Pop Culture Captains: Leaders and Inspirations

If you can find the captain's quarters, congratulations! You have X-ray vision!

A mighty ship, perfect for a captain.

I have noticed that pop culture has a lot of captains in it.  Most of them are capable leaders who inspire greatness in the people serving under them as well as in the people observing them on the other side of the screen or page.  Others seem to just enjoy the power that comes with their position, willing to abuse that power for their own benefit or amusement.  I have had the pleasure of encountering some unique and colorful captains in my time, some more competent than others, but all having something important to add to the fabric of pop culture.  Here’s a brief look at some of my favorite captains.

Captain Jean-Luc Picard, Star Trek: The Next Generation

My mom once told me that most nights when I was a baby I would cry for hours on end, but when the Star Trek: The Next Generation theme started playing on TV, I would immediately stop crying and then start crying again when the theme was over.  Later on in life I started watching the Star Trek: TNG complete series DVD collection my dad and I had given my mom for Christmas, and while I still loved the theme, there was something else about the show that stood out to me now.  It was the bald guy in the captain’s chair with the baritone voice, always telling his crew members to “Engage,” “Make it so,” and boldly go where no one (besides Kirk and his crew) had gone before.  He looked like a nice guy, someone who you could tell was a capable leader just by looking at him.   After seeing him in action for seven seasons and a few movies, I can safely say he definitely lived up to my first impressions.  I’d like to have a long chat with him about in living in outer space; of course, my beverage of choice for this conversation would be, “Tea, Earl Grey, hot.” 

Cap’n Crunch, cereal mascot

This captain is, I feel, a bit less inspirational than Picard or Kirk, but he does serve an important purpose: making sure tasty cereal is part of your daily breakfast.  I always smile a little when I see the Cap’n’s big, wide grin on a cereal box; there’s just something about his face that makes the whole world seem brighter.  I’ve also noticed that he looks a little bit like the Quaker guy in the corner of the box: they both have white hair, wear blue hats, and sport smiles more innocent and sincere than the Cheshire Cat’s.  I don’t care if there’s more nutritional or better-tasting cereals on the supermarket shelf, because his smile always draws me in and makes me feel at home.

Captain Tenille, MXC: Most Extreme Elimination Challenge

This captain does not belong to any particular navy, although he apparently does own a few ships.  In fact, his official role on this Japanese game show parody is “field marshal.”  Captain Tenille (known in Japan as General Tani; I’m still not sure why he went down in rank when the show was exported) is the guy the show’s producers turned to when they needed someone to shepherd contestants through the toughest obstacle course on television.  I think he does a decent job in this regard; he certainly does lead dozens of contestants to near-constant pain and  injury over the course of a half-hour.  However, Tenille does this with a certain degree of aloofness.  His signature taglines are “Let’s go!” at the start of the show and “Get it on!” at the beginning of each new set of obstacles, and he delivers these lines in a way that, to me, indicates he doesn’t really care what happens to the contestants just as long as he gets to continue enjoying the game.  He has been known to push contestants out onto the course in order to keep the show moving.  He has even manipulated the teams’ scores a few times to serve his own interests.  For instance, in an episode pitting Democrats against Republicans against Independents in which no one scored any points during the entire show, Tenille gave the GOP team a point at the end because that was the party he voted for during the election.  Yes, he’s a deplorable figure, but, in my opinion, he’s one of the most entertaining characters on the show, and a hard person not to like.

Captain Underpants, children’s book series star and superhero

As with Captain Tenille, this gentleman is a captain in name only, but I think he lives up to his moniker.  I have read his adventures for many years now, and I think he does look the part of an inspirational and heroic figure, despite the fact that most of the time he is wearing just some tighty-whitie briefs and a red cape (tastefully rendered by author and illustrator Dav Pilkey, no less).  He is also a very well-meaning hero, fighting for truth, justice, and improving readers’ literacy in the face of overwhelming odds.  When you’re going up against armies of talking toilets, aliens disguised as cafeteria ladies, and evil professors trying to give everyone in the world embarrassing names, you need all the courage and self-esteem you can get, so thank goodness Captain Underpants has that in spades.  Of course, his young sidekicks George Beard and Harold Hutchins take care of most of the day-saving while the Captain stands around giving speeches about never forgetting the power of underwear, but what’s wrong with that?  Don’t most great superheroes have young sidekicks for juvenile readers to look up to?  Think of Batman and Robin, Captain America and Bucky, Flash and Kid Flash, Superman and… wait a minute, Superboy was just Superman as a kid, wasn’t he?  Anyway, Captain Underpants provides hope for people everywhere that their kids will have fun while learning to read, and I think his stories are still just as fun to read  now as they were when I first discovered them.

These are the captains who have meant the most to me over the years.  Other captains came and went like Captain Kirk, Captain America, and Captain Nemo, but none of them had the staying power in my heart that the above captains possessed.  They helped me to sail to greater horizons (and in the cases of Captains Tenille and Underpants, great laughter), and they all left memorable imprints on me.  Do you have a favorite pop culture captain, and if you do, why do you like them?  Are there any other pop culture figures with military ranks you like?  Sail into the comments section and leave your answer at the docks.

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4 Responses to “Pop Culture Captains: Leaders and Inspirations”

  1. Raylene Says:

    I love where your brain goes..you always make me smile!!!

  2. Benjamin Kellogg Says:

    Thank you, Raylene! You make me smile too.

  3. Kristen Says:

    Ben, you certainly have a way with words and I enjoy reading your work!

  4. Benjamin Kellogg Says:

    Thank you very much, Kristen! I greatly enjoy working with words, and I am glad that you liked what I made.

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