My historical novels Rebel Puritan and The Reputed Wife, Herodias (Long) Hicks Gardner Porter, colonial New England, travels, and whatever else seizes my fancy...

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Pirates: Bloodthirsty Killers, or merely Bad Boys?

Pirate Flag

We have seen all sorts of names changed in recent years to remove offensive racial stereotypes.  Rightly so, because there were some wildly inappropriate and offensive names out there.  Many still exist, of course, but that is not is not the point I want to make.

Fulton's Red Raiders' logo
My high school athletic team members are ‘Red Raiders.’  Their mascot was an Indian in my day.  Now it is a neutral symbol.  However, the Atlanta Braves are not the only team to cling to their Native American-based name and ‘tomahawk chop,’ despite protests that they are racist.

St. Patrick's Day - offensive stereotype?

Long-tailed/Oldsquaw duck
An elementary school in Wilbraham Massachusetts changed their St. Patrick’s Day celebration to O’Green Day.  Firefighters and mail carriers have replaced the more gender-specific firemen and mailmen.  People are no longer blind or deaf – they have visual and hearing impairment.  Little people are ‘vertically challenged.’  Geographical locations are receiving makeovers everywhere.  Even the long-tailed duck has had its name changed from ‘oldsquaw’ because its calls were said to resemble wailing Indian women. 

So, if all these groups are getting facelifts, what about Pirates?

Roman trireme
Piracy is a very long-standing problem.  The earliest documented pirates were the Sea People, who terrorized the Aegean Sea in the 14th century BC.  We all remember the phrase, Ramming Speed!  It comes from the movie Ben Hur, when Roman galley slaves are lashed into extra speed to attack Macedonian pirates.  Saint Patrick, mentioned earlier in this post, was captured from Roman Britannia and enslaved by Irish pirates.

12th c Danish seamen
China, India, Malaysia – all regions adjoining the sea were troubled by pirates.  Vikings are among the best known.  For five centuries ships loaded with Norse warriors terrorized European coasts from the far north to Sicily.  Coastal and river villages lived in dread, but Vikings raided far inland.  They probed deeply into Russia, as remembered in Alexander Nevsky’s defeat of the Swedes in 1240.  Barbary pirates took New Englanders captive in the 1600s.

Somali pirates and their booty
Being taken by pirates was no fun.  We hear talk of a ‘pirate’s code,’ sparing those who gave up their ship without a fight, but I doubt that all pirates followed it to the letter.  Perhaps they were out to rob, not to kill, but it happened.  Those captured who said they could pay were held for ransom, just has been done in Somalia recently.  Women without means or protection probably faced a very hard time.

Edward Teach/Blackbeard
Acts of piracy in the Caribbean may have existed before Europeans arrived, but it certainly followed Columbus to the New World.  In 1523, Jean Fleury, a French naval officer and privateer, seized two Spanish galleons carrying Aztec gold from Mexico to Spain.  Piracy continued in the Caribbean region, but also all along the Atlantic coast until America’s navy grew strong enough to contain it.

Protest against Cleveland Indians mascot
Of course, headlines demonstrate that piracy continues today.  Somalian pirates are only the most well-known.  Why have those real pirates not demanded their own image makeover?  Why are there no demands  for the Pittsburgh Pirates to change their name?  I think a major reason is because pirates are not a single ethnic group or nationality.  They aren't born that way.  Pirates are men - and a few women - who follow their hearts.  How can you protest that? 

Disney's Captain Hook
You know, pirates are getting a facelift.  In 1911, Peter Pan’s Captain Hook wanted to kill Peter because the boy had humiliated him.  The bloodthirsty Hook was evil and ‘cadaverous,’ but he had the manners of an Eton gentleman.  Disney’s 1953 cartoon makes him into a comic fop.  The 1954 musical, later a movie, with Mary Martin and Cyril Ritchard (which I adored!) continues in that line.

Pirates of the Caribbean ride
Bans have been set on flying skull-and-crossbones flags as being ‘unneighborly.’  Playground boats are purged of cannons and planks to be walked.  Disney sanitized their ride, removing most of the sex and violence.  A hearty pirate stud is left chasing a turkey leg instead of a woman.

Jack Sparrow *swoon*
Maybe that makeover is why we can now find pirates so attractive.  Boomers were taught that once-frightening marauders are clowns, as much a danger to themselves as to us.  These tamed men learned to express their feelings in a more civilized manner, while remaining tough and adventurous.  We love our Bad Boys, and now we have Johnny Depp and Keith Richards to sigh after.  Helen Hollick’s Jesamaiah Acorne is a charming, handsome rogue.  He’ll get what he can out of a woman, but he respects her – most of the time.

If you feel a need to be politically correct, you can call pirates  “Vocationally Challenged Undocumented Sea Re-allocators.”  You can look down your nose at someone flying a pirate flag because that person is likely to be unbearable in one or more ways.  I’d like to mention here that I would enjoy flying the skull-and-crossbones on my canoe for the whimsy of it.  However, painting eyes on my craft appeals to me more.

Wall Street - another type of raider
For those of you who yearn for adventure on the bounding main, we STILL have pirates.  Need I mention the ‘Somali Navy’ again?  And as far as I am concerned, anyone who commits a larcenous act for personal gain is a pirate, whether on sea or land.  There are a lot of very minor pirates.  There are big-time ones, too.   They just go by different names, and wear better clothes.

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