Pirates in popular culture

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Pirates fight over treasure in a 1911 Howard Pyle illustration.
Illustrations of the 1911 edition of Treasure Island, by Pyle's student N.C. Wyeth

In Western popular culture, the modern pirate stereotype owes its tradition mostly to that of the Caribbean pirate and such depictions as Captain Hook and his crew in the theatrical and film versions of Peter Pan, Robert Newton's portrayal of Long John Silver in the film Treasure Island, and various adaptations of the Eastern pirate, Sinbad the Sailor. In these and many other books, movies, and legends, pirates are portrayed as "swashbucklers" and "plunderers." They are shown on ships, often wearing eyepatches or peg legs, having a parrot perched on their shoulder, and saying phrases like "Arr, matey" and "Avast, me hearty." Pirates have retained their image through pirate-themed tourist attractions, traditional film and toy portrayals of pirates, and the continued performance and reading of books and plays featuring pirates.

Origins[edit]

The archetypal characteristics of pirates in popular culture largely derive from the Golden Age of Piracy in the late 17th and early 18th centuries, with many examples of pirate fiction being set within this era. Vikings, who were also pirates, took on a distinct and separate archetype in popular culture, dating from the Viking revival. The first major literary work to popularise the subject of pirates was A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the most notorious Pyrates (1724) by Captain Charles Johnson,[1] often regarded as a pseudonym for Daniel Defoe. It is the prime source for the biographies of many well known pirates of the Golden Age, providing an extensive account of the period.[2] In giving an almost mythical status to the more colourful characters, such as the notorious English pirates Blackbeard and Calico Jack, the book provided the standard account of the lives of many pirates in the Golden Age, and influenced pirate literature of Scottish novelists Robert Louis Stevenson and J. M. Barrie.[2] While Johnson's text recounted the lives of many famous pirates from the era, it is likely that he used considerable licence in his accounts of pirate conversations.[3]

Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island (1883) is considered the most influential work of pirate fiction, along with its many film and television adaptations, and introduced or popularised many of the characteristics and cliches now common to the genre. Stevenson identified Johnson's General History of the Pyrates as one of his major influences, and even borrowed one character's name (Israel Hands) from a list of Blackbeard's crew which appeared in Johnson's book.[4]

Appearance and mannerisms of Caribbean pirates[edit]

In films, books, cartoons, and toys, pirates often have an unrefined appearance that symbolizes the rogue personality and adventurous, seafaring lifestyle. They are frequently depicted as greedy, mean-spirited, and concentrated only on fighting enemy pirates and locating hidden treasure. They are often shown wearing shabby 17th or 18th century clothing, with a bandana or a feathered tricorne. They sometimes have an eye patch and almost always have a cutlass and a flintlock pistol, or some other sword or gun. They sometimes have scars and battle wounds, rotten or missing teeth (suggesting the effects of scurvy), as well as a hook or wooden stump where a hand or leg has been amputated. Some depictions of pirates also include monkeys or parrots as pets, the former usually assisting them in thieving goods due to their supposed mischievous disposition.

Stereotypical pirate accents tend to resemble accents either from Cornwall, South Devon or Bristol in South West England, though they can also be based on Elizabethan era English or other parts of the world. Pirates in film, television and theatre are generally depicted as speaking English in a particular accent and speech pattern that sounds like a stylized West Country accent, patterned on that of Robert Newton's performance as Long John Silver in the 1950 film Treasure Island.[5] A native of the West Country, from where many famous English pirates hailed, Newton also used the same strong West Country accent in Blackbeard the Pirate (1952).[6]

Historical pirates were often sailors or soldiers who'd fallen into misfortune, forced to serve at sea or to plunder goods and ships in order to survive. Depending on the moral and social context of a piece of pirate literature, the pirate characters in that piece may be represented as having fallen, perhaps resembling a "respectable" person in some way.[7] Pirates generally quest for buried treasure, which is often stored, after being plundered, in treasure chests. Pirate's treasure is usually gold or silver, often in the form of doubloons or pieces of eight.

Space pirates[edit]

Space pirates are science fiction character archetypes who operate in outer space, rather than sailing the sea. As traditional seafaring pirates target sailing ships, space pirates capture and plunder spaceships for cargo, money, and occasionally they steal the ship itself. However, their dress and speech corresponds to the particular author's vision of the future.

Pirate subculture[edit]

In the 1990s, International Talk Like a Pirate Day was invented as a parody holiday celebrated on September 19. This holiday allows people to "let out their inner pirate" and to dress and speak as pirates are stereotypically portrayed to have dressed and spoken. International Talk Like a Pirate Day has been gaining popularity through the Internet since its founders set up a website, which instructs visitors in "pirate speak." Venganza.org is also a major supporter of this day.

In the online community, many games, movies, and other media are built upon the premise, thought to have been generated by Real Ultimate Power, that pirates (in the Caribbean buccaneer sense) and ninjas are sworn enemies. The "Pirates versus Ninjas" meme is expressed offline too, through house parties and merchandise found at popular-culture clothing and gift stores.

Pirates also play a central role in the satirical religion of Pastafarianism. Established in 2005,[8] Pastafarians (members of The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster) claim to believe that global warming is a result of the severe decrease in pirates since the 1700s, explaining the coldness associated with winter months that follow Halloween as a direct effect of the number of pirates that make their presence known in celebration.

Pirates in the arts[edit]

Comics and manga[edit]

A cartoon pirate
  • Terry and the Pirates (1934–1973) by Milton Caniff is an adventure comic strip frequently set among modern-day pirates of China and Southeast Asia, led by the notorious Dragon Lady.
  • Redbeard (1959 onwards), a Belgian comic.
  • Batman: Leatherwing (1994), an Elseworlds comic by Chuck Dixon featuring Batman as a pirate.
  • One Piece (1997 onwards), set in a fictional world where piracy is at its height, the World Government and its Navy attempt to put it to a stop, and one young man desires to become the next Pirate King. The most popular manga to date in Japan.
  • Black Lagoon (2002 onwards) is a Japanese manga portraying group of modern day pirates in the southeast Asian sea, largely making money with acts of smuggling, extortion, or acting as mercenaries.
  • A group of hapless pirates, in themselves parodies of the characters of Redbeard, often run into Asterix and are subsequently beaten up and usually sunk.
  • The Red Seas (2002 onwards), a mix of pirates and strange phenomena by Ian Edginton and Steve Yeowell.
  • Outlaw Star, the primary antagonists of the series are members of the Pirate's Guild, a large network of space pirate clans throughout the universe.
  • Watchmen features a comic-book inside the comics named Tales of the Black Freighter. The Watchmen comic-book claims that in a world where super-heroes are alive and known, then instead of comics dealing with super-heroes, more comics dealing with pirates would be written.
  • Sea Monsters (2006–) by Gwendolyn Meer is an action/adventure and comedy webcomic starring infamous pirates Anne Bonny, Mary Read, and Calico Jack Rackham (among others) as modern-day pirates in the Mediterranean area.

Mad Jack The Pirate the comic TV series produced by Bill Kopp showed on Fox Kids in 1990s

Films[edit]

The 1950 film adaption of Treasure Island, as well as the 1954 sequel Long John Silver, both starring Robert Newton, are considered highly influential on the modern perception of early pirates.[9]

Literature[edit]

A History of Pirates by Nigel Cawthorne

Music[edit]

Stage[edit]

In 1879, the comic opera The Pirates of Penzance was an instant hit in New York, and the original London production in 1880 ran for 363 performances.[11] The piece, depicting an incompetent band of "tenderhearted" British pirates, is still performed widely today, and obviously corresponds to historical knowledge about the emergence of piracy in the Caribbean.

While no pirates are ever on stage in William Shakespeare's play Hamlet, Hamlet claims that his ship to England was overtaken by pirates.

In 1904, J.M. Barrie's play Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up was first performed. In the book, Peter's enemy in Neverland is the pirate crew led by Captain Hook. Details on Barrie's conception of Captain Hook are lacking, but it seems he was inspired by at least one historical privateer, and possibly by Robert Louis Stevenson's Long John Silver as well.[7] In film adaptations released in 1924, 1953, and 2003, Hook's dress, as well as the attire of his crew, corresponds to stereotypical notions of pirate appearance.

Television[edit]

Video games[edit]

Pirates in sports[edit]

Because pirate ships connote fearsomeness, loyalty and teamwork, many professional and amateur sports teams are named "Pirates".

Teams:

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ A general history of the robberies & murders of the most notorious pirates. By Charles Johnson Introduction and commentary by David Cordingly. Conway Maritime Press (2002).
  2. ^ a b A general history of the robberies & murders of the most notorious pirates. Page viii
  3. ^ A general history of the robberies & murders of the most notorious pirates. Intro – Page ix
  4. ^ Jason Porterfield, Treasure Island and the Pirates of the 18th Century, Rosen, 2004, p. 12.
  5. ^ Bonanos, Christopher (2007-06-05). "Did Pirates Really Say "Arrrr"? The origin of Hollywood's high-seas slang.". Slate. Washington Post Newsweek Interactive Co. Retrieved 2007-09-16. 
  6. ^ Angus Konstam (2008) Piracy: The Complete History Osprey Publishing, Retrieved 11 October 2011
  7. ^ a b http://www.literarytraveler.com/authors/captain_hook.aspx The Real Life and Fictional Characters Who Inspired J.M. Barrie's Captain Hook
  8. ^ Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster
  9. ^ Bonanos, Christopher (2007-06-05). "Did Pirates Really Say "Arrrr"? The origin of Hollywood's high-seas slang.". Slate. Washington Post Newsweek Interactive Co. Retrieved 2008-03-23. 
  10. ^ Charles Johnson (1724), A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pyrates, pp. 411–12.
  11. ^ Bradley, Ian (1982). The Annotated Gilbert and Sullivan. Harmondsworth, England: Penguin Books. pp. 86–87. ISBN 0-14-070848-0.