Tar covered fiends…with a heart of gold.

Why is it that pirates, instead of striking fear into the hearts of many, strike admiration and desire?  Why is it that the words ‘gunbattle with pirates‘ interests rather than repulses me?  I’m not a fan of guns, let alone gun battles.  I mean, even the phrase ‘murdered by pirates’ is somehow, well, intriguing.

Dictionary.com defines a pirate as 1. a person who robs or commits illegal violence at sea or on the shores of the sea.  2. a ship used by such persons.  3. any plunderer, predator, etc.: confidence men, slumlords, and other pirates.  4. a person who uses or reproduces the work or invention of another without authorization.  Such definitions reduce the image of piracy to scummy criminals.  And the appearance of scum is associated with pirates – they’re all a little dirty, a little swarthy, and a little covered with the stains of their profession.  What could be more disturbing?

And yet…there’s something there.  I remember reading Treasure Island, which is considered a pirate classic, but the details are tenuous at best.  There’s something about Silver that is like piracy itself – does he have a heart of gold buried deep in there somewhere?  If not, what is it that attracts the mind’s eye towards him?  And who thinks that a hero, or even a role model, can be completely clean all the time?  What makes us want the pristine good guys?  What makes us want the slightly tarnished ones?

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1 Comment

  1. E'bess said,

    September 16, 2008 at 11:08 am

    I have often wondered this due to my obsession with pirates and yet my distaste for fighting and stealing and dirt and blood and swearing and alcohol and disease and missing body parts.

    I think it is partly to do with the Treasure Island-type books and movies that gloss over all the truly ugly parts and make the slightly ugly parts seem exciting. And I think it is partly to do with the freedom of being a pirate, outside the law, no ‘real job’, just getting by on your wits and your strength and your mates who would kill you for your shoes.

    And modern-day pirating – the online stuff – doesn’t seem nearly as cool because there is no physicality to it, everything is on the computer, which might as well be invisible magic for all most people understand of it. And being unwashed and uncombed with beer spilled down your front while sitting in front of a computer in your living-room has infinitely less appeal than being unwashed and uncombed with beer spilled down your front while sword-fighting on the deck of a stolen ship.


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