t mention dice in our math books because they’re associated with gambling. Seriously. Thus was born the mysterious “random number generator” which only exists in the world of standardized tests.

I tell this tale to give you a little glimpse into the world of Kid-Aimed Products. I’m sure that every production team of every kids’ show has a manual just like the one I saw, with hundreds of very specific instructions on what Thou Shalt Not Do on TV.

My question, then, is this: If you can’t show dice on a kids show, why is it okay to have characters based on historical figures who robbed, assaulted, and killed people?

I’m guessing it’s not okay to show soldiers on kids’ shows, even if they’re engaged in benign, peaceful missions. But it’s okay to show guys who killed lots and lots of sailors. And not just merchant marines, but members of the armed forces.

You certainly can’t show alcohol of any kind on a kids’ show. But you can depict people who drank whiskey constantly, when they weren’t too busy buggering each other.

Every kids’ show featuring a pirate emphasizes that he’s “friendly,” an oxymoron ranking up there with “military intelligence” and “jumbo shrimp.” A friendly pirate would be about as successful as a vegetarian lion. People rarely surrender their valuables without violent coercion. Unless a pirate is able to charm his victims out of their gold dubloons with witty
ripostes and brilliant bon mots.

Once the writers’ strike is over, I’m going to pitch my kids show idea to the cable networks. It’s Attila the Wacky Killa , and it’s about a little Hun named Attila and his pet war beast,
Growler. They roam the countryside, singing songs about nature while plundering Frankish villages. There will also be some a wisecracking parrot.