Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Will Somebody Please Padlock Davy Jones' Locker?

I think we all sensed--even before Jack Sparrow made it official--that pirates had a finely honed sense of humor. They'd have to. Week after week on pitching seas with no-one for company but a troupe of reeking, foul-tempered no-hopers--the only way to survive that scene would be to cultivate a fine sense of life's absurdity.

Hence their emblem, the Jolly Roger. Sure, pirate crews flew the skull and crossbones as a warning: "we're killers, y'all, so hand over your cargo without a fight, and there's a slim chance we won't make your decks sluice with blood."

But the emblem was also representative of the pirates themselves, who were, essentially, the walking dead. If caught, they were hanged, no questions asked.

Their devil-may-care moral code is why the skull emblem is today so popular with wannabe rebels, from Hell's Angels to Alexander McQueen bescarfed starlets to purchasers of the equally overpriced (and in his case hideous) Ed Hardy t-shirts.

The problem with this co-opting of a perfectly respectable symbol of terror is that its original message is drained of all power. The people (and toddlers!) I see everyday wearing skull and crossbones are flying a flag, alright, but if it's got a care label, really, how edgy can it be.

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