I'm thinking it's time we found a new word for 'pirate'. Somehow, every time I hear the word pirate I have images of Johnny Depp camping it up, or Captain Hook - or even that scoundrel Long John Silver. Parrots and wooden legs and eye-patches come to mind, aaaaaarh, they do.
It doesn't seem right. Storybook and Hollywood pirates are figures of fun and romance. Kids gleefully devour tales of pirates, and even relatively sensible grown-ups get a big bang out of stuff like International Talk Like A Pirate Day. Storybooks and Hollywood have turned callous cut-throats into lovable larrikins.
Pirates have been claimed by storytellers and film-makers, romanticised and given an overlay of folk-heroism that's at odds with what they really were - and more importantly, what they are today.
Ask the terrified refugees who left war-torn Vietnam behind in the '70s, to try and find a better life, and who were attacked by Malay pirates who robbed, raped and murdered without a second thought. Ask the crews of ships recently taken by pirates off Somalia what they think of the lawless thugs who've captured them, terrorised them and held them and their ships for ransom. I bet the lovable Jack Sparrow is the furthest thing from their minds.
But it's the first image I get when I hear yet another news story about pirates. Damn it, it's Hollywood's fault!
Pirates are very, very bad people, no doubt about it. That's why I think we need a better word for them; one that doesn't have a whole swag of likeable associations attached to it. One that doesn't make you feel like a wide-eyed kid snuggled under a doona while someone reads Peter Pan or Treasure Island to you.
There's nothing cartoonish or buffoonish about the real pirates of today. The amusing pirate caricature in my mind is just that - a caricature - and it's totally at odds with the terrifying and lawless skullduggery - the stuff of recent news stories - that the current crop of 'gentlemen of fortune' engage in.