Modern Pirates a Letdown for Kids Raised on Captain Hook

    I’m not going to lie: I’m a Disney kid. When we were young my little brother and I loved “Peter Pan.” We had sing-along tapes to what I now realize is definitely a politically incorrect song about Native Americans, we’d play follow the leader like it was actually an interesting game and when my brother got mad at someone he’d call them a codfish — the three-year-old equivalent of a really, really bad word. Accordingly, Pirates of the Caribbean was our favorite theme-park ride (splash potential and fake fire make it way more epic than the storybook-style Peter Pan one) even though that talking skull and crossbones at the beginning was fucking scary.

    So when pirates of the real-life variety starting making headlines recently, it pretty much rocked my world. Did pot-bellied, striped-shirt-wearing swashbucklers actually exist far out in the deep blue? Is there a dingy tavern somewhere filled with patch-eyed hearties pounding rum from chest-stolen goblets accompanied only by their parrot mates? Are gold doubloons still an accepted form of currency and if so where can I get some?!

    Obviously I was more than a little disheartened to read that these modern-day pirates have next to nothing in common with Mr. Smee. As it turns out, most 21st century pirates aren’t even peg legged; they’re actually quite spry. They also don’t occupy the same magical lagoons that mermaids frequent, carry out duels by bejeweled-sword point or rely on dog-eared scrolls to tell them where the treasure lies.

    No, the bandits roaming today’s high seas are much more advanced. These heavily armed groups use GPS tracking systems, attack trade ships for multimillion-dollar ransoms and even have their own spokespeople to talk with the press via satellite cell phones. (Major props for that last thing by the way — competent spokespeople are hard to find, UCSD certainly lacks them.)

    I was pretty sad to discover that the pirates of childhood lore are no more real than the sea monsters they were sometimes concerned with. But as I read more about these Somali brigands, I realized they still deserve recognition. Sure, they’re storming ships without cause, holding innocent people hostage and demanding gratuitous sums, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t ballsy mofos.

    Originally driven by an urge to protect their local waters from illegal fishing and dumping, these pirates now use the exorbitant ransoms they charge to pump money back into their desperately poor homes. (Recognizing that weapons have brought a history of hurt to their native Somalia, they’re strictly in it for the money, pirate spokesman Sugule Ali told the New York Times in late September.) Now that doesn’t sound so unreasonable.

    And while they certainly don’t fit the pop-culture-conjured image, they do have something in common with buccaneers of yesteryear. There have been multiple reports of inter-pirate gunfire (imagine two rowdy scoundrels drawing their weapons in a rum-fueled dispute). And when reminded that his vessel was surrounded by American warships, Sugule responded, mysteriously and unafraid, “you only die once.”

    So what if they don’t have shoulder parrots or mast-top spyglass lookouts, these pirates take their profession pretty damn seriously, and that’s something we should appreciate.

    Plus, with high-seas hijacking on the rise, “pirate hunter” might soon become a viable career path. Now tell me you wouldn’t be psyched to see that play out.

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