demiurgent: (Poop)
[personal profile] demiurgent
The Wall Street Journal has an article on how real life murdering pirates are souring all the fun of dressing up and doing Robert Newton imitations.

I've had fun with "Talk Like A Pirate" day like a lot of people have. It's fun to shout 'Arr, matey' and make references to scuppering on a handspike else and all the rest. But it's always seemed a little weird to me -- almost as weird as the Pirates of the Caribbean movies have been, with their convoluted Pirate code and the weirdass sense that somehow we weren't talking about people who did horrible things because they wanted your shit. I hear about all the good things from pirate culture, like the funds that pirate ships would set up to compensate crewmembers for the injuries they suffered while attacking, sacking, pillaging and sinking ships and murdering their passengers and crew, or how ships were set up as democracies so the crew had the chance to elect the captain who was best at selecting targets to sack, murder and sink. Really, it was all about the sense of freedom, of living life as they chose on the open seas! The whole "killing people and taking their shit" thing? That was no big deal.

A few years back, on one enterprising Talk Like A Pirate day, I elected to do something different. I thought I'd write something close to what a pirate would actually say -- not what Robert Newton would say (the depiction of Pirates in the popular media was established by Walt Disney in the fifties and reinforced by Walt Disney in the last ten years. Real life pirates talked like... well, talked like sailors, often of questionable literacy. No 'Pieces of Eight' or stuff.) It wasn't an angry post and it wasn't a post telling folks to stop shouting 'arr.' It was just another way to talk like a pirate -- e.g., talk like someone who wanted to take your shit and was more than happy to kill you if that's what it would take.

Some folks really liked it -- they saw it, as they said, as being creative or trying to stretch the definition. Others thought I was being... well, a poop. (I think that's when I made my Poop icon.) I also got some e-mail that was... unflattering. I was, so they said, being a downer.

In subsequent years, I either quoted actual songs from the golden age of piracy or just didn't play. Not because I dislike fun, but because I had something of a bad taste in my mouth. It seemed... I don't know, less fun to talk like a pirate when I felt a societal requirement to pretend pirates weren't... well, bad people who did bad things.

And now, suddenly, piracy is getting a bad rap, because honest to God pirates have re-entered the public consciousness (they had always been around, mind -- Somali piracy didn't start in 2008) and the people they were killing or kidnapping had started to be white Americans instead of black Somalis or brown Indonesians. So reading an article written about Mark Summers -- one of the founders of "Talk Like a Pirate Day" -- describing how he's pissed off because real life criminals are making acting like a fake criminal less palatable seems... well, it seems astoundingly insensitive. Saying that there should be different words for 'pirates' and 'piracy' today because you want to mythologize the crime they're committing just seems to miss the point.

There have been a baker's dozen piracy incidents in the last two weeks. Sometimes pirates have been warded off by shipboard anti-piracy measures, Sometimes the pirates have boarded ships, taken what they want and left. Sometimes the pirates have kidnapped crew off the ships. Sometimes they have seized the vessels in toto, to bring to port, repaint and sell. Actual murder is rare these days, but happens.

Look, have fun cosplaying. Honestly. Shout "Arr, Jim-Boy" all you like. I was a Renn Faire actor -- I know how much fun it can be. When the 19th of September rolls around, have a grand old time with it.

But let's have some perspective, shall we? We're talking about killers who take peoples' shit. We're not talking about folk heroes or Keith Richards impersonators or free wheeling anarchists who'd never harm a hair on a pretty girl's head. Pirates aren't like that.

And you know what? They never were.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-04-27 02:54 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] 5eh.livejournal.com
I think what's worse are the people that force people into piracy by just plain being irresponsible dicks to them and their people (http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/johann-hari/johann-hari-you-are-being-lied-to-about-pirates-1225817.html). Just sayin.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-04-27 04:42 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] demiurgent.livejournal.com
On Saturday, pirates seized the German merchant vessel MV Patriot, along with 31,000 tons of grain. On that same day, a group of pirates the Greek vessel MV Saldanha was released following a $1.9 million dollar ransom being paid.

I can agree that there are dicks and nasty people, and that much of what has happened to Somalia in the past twenty years is squarely on the shoulders of industrialized nations. I don't think anyone 'forced' pirates to seize the Patriot or the Saldanha, and while I think that conditions in Somalia have to be improved and the international community needs to both take responsibility for what has happened their and clamp down on their explicit or complicit part in it, that doesn't excuse kidnapping, intercepting of grain shipments or ransoming cargo, personnel or ships alike.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-04-27 05:43 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] 5eh.livejournal.com
There's always a reason to peoples' actions, regardless of right and wrong. I don't agree with what they're doing, but I can comprehend why someone might do it.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-04-27 11:02 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] demiurgent.livejournal.com
In that, we can completely agree.

Which brings me back to my own central point. If part of the reason for piracy is the appalling conditions and horrible treatment of Somali waters, bitching about Somali pirates because it makes cosplaying Captain Kidd less fun seems even more petty. ;)

(no subject)

Date: 2009-04-27 03:03 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] docstrange.livejournal.com
Sir, I am frankly shocked and appalled - shocked and appalled I tell you - at your occidento-normative assertion and representation of property and personal, yes - dare I say - even individual rights.

Er.... +1, I mean.

"Fuck Batman."

Date: 2009-04-27 03:40 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] roniliquidity.livejournal.com
I understand that specifically, you're talking about the obliviousness of people complaining how actual piracy sucks the fun out of mythologizing piracy. I agree, it's silly to complain current events are interfering with your fantasy life.

However, you also spent a lot of this post being down on people that enjoy the romantic ideal of pirates. You allowed they should have fun, but you find it morally questionable, even as you admitted you like Renn Faires. I don't get how ignoring the facts of piracy is any different from ignoring the poverty, disease, the abuses of the nobility, the misogyny of women as property, burnings at the stake and all the other problems of the Middle Ages/Renaissance and mythologizing them in Renn Faires.

Your post immediately brought this clip and the title to mind. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bFFDdgRj3nE&NR=1) To frame it realistically, Superheroes are fascist vigilantes, who squabble among themselves create insurance claim nightmares, rather than join the Peace Corps.

My point is, you can look at the harsh facts of anything to kill the enjoyment of the mythology of something. It seems terribly inconsistent to be down on pirate lovers and embrace rest.

Re: "Fuck Batman."

Date: 2009-04-27 04:26 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] demiurgent.livejournal.com
I don't get how ignoring the facts of piracy is any different from ignoring the poverty, disease, the abuses of the nobility, the misogyny of women as property, burnings at the stake and all the other problems of the Middle Ages/Renaissance and mythologizing them in Renn Faires.


You don't get it because there's no appreciable difference.

If piracy ended in the 15th century, I'd have no moral qualms with the mythologizing of it. It might not be accurate, but hey -- it's fun. By the same token, as much as I've enjoyed Renn Faires in the past (I don't currently attend them, it's worth noting), it always rankled me to see the happy washer wenches and mud beggers and Hollywood style ladies-in-waiting without more than a token nod to the disease, inequity and misogyny. (Not to mention the enclaves of fortune tellers and pro-Wicca witches without Puritans marching in to arrest everyone.) But I can set it aside because England in the 21st Century has plenty of problems of its own, but pouring sewage out the window onto the street as a regular part of the day in every building isn't part of it.

And while I've had some of the fun of Talk Like A Pirate Day diminished because of revisionism, I can full well recognize that's my problem, not a general problem.

But to have people bitching about real life pirates doing bad things to people because it sours Talk Like a Pirate Day just seems crass to me.

Your post immediately brought this clip and the title to mind. To frame it realistically, Superheroes are fascist vigilantes, who squabble among themselves create insurance claim nightmares, rather than join the Peace Corps.

My point is, you can look at the harsh facts of anything to kill the enjoyment of the mythology of something. It seems terribly inconsistent to be down on pirate lovers and embrace rest.



Well, no, because Superheroes don't exist and never have existed. The culture of Superheroes is entirely invented. Those real life people who try to ape it -- and they do exist -- aren't fascists, generally, so much as they're deluded. Blackbeard the Pirate did in fact terrorize people. There is a qualitative difference between mythologizing history and actual, full on mythology.

That said, the past thirty years have seen a systemic attempt to 'de-romanticize the superhero,' which have been largely successful. Why then would de-romanticizing pirates -- who really were and are destructive and often murderous criminals -- be more out of bounds than depicting superheroes as misguided or fascistic?

I honestly don't have a problem with people enjoying the myth of pirates. Pirates-as-done-by-Disney are fun. They're fun. There's nothing wrong with fun. But much as an SCA member has to recognize that the real middle ages weren't as fun as Pennsic and a Renn Faire enthusiast has to recognize that the real Elizabethan era was dirty and ugly, pirate enthusiasts have to recognize that pirates weren't just jolly eyepatch wearing theme park characters. And unlike the SCA member, the Renn Faire enthusiast and the Batman fan, pirate fans also have to accept that piracy is still a going concern and that real people are still being hurt as part of that process. It's part of the price of admission.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-04-27 03:41 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] shadefell.livejournal.com
Thanks for posting this. It's an interesting read.

I really like link to your previous talk like a pirate day entry. It reads like a bit of flash fiction or something. Nice.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-04-27 03:53 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] biomekanic.livejournal.com
Funny enough, I have a similar issue with Steampunks.

A friend put up a locked post about how all the people running around in Victorian costumes, and all the "Gee-Whiz!" 2nd generation SteamPunk miss the point of the 1st gen source material: the British Empire was full of right nasty bastards who would happily enslave and slaughter a population to get what they wanted. That if you weren't "the right sort of person", you weren't really a person, you were less than a machine.

I make an effort not to go raining on their parades, but I don't feel like I should dress up and join in either.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-04-27 06:06 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] z-gryphon.livejournal.com
the British Empire was full of right nasty bastards who would happily enslave and slaughter a population to get what they wanted.

And the people who choose to focus on that equally miss the point that it was also full of brilliance, wonder, progress and opportunity - the dawning of a new age of the world. It was the real world in its day, and like any real world, it encompassed all conceivable extremes.

This is still true today. We in the modern world can either concentrate on the grim portents of climatology, the ever-present prospect of some antibiotic-resistent super-pathogen, the evident disintegration of society in a haze of venality and greed; or we can look at the fact that the lowest echelon of today's working class enjoys a higher standard of living (and can expect to live much longer) than the wealthy aristocracy of the Middle Ages, that we were taught to read and write as children even if we weren't going to become priests...

The big picture is too big to look at the whole thing at once, and if I have to spend all my life sitting in front of it, I'd rather my default viewing angle be the fun parts.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-04-27 07:17 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] 5eh.livejournal.com
I'm not a steampunk-dress-up-cosplay kind of girl as I rather enjoy living in my head, but your opine made my day.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-04-27 08:32 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] biomekanic.livejournal.com
Well, as I said, I don't go raining on their parades.

At the same time, they've latched onto one half of subgenre - the steam angle, and completely missed the other: the punk.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-04-27 10:32 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] cmdr-zoom.livejournal.com
Missed, or observed but discarded as not-fun?

I note that when both cyberpunk (the earlier genre) and that particular vampire revival got into the hands of gamers, the navel-gazing wangst was quickly cast aside in favor of power fantasy with pretenses of telling a "mature" story - superheroes in chrome, fangs and/or fur.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-04-27 11:44 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] biomekanic.livejournal.com
Entirely possible. Though I can easily see a small group casting aside the wangst and then quickly proseletyzing(sp) the power fantasy.

It's happening now to zombies (http://exiledonline.com/zombies-under-attack/) too.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-04-27 07:52 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lemagia.livejournal.com
People have been romanticizing outlaws since long before Robin Hood. Perhaps it starts as an attempt to sanitize history for the kids, and then people who grew up with the sanitized version can never shake the image they once had of the free-spirited rogue with the heart of gold? If so, maybe in a couple of centuries there will be legends about the noble Crips and Bloods and their exciting but oddly bloodless battles of honor.

Or maybe people just subconsciously chafe against the strictures of law which unnaturally suppress our vicious, monkeyish natures even as they protect our bodies, our rights, and our higher selves--and they don't care to have this contradiction pointed out to them.

Either way, we need our blackguards and bandits. How much fun would our GTA games be without them?

(no subject)

Date: 2009-04-27 08:39 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] z-gryphon.livejournal.com
maybe in a couple of centuries there will be legends about the noble Crips and Bloods and their exciting but oddly bloodless battles of honor.

Isn't that more or less what West Side Story is?

(no subject)

Date: 2009-04-27 11:47 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] rosencrantz23.livejournal.com
save that West Side Story comes complete with three corpses....

(no subject)

Date: 2009-04-27 08:29 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] amhorach.livejournal.com
You've neglected the "State Appointed Pirates" angle of the privateers- is it possible some pirates were also national heroes?

(no subject)

Date: 2009-04-27 08:38 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] z-gryphon.livejournal.com
Sir Henry Morgan certainly was. He didn't get that knighthood for his good looks and Welsh charm.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-04-27 11:00 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] demiurgent.livejournal.com
It's not only possible, it's fact. Sir Francis Drake alone demonstrates the privateer-as-national-hero element of piracy.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-04-27 08:34 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] gwox.livejournal.com
Couple good books that came out a few years back on the subject: "Dangerous Waters" by John S. Burnett, and "The Outlaw Sea" by William Langewiesche. I came to read them while toying with the idea of writing a story in which a 17th century pirate who came to be immortal through some form of magic came face to face with modern-day pirates. The story never came off, but it made for some interesting, eyebrow-raising reading.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-04-27 10:17 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] z-gryphon.livejournal.com
Oh yes - while we're on the subject of accurate perspective, old-timey pirates made it a general practice not to sink the ships they attacked, and indeed were wont to be quite put out if one ended up sinking anyway (thanks to inept gunnery or what have you). If you sink a ship, you can neither sell it nor keep it for yourself.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-04-27 11:26 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] cmdr-zoom.livejournal.com
"I wanted prisoners!"
"A lucky shot, sir."
ZAT
"Animal."

(no subject)

Date: 2009-04-28 12:01 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lurkerwithout.livejournal.com
So I'm googling my online handle at work, as so many of us are want to do, and I come across this somewhat relevant (http://banter-latte.annotations.com/2007/09/17/mythology-of-the-modern-world-manannan-mac-lir-and-the-isle-of-ninjas/) fiction piece by you. And going over it begs the question, hows the writing on 'meant-to-be-a-published-book' like Theftworld and the like progressing?

(no subject)

Date: 2009-04-28 01:55 pm (UTC)
ext_84823: (Default)
From: [identity profile] flit.livejournal.com
I love this post, and your Talk Like A Pirate Day post, but then again I've never found pirates very romantic. (I'll make an exception for Johnny Depp, but I'm not going to pretend that has any link to reality.)