[Anime News Network] “Through One Piece, the Golden Age of Piracy Lives On”

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Non-management: So I really did, at first, wonder why pirates were such a beloved icon in American culture. Small kids have traditionally dressed up as pirates for Halloween without issue, and a lot of mainstream media present pirates as heroes to root for — children’s media included. It sort of felt like a white-washing of heinous pirate behavior to make them out as romantically heroic figures, and to an extent I still think that’s true. Not unlike other brigand groups and criminal syndicates, many pirates undoubtedly ruined many innocent lives raping, plundering, sacking, and burning, all for their own profit and often no one else’s. With just this shitty context, one can draw comparisons between pirates and how American culture has problematically romanticized the Italian mafia. Albeit, upon further reflection, the best mob media doesn’t really excuse all the murder and cruelty so much as they glamorize the pagentry and tragedy.

The Italian mafia was, at least initially, a place that attracted young ambitious Italian American men. With no easy way to climb up the socioeconomic ladder in Italian and Catholic-unfriendly American society, unemployed Italian men-turned-mobsters could earn their sought after wealth and status. They could finally live out that American Dream, a warped and twisted version of it, but one that earned some respect and was flush with cash.

Likewise, upon further inspection, piracy as a whole is a lot more complicated than its infamy as brutal sea banditry would suggest. Becoming a pirate may might have been a choice for many, but that choice was made easier by the harsh world that these had to pirates live in, one of unjust governments and unfair systems that made more honest options of making a living difficult if not impossible. So their freedom-singing reputation stems, not just as an extension of pure self-absorption (since the most successful pirates regarded their colleagues quite well and equitably for the times), but also as a transgressive call-out of defiance against the higher powers that helped make them that way. Modern Internet piracy is regarded in much the same way by its sympathetics and partisans, a transgressive defiance against unfair copyright regimes.

The pirate protagonists of One Piece too make a transgressive stand against the unjust World Government when it attempts to strip their friends’ freedom. Rather meekly submit and get beaten down by the system, Luffy and his crew picks fights with and declares war on it. For folks who love freedom and hate injustice, those acts of defiance are what make pirates relatable and admirable enough to rationalize good pirate media and pirate cosplay. 

Anyway, I’d like to give a big thanks to ANN’s Lynzee Loveridge for commissioning my article. Below is a summary short of the article. If you’re interested in reading further, click the link embedded in the title or at the end of the article sample:

Through One Piece, the Golden Age of Piracy Lives On

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Even to the present day, views on piracy have tended towards two sides. On one side, pirates are, by virtue of their criminal maritime activities, regarded as bandits, brutes, and thugs of the seas, raiding civilians on the ocean and shore, robbing innocents of their lots and lives. On the other, pirates are almost endlessly romanticized: literary classics like Treasure Island feature pirate protagonists, kids dress up in crossbones-skull eye-patches and tricorn caps for Halloween, numerous sports teams lift their namesakes from “pirate” or related terms, a couple of Disney’s most iconic media franchises and amusement attractions are pirate-themed, and a certain VTuber from Hololive with more than a million subscribers uses a pirate avatar. Finally, the bestselling manga series of all time is about a young man who wants to become the Pirate King; more so than ninja or reapers from millennia past, it is One Piece and its tale of pirate romanticism that stands tall atop the shounen manga summit.

While the creative artistry and storytelling chops of Eiichiro Oda is one reason that made One Piece such a beloved series, another significant factor is the modern appetite and affection for pirates. What’s with this fascination with and even adoration for pirates, and what does it have to do with the acclaim and popularity of One Piece? To answer that, we first need to look at the oftentimes incongruous historical portrayal of pirates, who are simultaneously splotches of scum threatening the maritime order and members of a resistance rebelling against an unjust system. It is this history One Piece reflects, and one that we shall investigate… READ MORE

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