Pirates (the high-seas variety) still a danger

Nick Harvey and Nick Harvey

Last week, on Halloween night, students across the University sported a variety of costumes. Many of them were unique. At one point during the night, the Burger King guy could be seen playing beer pong with Romeo Crennel. On the other side, there were many mundane costumes too. This year, for example, it looked like a “sexy” nurse and a Playboy bunny fell into a cloning machine.

In between the King and the army of scantily clad nurses, were other common but not too common costumes, like the pirate. However, most of the pirate costumes available these days don’t do real pirates justice.

By now the stores are mostly picked over, but there are still tons of pirate costumes for sale online. There are “Vixen Pirate Wench,” “Playboy Scandalous Pirate” and even “Captain Scurvy” costumes available. The only thing any of these costumes have in common with modern pirates is the possible lack of Vitamin C in their diets. It makes me wonder, does anyone know what a real pirate is?

Even though their heyday was a long time ago, pirates have started to make the news once again. Off the unwatched coast of Somalia, pirates are starting to seize merchant ships. They have taken hostages, and boarded ships while being almost uncontested. These pirates, however, are not the type that bring Johnny Depp or Captain Morgan to mind.

Many years after their pinnacle some things have not changed for pirates. Like Isiah Thomas, they are still trying to get booty illegally. Other things have changed. Pirates no longer wear those classic pirate costumes we are accustomed to seeing, let alone the burlesque versions in costume shops. There is not really such a thing as a sexy pirate. Bad hygiene and scurvy aren’t exactly marketable on the dating scene unless your Match.com profile says you like going for long hijackings near the beach.

Pirates don’t even carry swords anymore. The good old fashioned shanking tools have been replaced with, what CNN.com calls “sophisticated arms” while GPS has taken the place of the compass. The only naval skill required these days includes the mastery of an outboard motor.

Buried treasure is also a thing of the past. Just ask one of those old people roaming the beaches with metal detectors how much treasure they have found. Broken watches and loose change don’t count. Today, the real money is in ransom payments. CNN.com also reports sometimes hostage negotiations hold out for a while, forcing the pirates to baby-sit for up to 11 weeks until they see any money. Depending on the hostage, they might do better with an actual baby-sitting job.

The pirates of the past went on adventures with equally matched navy ships on their tails. Today’s pirates are forced to either square off with U.S. Navy ships that can fling Volkswagen sized shells or run. Most tend to run. Their small skiffs, and pressure from the U.S. Navy, require them to stay close to shore. The only tactic that has succeeded in luring ships toward the coast is to send out a false distress signal and hope they respond. This lacks the flavor of the pirates of old whose power instilled fear among merchants.

Today’s perceptions of pirates are completely off the mark. While it is more fun to think of them as floating free spirits on the run from “the man,” it is much more accurate to describe them as low budget kidnappers.

If you still want to dress like a pirate next year consider a modern pirate costume instead. Things required include an automatic machine gun, GPS system, an old shirt, ratty pair of pants and a beat up dinghy. It might also be good to not shower for a week, just to add a little bit extra to your realistic pirate flavor.