sanitizing rape culture: Pirates of the Caribbean

As a kid growing up in Southern California, I often went to Disneyland and spent a good portion of my youth riding the Pirates of the Caribbean. Well, up until the past few months I haven’t been to Disneyland in years (over 10 to be exact) though managed to stay more or less apprised of all the changes transpiring at the park. Well, I remember hearing about how the PotC ride was undergoing some serious revision as detailed via the Wikipedia Page on the attraction but nothing prepared me for what I saw:

In its original form… pirates were shown chasing women in circles… along with a “comical” reversal in which an overweight woman was seen chasing a pirate…

Originally, one overweight pirate …was shown exhausted from his pursuit of an unwilling teenaged female. He brandished a petticoat as guests floated past and uttered suggestive dialogue, including: “It’s sore I be to hoist me colors upon the likes of that shy little wench”, and “I be willing to share, I be”. Behind him, the woman he had been pursuing would anxiously peer out from her hiding place inside a barrel… In the 1997 refurbishment.. his dialogue included lines such as: “Me belly be feeling like galleon with a load of treasure”, and “I be looking for a fine pork loin, I be”. The woman hiding in the barrel was replaced by a cat.

[By] 2006… Disney has completely done away with the sequence of women being chased by pirates. Instead, one turntable features two pirates running in a circle, each holding one end of a treasure chest. In another, a woman is chasing a pirate who is making off with some stolen pies… In the third, a woman is chasing a pirate while menacing him with a weapon. The [overweight pirate] character is now brandishing a map and the key to the town’s Treasure Room, while Captain Jack Sparrow stealthily observes him from inside the barrel.

Terrible. I like to think Walt Disney would be displeased but I don’t know and I don’t care enough to figure it out because Disney has sucked enough resources into their little world of patriarchal princess shaming that I don’t need to know whether the creator would like this rendition as it wouldn’t stop the heresy. Storybookland, It’s a Small World, the Underwater Submarine Adventure, Pirates of the Caribbean, Tarzan’s Treehouse formerly the home of the Swiss Family Robinson and more that aren’t coming to mind have all been tainted with the Disney Princess crap or their ridiculous movie franchise stuffs. Sure I loved Princess Jasmine but I don’t want to see her castle in Story Book Land which was fine without Disney Story Books thankyouverymuch. Not to mention just Disney Princesses in general with their patriarchal represenatations of women as weak and male-dependent for an identity.

I could rant on and on about that for days.

Alas, I digress.

The point of this whole shebang is that (2) by removing images of sexism, misogyny, rape or suggestions of rape, Disney is sanitizing history and sanitizing rape and essentially “white-washing” (as in its original application of glossing over a problem, not the racially charged euphemism) over the whole woman experience. The fact of the matter is that women were raped and that pirates raped women. I’m not saying there weren’t ever any women pirates. However, even when women interacted with pirates or became “one of them” pirates still liked to rape and often did rape female prisoners and pick up ladies at the brothels on shore. While no one should be criticised for spending their booty on booty, there is a deep core at the heart of pirating that is misogynist, “hyper-masculine” and sexist.

Which is all to say that we should damn well fucking look at images of hostility against women especially when this considers a group known for their violence and sexist attitudes and our kids should look at it and we should be FORCED to talk about rape. It’s not okay that rape is supposed to be a dirty little secret that’s shoved under the conversational carpet because “she was asking for it” and we don’t want to harsh the mellow. It is not an excuse to assume that because your “innocent” child loves pirates that you shouldn’t “ruin” pirates for them or that even kitschy and comedic implications of actual pirate behavior (like abusing women) should not offend you even slightly.

What you are perpetuating by allowing your child to love pirates is the idea that pirates are “cool” and that the boy culture and masculinity projected by pirates is “cool” and that, when they find out pirates were rapists, this is “okay” because that was a long time ago and besides stealing and murdering is mostly what a pirate did/does not abuse and assault women… Just like Christopher Columbus mostly explored the world not committed mass genocide against indigenous populations in the countries he “discovered.”

But the fact remains that Disney made a ride about pirates that they then modified past the point of reason to make it more appealing to women and children audiences (presumably).

You can’t honestly and healthily extirpate the history of rape from pirate history. This is far more deleterious and offensive than a lady being held captive by a fat pirate. No one wants to think that women were treated this way but no one wants to admit that women are still treated this way all these years later. If the change doesn’t begin by honestly portraying what really happened, then when is change going to happen?

Where does the invisibility of women’s experience end? The highly successful and popular Pirates of the Caribbean movies? The Disney Ride? The less that the actual problems facing women are visible, the more likely they are to keep happening and continue to be devalued as illegitimate concerns. Time to stop sanitizing the transgressions of men by erasing the abuses against women from public eye. Whether the silence comes on the behest of women led to ingest the incoherent arguments of invisibility by the controlling gender or by collective amnesia induced by the patriarchal grip on consciousness, it’s not time to replace offense with offense lite or try to remove it entirely. The abuse lives on in the memory until the last memory is gone- so it’s time to memorialize and openly embrace the controversy. Ride the ride, watch the pirates on their g-rated rape quest and face the glorified misogyny and patriarchal overtones of history.

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