Welcome to my first Pirateologist General/ Mystery of Girls Media cross-post! what's it about, Pirates and Romance Novels! Prompted by People Magazine's hottest bachelors spread (one such pictured above).
Two serious cash cows for the entertainment industry. Why do they fit together like Peanut Butter and Jelly? Because they both embody an idealized noble savage, a man who is both wild, independent and rustic, but also, domesticatable and able to maintain hunkiness after months at sea being made leathery, amazingly gross and maintaining his heterosexuality in the face of well, months at sea, saving himself (in a lusty fashion) for an idealized woman who happens upon his path. While he may be a brute he secretly desires both feminine companionship, but also, feminine domination.
Now here's the rub,
Reality: Ok, so also fictional and from a movie, but don't try to google an image of "dirty pirate" it just doesn't find an image that helps my point.
The romance of the pirate in the romance novel is an abduction fantasy, where the brutish lustful pirate takes the noble lady (often in spirit and lineage) and then takes the noble lady. In the process, often revealing his inner turmoil and desire for a more meaningful relationship with her, in which she makes many decisions for him, he reads her mind and while still humping like amazingly endowed bunnies, build a life for themselves in an idealized future where they fill in the blanks of one another's lives. As fantasy, excellent, wish fulfilling and fulfilling all the way to the bank.
While historically questionable, and until holding one's escapist fantasies to strict standards of historical accuracy is en vogue, it's not going to change any time soon. But! that doesn't mean that there isn't much to be done with the formula to make it new again. While there are some classic governor's daughter romances with randy swashbucklers being remade, the true test of the genre is the megalithic Pirates of the Caribbean franchise.
Look at that! you have two heartthrobs one dirty and hunky, one clean and hunky! they have a seriously tempestuous love triangle with a Governor's Daughter who is obsessed with the romantic notion of pirates, who eventually becomes Pirate King herself. Nice. Covers every base, and plays with the genre, satirizing it at points without abandoning its conventions.
Why does Pirates of the Caribbean fit the romantic pirate fantasy and say... Cutthroat Island, fail so miserably? Well, aside from the cleverness of the writing in general, the problem in Cutthroat Island is primarily one of the power dynamic.
In Pirates of the Caribbean, the protagonist, Elizabeth Swann, is a real match for the men around her while being able to handily maneuver through social currents of polite society and impolite society. This factor is an important aspect of the modern lady's aspirations. She is an equal member of the pirate crews and the shifts in power did not make her too weak or put any male in a position over her that she had no hand in creating. This creates an air of choice and real validation of her as a character and a person, rather than a waif or a harpy.
Cutthroat Island's protagonist, Morgan Adams, is a bit of a shrew. She's caustic and constantly coming at people from a position of inferiority because of her gender that undermines her aspirational qualities. Her crew doubts her and undermines her, but she's also a captain without having risen through the ranks, there is a sense that she hasn't earned the post. Where Elizabeth tends to defer to other people's knowledge but stand up for what she knows to be true and right, giving her a greater sense of legitimacy than Morgan, who tries to bulldoze her way through most problems.
What does this have to do with Romance Novels? a lot. Romance novels are all about the fantasy, who you want to be, who your idealized mate might be, and how that might come together in a volcano of fiery passion. They are a strong example of aspirational driving, the desire to be beautiful, desired, noble, and powerful in the face of other powerful people (even if that only manifests as making a man a slave to his lust), but also the desire for a man to be strong, a leader of others, to be passionate and to have something going on underneath his ruggedly handsome exterior.
So, what have we learned from Romance Novels and Pirates that can be applied to franchises for women in general? 1) Aspirational Fantasy Sells, 2) A man who can be hunky while caked in gross dirt is REALLY hot, 3) when considering power dynamics, gender equality trumps female supremacy.