“What is it with pirates?” I have been asked. How can otherwise reasonable people consider International Talk Like a Pirate Day an important observance? What can cause half a dozen respectable matrons (on a bus, no less), having amicably disagreed on city planning and crochet patterns, to reach consensus on the appeal of pirates? How can a bunch of dangerous criminals reach iconic status? (I feel sure that these elaborations express the inner meaning of the original query.)
First, it is not about real pirates. Historically, real pirates were cruel, bloodthirsty, filthy, uneducated, and brutish. Modern real pirates are criminals plain and simple. No, we are talking about Gilbert and Sullivan pirates, Renaissance Faire pirates, Errol Flynn, Rex Smith, Kevin Kline, Orlando Bloom. That kind of pirate.
Second, it is not about sex. No, really. We would find the same charm in actually being a pirate, given a safe, clean ship. Men like pirates, too. When I asked That Man what he thought the appeal of pirates stemmed from, he started waving his arms and using a declamatory voice. “They’re Romantic!” he said. “Adventurous!” By the time he got to “Swashbuckling,” I could see the sword in his hand.
Pirates are not respectable. But this is not the central point of their charm. After all, bikers are not respectable. Nor are gangsters, drug dealers, or pimps, and I promise you that very few nice girls cherish any soft spot for them. Pirates are slightly dangerous, but they have excellent vocabularies (Gilbert and Sullivan, remember? We are not really talking about Calico Jack here) and dress well. They have talents: swinging on ropes is not as easy as they make it look. They sing and dance, while looking rascally and insouciant. Insouciance is a big part of it. Sang-froid is good, too. They are devil-may-care and fun-loving, but extremely cool. Pirates are never stricken with angst. They don’t worry. They are not concerned with how others perceive them. They are lazy, in an appealing way that is more relaxation than sloth. Someone must wash and press their shirts, since they are always snowy white, but pirates are never careful with them. They do not clean house, mow lawns, pay bills, or count carbs. There is no fussiness about a pirate.
If you want to develop piratical charm, go for the devil-may-care attitude. Appear to be having more fun than anyone else, perhaps because you know things they do not know. Like maybe where the treasure is buried. Look as though you might cause trouble of a pleasant kind, while being courteous and suave.
You cannot marry a pirate, though. I do not say that you should not do so, but that it is not possible. Take the experience of #1 daughter. She fully intended to marry a pirate. She had planned since she was a little girl to be married on a pirate ship. She was going to swing down from the riggings and marry — Errol Flynn, I guess.
So she dated a fellow who was devil-may-care and fun-loving. He sang and danced, had a large vocabulary, and did not do angst. He was very cool. He took the little boys to the graveyard on Hallowe’en. He went to sea (or at least joined the Navy). He was born in the Caribbean and took her to South Carolina to live after they were wed — both major pirate locations. He looks more like Errol Flynn than most guys you meet. You really could say that she did her best to marry a pirate.
However, he is becoming a nuclear chemist and steadily paying off his student loans. He is still cool, but he is not a pirate. Is the moral of this story that you should not choose pirates who went to the High School for Math and Science? No. The moral of the story is this: pirates are strictly fantasy. That is their charm. They are not available for real life. Just like fairy gold, which turns to dust if you try to take it into the mortal world.
(Errol Flynn wasn’t really a pirate, either. Check out Son-in-Law’s picture here: http://rosalyne.4t.com/custom2.html if you want to judge the resemblance for yourself. I provide Flynn’s picture, to the left, for comparison purposes.)
And, as Gilbert and Sullivan’s Pirate King put it, as near as I can remember: “I do not say much for our profession, but compared with respectability, it is comparatively honest.”