No, I’m not reading more Moby Dick (yet), but I decided to take a chunk out of my theory list, and just read an absolutely hideous book: Matt Mason’s The Pirate’s Dilemma.
First impression—this guy writes like a jerk. I mean, Poe can be rude and even outright mean, but Poe writes with moral feeling—he cares about the audience and tries to appeal to it. His disdain for his reader is palpable—in his introduction he puts his reader in the position of a driver who is puzzled and confounded by youth culture on his way to work. The reader/driver hears a loud annoying boombox, but his and the readers’ own radio is suddenly silenced by another guy with a modified iTrip, then parks his car only to find that his parking meter has been “remixed” into a giant lollypop. The author lauds the lollypop parking meter and guy who silences the loud radio (and every other radio in the radius) saying that these acts are “evolving” culture and has roots in the same forces that helped us win wars, that “capitalism has run a pretty tight ship in the West” but these pirates are changing that ethic. Yeah, right. They are evolving one person’s day all right–I’m picturing a Jon Arbuckle-type who doesn’t know the first thing of what to do with the lollypop meter and he’s late to work, he missed out on the news this morning on his radio, and later he has a ticket on his car–poor guy; I’m sure he’s been so enlightened by “punk capitalism.”
The author presumes to answer what he calls “The Pirate’s Dilemma” which, according to Mason, is the question of how governments and corporations should react to this pirate/remix culture: “Are they a threat to be battled, or innovators we should compete with and learn from?” From the opening scenario alone, the author’s answer to that question is a forgone conclusion: Pirates, ooooh aren’t they dangerous, and cool, and really mixing things up, and challenging assumptions/traditions/the man, and isn’t it actually GREAT?!!!?
Ugh. It’s thoughtless is what it is. As I read the rest of the book, Mason’s treatment is as thoughtless as the schoolgirl who is attracted to the bad boy on the playground. His capstone argument uses the famous “prisoner’s dilemma chart” to argue that major corporations should adopt pirate-type behavior to benefit the market, the consumers, and the corporations themselves. The problem with this comparison is that, while Mason includes many examples of individuals “remixing” and “punking” capitalism in ways that might go viral, challenge assumptions, and create art, Mason includes no examples of corporations doing it except Open-source software like Linux. And, though an individual tagging buildings, hacking websites, and appropriating copyrighted material might be cool in a Robin Hood-type way, do we really want major companies doing it? (answer—of course we don’t.) Mason assumes that all pirate behavior adds value, that the guy spray painting street corners, and pirating radio stations add value to our culture by what they produce as well as the challenges they pose to mainstream society. However, while this might work (sometimes) on a small scale, it does not work on a large scale. When the pirate goes mainstream, what value is he/she contributing? What is he/she fighting against? What’s left, the value added, will be the adoption of the unconventional methods, methods which, if large companies with the backing of money and power employed them, we would undoubtedly call abuse.