Monday, June 10, 2013

Internet Oral Narrative and the Pirate of Love

The mysterious oral narrative of Daniel C, The Pirate of Love
I am fascinated by the way the Internet's interminable open forum allows stories to be passed from person to person, critiqued, recontextualized, and propelled into unexpected realms of narrative existence.

Over time, I have been monitoring the emergence of animated literatura de cordel poems on YouTube and marveling at the way the stylized woodblock prints come alive to the musical recitation of this poetry that, until the advent of the Internet, could only be partially experienced outside of Brazil (because it is a hybrid poetic form that incorporates woodblock visual art and the recitation aloud of the poem to the accompaniment of guitars). The Internet made it possible for a regional art form to become available to an international audience.

Very recently, I came across another example of the way this Internet open forum can turn very small, local narratives into an oral history of global importance. This is not an exaggeration, this is The Pirate of Love...
"Will you ever know my love?" 
A CD of music by an unknown composer began circling the party scene in Canada, and along with it came several stories that people told one another, an almost requisite part of passing on the music, with each person claiming that their story was the "real" story of the man behind the songs. But no one knew for sure; this mysterious voice singing lonely (and at times quite poignant) lyrics with the accompaniment of an electronic keyboard became a faceless legend whose fame rapidly spread to Iceland, Russia, and the United States.

Short film about the Pirate of Love by Sara Gunnarsdottir
The CD and the stories that went with it constructed a narrative through the lonely voice of an immigrant man, cryptically known as Daniel C. He supposedly lived in Canada and sang songs of love to a woman named Sherry, but most thought that the love was unrequited. Daniel C's narrative resonated with enough people on opposite sides of the world that filmmaker Sara Gunnarsdottir decided to make a short film, documenting the Pirate of Love phenomenon and the multiple oral narratives that were passed around along with the CD as it continued to get shared.

Her film reached an even greater audience, and swept several prestigious awards at various film festivals, both for the bizarre and touching narrative but also for her beautiful animations of the stories and the songs. This film then rushed through the cyber community after being published on Vimeo (the film is not available on YouTube-- to view the short 10 minute film CLICK HERE).

The speculation on who this Daniel C could be and what his intentions were when he wrote and recorded his music swelled as the size of the audience grew. I think that listeners felt a special connection to this anonymous man who, most likely, had no idea anyone besides "Sherry" was listening to those songs.

This little CD, with the help of a filmmaker and the Internet, has begotten a series of beautiful and tragic love stories that were constructed by thousands of strangers' imaginations.

Today, however, I discovered that the real Daniel C has been uncovered. Sara the filmmaker is planning on making a follow-up video of The Pirate of Love-- one that uncovers the true story of this mystery man. Daniel C was told by his boss at the trucking company that he'd found a video on the Internet that talked about him. The trucker boss got in touch with the filmmaker and put her in touch with the real Daniel C. Cool... I guess?

And herein lies my dilemma with the Internet... it never stops. This is often a good thing, especially when stories like the Pirate of Love are being passed around, speculated on, and turned into a modern day trucker fairytale. But then... do I want to know the "real Daniel C" after having invested so much in the communal construction of his narrative? I mean yes, on some level I imagine that this guy's "true story" is every bit as bizarre as I imagined it (I heard he is now MARRIED to Sherry) and that he is a unique and mysterious guy, even when all the "facts" are known. But I can't help but think that the Internet has found an incredible way of connecting art and oral narrative and wonderment... at the same time it threatens to replace all of that imagination with "reality."

What are your thoughts about this dilemma of the Internet, dearest rustlers of petticoats? Until next time, keep rustling!


  1. This has been a really interesting use of the internet -- to create these kinds of mysteries that allow people to enter the story by filling in the blanks. I do remember a while back there was an odd website/blog of an anonymous troubled teen that became hugely popular -- everyone wanted to connect to this person -- and at the end it was all revealed as a fictional exercise by an author. So it provides an interesting intersection -- our desire to make our fiction real and our disappointment when reality alters the "better" (maybe more porus?) version of our combined inventions.

    1. Yes!! Well said! I have always agreed that truth can be stranger than fiction... but sometimes (in the case of the Internet) the fiction is much more participatory than the truth and therefore allows for a deeper personal investment of emotion...

      Thanks for your comment!!