Going on the Account: Avast! Prepárese para ser abordado, el Hombre Araña!

Sometimes, a story that doesn’t seem connected to a topic does a great job of illuminating that subject anyway…

Case in point, this piece in the TIMES about illegal piñatas would seem to have nothing to offer to people discussing pirates.  You ask someone to make a connection between pirates and piñatas, their first thought is more likely, “Won’t all that papier-mâché you made your boat out of just fall apart before you lose sight of shore?”

And yet, the description here of the piñata trade, the actors in this drama and the definition of their roles, so perfectly encapsulates why we have pirates, what makes them who they are and why they do it.  And yes, the terms “pirate” and “piracy” do get used in the piece a lot, but this time appropriately.

What we have here on the streets of Mexico City is a market for product, a product with a high demand being tightly controlled by a few interests.  Because demand creates opportunity, there are enterprising vendors out there who try and meet the demand, and in the process make a little profit for themselves as well.

In a free market environment, these folks would be ‘entrepreneurs,’ able to meet these needs without restriction.  But because this is by no means a free market, with those limited interests losing their income to the upstarts, they become ‘pirates’ instead.  None of the piñata merchants in the piece claim total innocence, and are fully aware that this is a business, one where you have to get your hands dirty.

And sometimes, the ones standing against the pirates (or as they are known in pirate-centric fiction like this, ‘the villains’) are not so easy to boo by the audience.  The Mexican government certainly is promoting lofty goals in tying the fight against counterfeits to their war on drugs, and as the crisis in Ciudad Juarez unfolds such action needs to be taken to promote some stability.  It’s also hard to really vilify Marvel Entertainment; for all you can find wrong with a big corporation that mercilessly monetizes all their IP, they do have a few good points regarding the protection of and right to distribute their work.

Pure blackhearts or justifiable villains, there’s still the issue that leads to the drive to pirate: personal economics, and from that a model economy that sustains smaller players.  Many of the vendors making copies of Marvel’s characters (as well as other corporations’ properties) may be skinning the edges off a few doubloons heading northward, but those small percentages mean much more in a small scale economy.

This has parallels in other settings; most people forget that while the Spanish Treasure Fleet was a popular prize for most pirates to try for during the Golden Age of Piracy, that the system kept feeding precious metals to Spain right up until 1790.  It was not the buccaneers seizing ships that did in the trade, it was economic collapse from too many years fighting the French and Ottomans for too long; you could argue that had Spain practiced a more restrained diplomacy that they could have stayed the hand of history coming to knock them down.  Perhaps la paz española could have allowed for a radical rethink of how much specie had to flow east, and could have changed the face of the New World, to the point where my novel tries to look exotic with a sprinkling of English words en todo el texto…

The point is, we can take away from the example presented a much better picture of the forces at work where pirates sail.  Or download.  Or slap some newspaper over a candy-filled box…

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