A Bit on Mondern Piracy

Since the very beginning of Bilgemunky.com, I’ve mostly ignored any news regarding modern pirates. I freely admit that my love of historical pirates is selective – frock coats good, rape bad. Rum, flintlocks, cutlasses, ships, pirate hats all good, actual cold-blooded murder or torture bad. Of course, being as the 1700’s were harsh times, and you could easily make the case that pirates of the day were in many ways no better or worse than the very governments they fought against, and that sailing merchants often created an environment so cruel that it left their crew little choice but to go on the account – this only further enables the easy glamorization of historical (and fictional) old-timey pirates.

Modern pirates, from many perspectives, have some definite commonalities with historical pirates – the parallels are astounding and fascinating. But most of these similarities have little to nothing to do with the “fun” part of pirates – Somali pirates don’t have parrots, don’t drink rum, don’t fly a jolly roger, and don’t sing “Yo ho ho.” Therefore they’re not something I intend to focus on. Now that Somali pirates have made additional headlines and the word “pirate” is again becoming a scary word (at least in some contexts), I stand by this policy more than ever.

BUT…

There are those rare times when modern and historical pirates intersect, and I suppose I’d be dreadfully derelict in my duties were I to ignore such cases. This new article in the Wall Street Journal, Real Pirates Have Taken the ‘Ho Ho’ Out of ‘Yo Ho Ho’ for Cap’n Slappy– for example – where many of our friends and cohorts are quoted (Cap’n Slappy, Rob Ossian, Christine Lampe.)

And then, of course, is the recent episode of South Park, Fatbeard, in which Cartman goes to Somalia in the hopes of finding (and joining) a crew of “proper” tricorn-wearing scallywags, but instead only finds a bunch of modern pirates. It even included a rollicking pirate tune:

You can see the full episode at Southpark Studios.

These few exceptiosn aside, there is little about AK-47 weilding modern day pirates that captures my imagination, and so little more need be said. Save for this: I’ve been asked time and again if the recent crisis in Somalia will hurt pop-cultural pirate enthusiasm, and I know of at least one letter to the editor emploring a town to cancel its annual pirate festival for fear of glorifying evil doers. To my mind, this is the same sort of idiocy that can’t tell the difference between Harry Potter and Satanic worship, between attending a Hawaiian Luau and endorsing human sacrifice, etc. etc. The ocean’s a big place, as is piracy – that Somalia and the Bretheren of the Coast indeed overlap in a few key points doesn’t mean we have to compromise or apologize for our love of Golden Age swashbucklers.

Comments (7)

  1. "Mad" Angus Gordon

    Well said, Bilge.

  2. Captain E.

    Them bad pirates be givin’ us good pirates a bad name.

    Perhaps a good tar and featherin’ might persuade them to play nice and leave the high seas to us good pirates?!

    Three cheers fer the Bilge Munkey!

  3. The Quartermaster

    “that Somalia and the Bretheren of the Coast indeed overlap in a few key points doesn’t mean we have to compromise or apologize for our love of Golden Age swashbucklers.”.

    Damn straight, Bilgey!

    This is how I felt when I read the article asking to re-label modern pirates to something else. Does it really matter? Re-label “war” to “police action”. Re-label “death” to “permanent life change”.

    It’s all about how people view it, right? It has nothing to do with our own enjoyment because it’s more important to focus on what others think about us. It’s so easy for the common person to view a tri-corn wearer as a terrorist, so let’s get on re-labeling right away!(end sarcasm)

    I have an idea. Let’s re-label “pirate” to “person in need of mental stimulation so they dress like someone from the 1700s, but no rape or killing, just cutesy stuff… but they throw up in an alley from time to time”. Problem solved.

    I’ll end my mini rant with the same damn quote.

    “that Somalia and the Bretheren of the Coast indeed overlap in a few key points doesn’t mean we have to compromise or apologize for our love of Golden Age swashbucklers.”.

  4. Red Bess

    Bilge, I think you have summed up – very eloquently – what we pirates are all thinking. Thank you.

  5. Tad

    I think you could also talk about the difference time period difference and the gold age of pirates coming off a golden age of privateers and wars between France, Spain, and England. Men who had done their job so beautifully were left without work and then decided to keep on doing what they had been doing, but now it was illegal. Somalia pirates is just a sad state of people left with no other option and I hope they will stop pirating and form a government that can get something done.

  6. Phillip McCann

    There are actually some parallels between modern African & historic pirates. They each were poor blokes forced to choose this means of survival when all other avenues were closed. In olden days we all know pirates were the only free men in the world, taking what they could in an age of monarchy, indentued servitude and slavery. These days Somalian pirates, who prefer the term “Somalian Volunteer Coast Guard”, are left with no other means of support after their coast has been ravaged by the Europeans. They’ve either caught all their fish or poisoned them by dumping their toxic & nuclear waste off the coasts of a disorganized & vulnerable country.
    South Park was pretty accurate. No one takes on a dangerous occupation like piracy unless there are no other choices. Things were bad throughout the world 300 years ago, and they’re pretty rotten for Somalians now. The world will only stop these modern pirates by acknowldging its responsibility for creating the conditions that forced them into it (I’m talking about you, France!).
    Pirates showed the world how bad things were 300 years ago and how there was a better way to treat workers (democracy, worker’s compensation, fair shares of profits) that inspired the reforms of the next 200 years and gave us the world we’re now lucky to inhabit. Hopefully we’ll all stop painting these modern pirates just as bad guys and look clearly at the problems they face. Europe has screwed over Africa for hundreds of years, and this is just the latest instance.

  7. Capn Jimbo's Rum Project

    I can’t claim competence in this issue, but I fear that we all fall prey to idealizing piracy as if it were a logical, unavoidable and understandable response to monarchy (or corporatism today).

    Tell that to Ghandi or the Dalai Lama. Or do we believe that we should repeat the LA and Chicago Riots with our bands of merry men?

    We should think twice before we affix golden badges of democracy and workman’s compensation to a choice that is based on pillaging them.

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