This will require a little background.
“Pirates of the Caribbean” is a popular ride at many Disneylands and Disneyworlds around the planet. In one episode on that ride, the pirates held a kind of fundraiser, auctioning off some women as brides.
In the mid-2010s, Disney decided to respond to criticism and rework that scene. In a change that I cannot say I completely follow, one of the women who was going to be sold got “repurposed” as a female pirate, who seizes and sells “the most prized possessions and goods” of some besieged townspeople.
In line with the temper of our times, this revision has now driven some of our fellow citizens, who preferred the auction in its original form, into a rage.
Well, now it should be obvious: Robert Chapek, Chief Executive Officer of the Walt Disney Company, could be a global pacesetter in solving otherwise hopeless problems—if he accepted help from my people, Applied Historians.
In other words, this corporate leader is making a very big mistake by not getting in touch with me.
It could be that this still needs a little more explanation.
In the mid-2010s, when I was President of the Organization of American Historians, I got to serve as a judge for the Frederick Jackson Turner Prize for the best first book written by a young American historian. After reading many excellent books, my fellow judges (Albert Broussard at Texas AM University and Brett Rushforth at the University of Oregon) united in giving the Turner Prize to Mark Hanna at the University of California, San Diego.
Here is the title of his wonderfully researched and very well-written book: Pirate Nests and the Rise of the British Empire, 1570-1740 (University of North Carolina Press, 2015).
Here is a central finding of Mark Hanna’s research.
Quite a number of pirates, who were operating along the Atlantic Coast married into families in the British colonies, settled into successful, post-pirate well-being, and became pillars of their communities.
So the Walt Disney Company is now finding that the revision of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” did more to heighten controversy than to resolve it.
I can help with that.
Here’s your chance, Walt Disney Company CEO Robert Chapek. Write me a quick message (firstname.lastname@example.org), and I will instantly introduce you to the author of Pirate Nests and the Rise of the British Empire.
If Mark Hanna chooses to share his expertise with you and your teammates, the pirates can take a break from their more stereotyped activities. Aligning themselves with history, they can plan, attend, and dance at weddings, and then, several months later, they can return for the christenings and baptisms of children who may or may not follow in their fathers’ footsteps.
It is a particular piece of luck that Professor Hanna is also the winner of the UC San Diego Academic Senate Distinguished Teacher Award. So, Walt Disney Company executives, you will have the particular good luck to learn from and ask questions of a person recognized and admired for his grace and energy in sharing his expertise.
As it happens, this is not my own first rodeo when it comes to commentary on the rattled relationship between history professors and the Walt Disney Company. In my book, Something in the Soil, you can find an essay called “The Adventures of the Frontier in the Twentieth Century,” in which I express both wonder and befuddlement over the portrayal of Western history in Disney’s “Frontierland” (see pages 74-79). Since the last line in that essay seems pretty darned relevant to this commentary, I will conclude by quoting it here:
The work of academic historians has had virtually no impact either on Disneyland’s version of [history] or on the thinking of Disneyland’s visitors.
Working with Mark Hanna, Walt Disney CEO Robert Chepak is about to change that.
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