Pirate Master and the Death of Piracy?

There it is, mates – after many weeks of trials, backstabbing, and sweat, Ben is CBS’s Pirate Master. And odds are, you barely know what I’m talking about.

Pirate Master was this season’s effort by prime time television to cash in on the pirate fever that’s gripped the nation. They did so by taking a survivor-style reality show that was essentially identical to every other reality show, except they held it on a ship. Never mind that the show was clearly contrived (how else would Christa do an individual shot of rum with EVERY FREAKIN’ CREWMEMBER and remain standing?), never mind that the challenges were repetative and formulaic, and never mind that half the competitors were annoying as all hell – this doesn’t mean the show was destined for suckage, does it? Actually, it does – or near enough to make no difference. It did sort of pick up steam towards the end, but by that time the show was already canceled, and only us hardcore freaks were tuning in online to find out how it all ended.

So as a prime time television series, Pirate Master failed. It tried to coast on the wake left by Pirates of the Caribbean, put forth little effort or originality of its own, and sank. No bloody wonder.

In the eyes of many, every other pirate project out there is doomed to the same fate as Pirate Master. We’re still faced with a glut of books, websites, new costume and jewelry companies, and other Jack Sparrow inspired efforts, all riding an unsustainable wave of pirate popularity. And the simple fact is that many of them will fade into oblivion. Even larger scale projects, such as the still-fledgeling Pirates Magazine and Pyrates Way Magazine, will face their own challenges as the pirate bandwagon runs aground (now there’s a mixed metaphor.)

I’ve talked to several folks who’ve already begun to embrace a “well, it was a good ride while it lasted” attitude, but I see it differently. I think the completion of the Pirates of the Caribbean films – a franchise that has already demonstrated clear diminishing returns – is a healthy thing, as it was well on its way to being a creativity crutch. Many pirate projects will soon fade, it’s true. Those that were created solely to coast on pirate hype will find nothing left to prop themselves upon. But others – those created by a genuine love and enthusiasm for pirates – be they historical, fictional, or pop-cultural – this is their moment to shine. Piracy is still in the hearts of the public – much of this public will move on, but some will stay. That is, they’ll stay IF they’re given reason to. If all that remains to compete for their attention are tired, well-worn Pirates of the Caribbean knock offs, jokes, stories, etc., they’ll quickly bore and find some other new thrill. But so long as creators of pirate goodies push themselves to find new and fun ways to revel in piracy, this golden age does not have to end. A smaller golden age it will surely be, but a golden age nonetheless.

So in the end, what lessons did we learn from Pirate Master (besides that piracy alone isn’t a cure for creative bankruptcy?) We learned that being a nice guy isn’t enough (sorry Louie.) We learned that being a take-no-prisoner, unapologetic back-stabbing hard-nose game player can bite back (sorry Jay – but you should have seen it coming.) And we learned that a hot body and blonde hair aren’t enough to compensate for being an utterly clueless puppet (so long Christa – leadership requires more than hiding behind your crew during tough decisions, and simply stating for the camera that you’re a force to be reckoned with doesn’t make it so.) But from the victorious Ben we learned a few other things. We learned that a little strategizing CAN be combined with being a basically decent human being. We learned that hard work can pay off, even if you’re not the king of all trades. But most important of all we learned that finding yourself at an 11th hour disadvantage can be turned into an energizing motivation for success. Good on ya, mate. I hope a few of us in the pirate community can follow in your example!


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