A Brief History of Pirateism by Keith Greer

or “Why the Vikings weren’t Pirates” or “The Muppets, Tom Hanks and Life on the High Seas: An Exposé


This post was originally commissioned as a review of the 1996 Jim Henson film based on Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic tale of pirates. That, as it turned out was not very easy to write about. So I didn’t. It has turned into something of an exposé, bringing Pirate month here on The Flat Cap to a close by separating out the fact from fiction (and leaving mostly the fiction).


A well known scientist (some say it was Bertrand Russell) one gave a public lecture on astronomy. This has very little to do with Pirates, you may think, and fundamentally you’d be correct. For some time the stars were used by pirates to find their victims.

The word “pirate” is derived from the Latin term pirata which is a type of formal pitta pocket, not the kind you fill with super noodles and cook in the toaster or eat cold. But the kind you get at a higher-class Indian restaurant maybe one of the ones with the tray-thing in the middle of the table that spins so people can steal your curry, and has a proper leather-bound menu rather than a laminated one. You know the kind of place. Anyway, well, that’s it, that’s the definition of pirate. Let’s move on.

Some say pirateism started with the Vikings. Of course the Vikings had no parrots, plank-walking or pieces of eight so by every classical definition they are not pirates. So we can park that idea and get on with this thing. Next-up are the Romans (the republican/democratic-ish kind before they got into the Emperor business) and the Greeks (the intellectual kind, before they sold their souls to the European Central Bank). I looked at this myself and basically there’s a lot of dates and complicated names (the Gothic-Herulic fleet?!) which basically boils down to, yes. There was a bit of piracy in and around the time of the Romans/Greeks and it sounds a bit like what we would consider pirate-ish but still not within the more classical definitions I outlined previously.

The “golden age” of pirates was during the age of exploration and the likes of Sir Francis Drake on through the buccaneers of the 1500s and 1600s to the greats of Sir Henry Morgan (who would become Lieutenant Governor of Jamaica) and Kazimierz Lux a Polish Pirate who sailed the Caribbean. Pierre Lafitte was a French Pirate in the Golf of Mexico and lesser-known brother of Jean Lafitte, who himself is lesser know.

Of course today pirateism is most closely associated with sub-Saharan peoples who forcibly remove Tom Hanks as captain after a water fight which also involved fireworks. This kind of tomfoolery should not really be compared to proper pirateism, which of course includes eye patches and talking like you’re drunk. In conclusion, Muppet Treasure Island is a good film with some catchy tunes. It is much more true to priateism than any film involving Tom Hanks (except Saving Private Ryan, which is an awesome film and tops any category, ANY).


In conclusion A Muppet Treasure Island was a much better representation of pirates than Captain Philips.


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