A word or two on the popularity of pirates

Listen to this.

And think about the popularity of pirates in the mainstream media. Just a moment. Consider Pirates of the Caribbean. Visualise the many many hipsters and emos wandering the streets of capital cities in their skull and crossbone t-shirts and hoodies with witty slogans about treasure and what not.

Pirates are in. Pirates are cool. People like them. People want to be like them — but not real pirates — the 17th century cartoon variety. The romanticised version of bandits with comic violence and minimal scary rapist psycho murderer thief. I wrote quite a bit about this in an April blog post for Crikey, “Pirate mania”.

I’m going to argue here that this romanticised concept of piracy shapes the way media report on pirates and also the stories that get picked up by international news wires and spread all over the planet.

In case you haven’t noticed, some of the stories I’ve put up here have been reported in Australia. Many have not. While the BBC are pirate media kings, they always jump on board the pirate ship, other English language media outlets are less keen. Given that our language is spoken by more people on Earth than any other you can make the general assumption that if it’s big news it’s out there somewhere in English.

There is very little difference in the way pirate stories are reported. By and large they are straight news stories with bare bones coverage using what little information is available. With cases like the American captain hero dude Richard Phillips where you have white Americans fighting black Somali pirates, the news is inevitably going to be picked up and carried around the planet. Why? Because it fits the Hollywood stereotype, it’s what people want to read and hear about. It confirms their understanding of the world.

Stories like the Puntland plane saga aren’t as interesting to the global English media because pretty much all the dudes are black and no one came off looking terribly good or terribly bad — except the pirates who are clearly geniuses. There is no Captain Hook and no Peter Pan. It doesn’t fit an internationally comprehendible pirate narrative.

Of course we also like it when the pirates do funny things, like somehow capture enormous oil freighters carrying millions of dollars worth of black gold with a five man pirate crew, a machete and speed boat. That’s kind of cool too.

One thought on “A word or two on the popularity of pirates

  1. I can’t believe how much you find about pirates. Have you heard of “Talk Like a Pirate Day”? It’s actually next week (Sept 19)! Last year Facebook added “pirate” as a language on Facebook to celebrate – it was pretty ridiculous.

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