Thursday, September 20, 2012

Walking a fine plank

Can we talk, just for a sec, about Talk Like a Pirate Day?

Almost 20 years ago now, I totalled a car in St. Augustine, Florida, stranding me and two friends at the Bali Hai Motel, which at the time had recently been purchased by two really lovely Hell's Angels named Calvin and Janet. It was an adventure, and it was the spring break of my senior year in college, and it was in northern Florida, so naturally, one of the friends and I began to discuss our options for becoming pirates, stealing a ship, and never going back to New Jersey to finish our degrees.

Eventually, we did go back to New Jersey, finished our degrees, and that trip actually became a turning point that most of the rest of my life points back to.

We did not steal a ship, we joked about being pirates for a few more months, and then, you know, moved on.

I kept a certain fondness in my heart for all things pirate-themed out of nostalgia for that trip for a while.

And then I started thinking about pirates. Pirates aren't like cowboys. They aren't people who were a little rough but had a job to do and yadda yadda independent spirit yadda yadda campfire song.

They were, and are, thieves, at best. Not clever thieves, so much, not con artsists or cat burglars — more like muggers on the high seas. They rape and murder and kidnap and torture and destroy as they need to to steal stuff; they stab their friends in the back; they engage in slave trade. Sometimes, I guess, they sing (or sang) and drink (or drank), and I guess that's fun, and sometimes, they got rich, but even getting rich meant constantly fighting or running away or both. What made piracy a romantic idea to me in the heady days of 1993 was the running away, frankly, but that can't stay fun for too long. And pirates are real, and current. They steal and murder now. Of course, "Talk Like a Pirate Day" is more like Arrr and less like Somali.

But — what's the appeal? Not for the real pirates; I assume money is the appeal for the real pirates. What's the appeal to the rest of us?

I know to some degree we glamorize other violent criminals, too, between mob movies and gangs and people who write to serial killers in prison. But none of those are generally considered good themes for children's birthday parties.

So, if you spent some chunk of yesterday saying "avast" or "wench" or some such — what's the draw?


Cousin Mouse said...

It goes way back. There are stories and songs from at least the early 18th century onward. Outlaws are always popular, whether cast as villains or heroes.

When I got my Kindle app thingy for my computer, it came with a free copy of Treasure Island. I glanced at the front page . . . and could not stop reading for many more.

The pirates are terrifying, but compelling. Treas. Island is probably the best pirate novel and it defined the pirate character like Thomas Nast defined the Santa Claus character.

This was cemented by Wallace Beery's performance as Long John Silver in the Treasure Island movie made in the 30s or 40s. He set the template for how to talk like a pirate. Cap'n Jack Sparrow is a cleaned-up, modernized imitation of him.

By Me Solemn Affidavy,

Cousin Mouse, the Scourge of the Seas

Joe said...

The Talk Like A Pirate Day movement was popularized by an old Dave Barry column (link below). I'd say the draw is. . .well, it's just silly and a fun way to pass the day.
If you need me, I'll be swinging from my chandelier.