In his book Mutiny! Why We Love Pirates, and How They Can Save Us, Kester Brewin brings us on a wide-ranging tour of literature, psychology, sociology, and theology as he takes us into the fascinating world of pirates throughout history. He boldly suggests that piracy rises up as a cry for justice, and as evidence of a troubled system. In the case of the classic 18th-century maritime pirates, this practice increased in a time when legitimate trade ships– and even military warships– were places of brutal injustice where bosses grew rich and dined on fine food while the rest ate scraps and were paid a pittance (if at all) and learned to expect random brutality (and even death) from their overseers. Pirates, then, were not unlike other ships and traders and commercial interests, except for this: they did not operate under any king. They simply refused to be governed.
Not that they were savages, not at all. The famous ‘pirate’s code’ is more than myth. It established a flat hierarchy, but a rigid code for life: members were marooned for minor theft or fraud, there was health care for those seriously injured, and everyone enjoyed an equal share of food, drink, and profits. Brewin reminds the reader that Captain Teach (aka ‘Blackbeard’) famously blockaded the harbor of Charleston not to plunder and pillage and rape, but because he wanted a supply of medicine for his crew. Which he delayed many days to receive, and which he left with immediately. And when he was finally found and defeated, many of the crew who defeated him became pirates themselves.
Continuing both directions through history, Brewin surveys piracy in printing/publishing, music, software, and radio, and cites many pirates in literature including Peter Pan, Luke Skywalker, Odysseus, and offers a fascinating reading of Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son (from the perspective of the younger son). He also takes a long look at the pirate Jesus, who overthrew religious and cultural convention to eliminate the hierarchies amongst people and between people and God.
Along the way, he makes the fascinating observation that the American colonies which grew up in spite of the pirate trade soon began to pirate goods from English life, and eventually performed a grand mutiny of their own. We like to look askance at pirates, but the pirate is often us. Historically and figuratively, patriots followed after pirates. And of course even as we dismiss modern-day pirates as criminals, we admire their lives of excitement and adventure.
By looking into the past, Kester Brewin gives us a lens into our own times, and helps us to understand why we love movies about pirates, even if their stars are paid multiple millions to make them and they are produced by multinational corporations. And even if the films have anti-piracy software embedded in them.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network (which is itself a quite piratical outfit). I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.