Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Pirates And Reality Revisionism

(Good luck Paris! We now return to our regularly scheduled blogging.)

Many books have been published about pirates. So many that you may wonder, why write still another?

For one good reason. Much of what you may have read about pirates has more to do with romance and fantasy than with reality. Long John Silver, Captain Hook, and their ilk are fun to meet safely in novels or plays, in movies, and on television. But to encounter pirates in real life meant unbearable suffering—beatings, torture, rape, mutilation, execution by strangling or sword or bullet or drowning. Not to mention piracy’s main objective—robbery, plunder, loot, ransom, enslavement—whatever could be gained at the victim’s cost.

Yet pirates have been so romanticized that a major-league baseball team has no qualms about calling themselves the Pittsburgh Pirates. Those athletes probably don’t realize they bear the name of thieves and murderers.

This book aims to tell the true story of pirates and piracy. Readers will find, I think, some unexpected revelations in these pages. Here are the real Blackbeard and Captain Kidd and many other notorious pirates, and here, too, are their crews, women as well as men, who sailed the ships and did the dirty work.

Why and how they became thieves and killers, the lives they led on sea and on land, the harm they did, and the fates they suffered are the stories told here.

Milton Meltzer
Piracy & Plunder: A Murderous Business

I’m interested more in the “romance and fantasy” pop culture builds up around some grotesque realities than I am with pirates in particular. This kind of weird, reality revisionism happens frequently and it is very strange.

Although pirates are still around, notably in the Caribbean and the waters of Southeast Asia, their heyday was about four hundred years back. Today, they are figures of fun. Johnny Depp plays a “lovable rogue” in the most popular movie in the country. Just this morning I saw an ad for a Christian summer camp that would build their play activities around “pirate” themes.

How does a lifestyle built around lawless violence, brutality, rape and murder become a focus of fun and childhood play?

I certainly don’t know the answer, and I don’t even know if I believe there is an easy answer. “Pirates” is one example of this kind of pop culture revisionism. For the next few days I’m going to look at others. Tomorrow will be an example from Star Trek.

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