Who’s Sexier? Highwaymen or Pirates?
When I was young(er), this one used to be easy. Highwaymen were dashing equestrians who would rob fat old wiggy men of their superfluous coin and who dare a kiss from the ladies before riding off into foggy mythology. Pirate were ugly monsters, bereft of crucial body parts, who could only use the present tense while speaking and who spared no one.
(Oddly enough, there is no aspect of being a pirate that isn’t improved by having two arms, two legs and two eyes. You need two arms to climb rigging, two legs to leap from ship to ship and two eyes to exercise the depth perception required to aim a cannon with any degree of proficiency.)
A Highwayman, on the other hand carries with him the DNA of Robin Hood. He robs from the rich and he… er… well doesn’t actually give it to the poor but he does spread it around a bit. He’s not a socialist but he’s a good tipper. He is imbued with the certainty of his own eventual appointment with the hangman and cares not for the morrow. Living in a perpetual “now” – he buys drinks freely and is the most polite and generous customer within any number of London brothels. The money that he takes at Bagshot will be distributed among London’s most disadvantaged, quickly enough – one way or another. He doesn’t (like the pirate) just dig a big hole in the sand and bury it (also like too many tax averse billionaires of the twenty-first century).
Of course, I was was very young during the heyday of Adam Ant – which is a huge factor in moulding my perceptions. And before Adam Ant, Richard O’ Sullivan was playing Dick Turpin on prime time television.
I’m painfully aware that Johnny Depp is something of a game-changer in terms of the reimagining of piracy in the twenty-first century. Though it’s also worth noting that Depp also played Dillinger – a twentieth century romantic highwayman if ever there was one.
It’s also been suggested that the cultural triumph of pirates over highwaymen is all about location, location, location. Pirates are to be found in Jamaica and Barbados. Highwaymen are to be found in Hounslow and Epping. Who are you going to follow?
Perhaps most depressingly, the triumph of the pirate over the highwayman represents the triumph of the values of austeriarchy. By finding offshore havens to secret their wealth, pirates are quite sympathetic figures from the point of view of powers that be. Whereas Highwaymen help to stimulate the economy by taking money from the wealthiest and creating jobs in the urban leisure industry.
Perhaps we don’t just get the politicians we deserve. We get the criminals too.