The 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 pirates (1724) by Captain Charles Johnson, It is the prime source for the biographies of many well known pirates of the Golden Age, providing an extensive account of the period. 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. 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.
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 pirates 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.
Appearance and mannerisms of Caribbean pirates
In films, books, cartoons, and toys, pirates often have an unrefined appearance that evokes their criminal lifestyle, rogue personalities and adventurous, seafaring pursuits. They are frequently depicted as greedy, mean-spirited, and focused largely on fighting and looting from 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. The ship's captain will force captives and traitorous shipmates to walk the plank, usually over shark-infested waters.
Historical pirates were often sailors or soldiers who had 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. 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.
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 parody religion of Pastafarianism. Established in 2005, 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 18th century, 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.
Alternative pirate archetypes
In addition to the traditional archetype of seafaring pirates, other pirate archetypes exist in popular culture.
Air pirates are science fiction and fantasy character archetypes who operate in the air, rather than sailing the sea. As traditional seafaring pirates target sailing ships, air pirates capture and plunder aircraft and other targets for cargo, money, and occasionally they steal entire aircraft.
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 entire spacecraft.
The dress and speech of these alternate archetypes may vary. It may correspond to a particular author's vision of a story's setting, rather than their traditional seafaring counterparts. On the other hand, they may be modeled after stereotypical sea pirates.
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.
Captain Blood (1922), a novel by Rafael Sabatini (followed by two sequels: Captain Blood Returns [aka The Chronicles of Captain Blood] and The Fortunes of Captain Blood, each being a collection of Captain Blood adventures).
Emerson, Lake & Palmer recorded the song "Pirates", a 13 minute long performance piece from their 1977 tour. It features the Orchestra de L'Opera de Paris. The piece can be found on the album "Works, volume 1"
Running Wild, a German Metal band, adopted a "pirate metal" image in 1987, with its third album.
The Sex Pistols adapted the saucy song "Good Ship Venus" as their hit "Friggin' in the Rigging". Fellow Malcolm McLaren protegée Adam Ant took the pirate image further. One of the tracks on the album Kings of the Wild Frontier was called "Jolly Roger".
In 1986, the Beastie Boys paid homage to the pirate lifestyle on their Licensed to Ill album with the song "Rhymin' and Stealin'". The song is filled with piratical and nautical phrasing liberally mixed with 1980s hip-hop references.
Mutiny is an Australian pirate themed folk-punk band with releases on Fistolo Records.
Goth musician/comedian Voltaire illustrates the sometimes humorous rivalry between vampiric and pirate camps of goths in the song "Vampire Club" from the album Boo Hoo (2002).
The Pirate, a musical starring Judy Garland and Gene Kelly, has a number of songs about piracy in general, and the dread pirate "Mack the Black" Macoco in particular.
Pirate Shantyman and his Bonnie Lass
The Dreadnoughts are a Vancouver, Canada pirate-based band, including use of an accordion as well as a fiddle.
Relient K released a single covering the song "The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything" for the children's show VeggieTales. It was originally recorded by the cast of VeggieTales, and Relient K's version of the song was later included in the 2003 compilation album called Veggie Rocks!
"Barret's Privateers" is a song written by Stan Rogers popular in Nova Scotia, Canada detailing the fictional story of Elcid Barret and his privateers and their voyage on the Antelope to raid American shipping vessels.
In 1879, the comic operaThe Pirates of Penzance was an instant hit in New York, and the original London production in 1880 ran for 363 performances. 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.
The Nickelodeon animated TV series The Loud House features a character named CJ, who likes to play pirates. There is even an episode of The Casagrandes revolving around the pirate theme, entitled "Arrr in the Family".
The Curse of Monkey Island featured a pirate theme
Skies of Arcadia is a video game for the Sega Dreamcast (later remade as Skies of Arcadia Legends for the Nintendo Gamecube) about a group of air pirates that struggle against an oppressive power threatening to take over and destroy the world.
Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves features a level in which the Cooper Gang steals a pirate ship, and upgrades it to defeat rival pirate crews
Sonic Rush Adventure takes place in a pirate-themed world. This includes a robot pirate named Captain Whisker.
In the Soul series, Cervantes, a long-standing character in the franchise, is a pirate. In Soul Calibur III specifically, there is a 'Pirate' class option for custom characters.
In Suikoden IV there are a great deal of pirates to encounter and recruit.
In Tales of Berseria the protagonist reluctantly teams up with a group of pirates. The first mate, Eizen, becomes part of the main cast while the rest of the crew makes frequent appearances throughout the game. The player has the choice of sending the crew on expeditions to retrieve items and explore uncharted waters.
The independent action-adventure game Wandersong features a chapter called "Voyage of the Lady Arabica," where the bard protagonist and his witch friend Miriam set out on a voyage with what appears to be a pirate crew. Despite their appearance, however, they don't engage in usual pirate activities, instead growing and selling coffee beans.