DUSTY RHOADES: Arrrrrh: What Is It With All These Pirates Running Around?
There's a pirate magazine called, naturally enough, "No Quarter Given," which describes itself as "the source for all things piratical." There are pirate re-enactors, available for shows and parties (they're apparently quite in demand for yacht club bashes).
The re-enactment movement has given rise to "workshops and classes for pirates," which include "Intro to Cannon," "Swordplay" and "Beginning Blackpowder." There are pirate rock bands, like Portland's "Captain Bogg and Salty," who, according to the Reuters story, "have adopted the pirate as their symbol, dress the part and typically attract a pirate-centric crowd" (how much do you want to bet they play a lot of Jimmy Buffett?)
And, of course, there's the annual Talk Like a Pirate Day coming up September 19, during which pirate aficionados will be referring to every woman as "me beauty" and going "Arrrrrh!" until you want to knock them over the head with a belaying pin.
So what's up here? Obviously, the Disneyfied buccaneers of the "Pirates of the Caribbean" films have had an impact. But are they the cause for pirate-mania or the effect of it? After all, according to the Reuters story, "some experts date the trend back to the mid- to late-1990s."
Talk Like a Pirate Day, for example, predates the first "Pirates of the Carribean" movie by seven years. To be fair, it was really just a gag among a small circle of friends at first, and it didn't really go national until Dave Barry publicized it in 2002, but that was still pre-Disney.
Come to think of it, our fascination with pirates goes back even further than the '90s. The Rolling Stones' Keith Richards (who Johnny Depp claims was his inspiration for his loopy portrayal of Captain Jack Sparrow) has been dressing like a pirate for years. (Reportedly, the third "Pirates of the Caribbean" movie will feature a cameo by Richards as Captain Jack's father.) And who could forget Errol Flynn as "Captain Blood" back in the '30s? Let's not forget all the Pirate-named sports teams: Pittsburgh, East Carolina, Tampa Bay's Buccaneers, and Oakland's Raiders. After all is said and done, who among us does not love pirates?
But why? Why all the interest in a bunch of 17th century seagoing felons who bathed irregularly, robbed, raped, and pillaged, and more often than not lost their lives at the end of a rope?
Well, "Captain Slappy," one of the originators of Talk Like a Pirate Day, has his own take on it. He explains in the TLAPD Web site: "The best explanation came from a guy at a Cleveland radio station who interviewed us on the 2002 TLAPD. He told us we were going to be buried by people asking for interviews because it was a 'whimsical alternative' to all the serious things that were making the news so depressing. In other words, silliness is the holiday's best selling point."
Pirate performer Christian Trosclair, who has an act called "Jolly Ship the Whiz-Bang," agrees. "It's all about being ridiculous and absurd," he says.
Well, there's that. There's also a certain element of wishful thinking to the idea of being a freebooter, roaming the seas, putting a cutlass or a cannonball into the innards of every scurvy dog that would cross ye and taking plunder wherever ye find it. Admit it. Wouldn't it be immensely satisfying to take that ninny with 30 items in the express grocery aisle and make her walk the plank? Or to blow that jackass who cut you off in traffic away with a broadside of grapeshot? Then, of course, there's all that rum. We can't forget the rum.
It's not just a guy thing, either. The stories of female pirates like Anne Bonny (who nearly crippled a man who tried to rape her at age 14, ran off with one pirate, left him for another, dressed as a man to serve in a pirate crew, and told her captain/boyfriend on the day of his hanging, "If you'd have fought like a man you wouldn't be about to die like a dog, so do straighten up!") let us know that the fantasy of being a scurvy sea dog isn't just for men.
As H.L. Mencken once put it: "Every normal man must be tempted at times to spit upon his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats." That witty if blood-curdling aside has never been truer than it is now. So haul away, me lads and lasses, and hoist the Jolly Roger.
I'll bring the rum.
Dusty Rhoades lives, writes and practices law in Carthage. He says he doesn't know what a belaying pin is either.
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