Postmodern Pirates offers a comprehensive analysis of Disney’s
Pirates of the Caribbean series and the pirate motif through the lens of postmodern theories. Susanne Zhanial shows how the postmodern elements determine the movies’ aesthetics, narratives, and character portrayals, but also places the movies within Hollywood’s contemporary blockbuster machinery. The book then offers a diachronic analysis of the pirate motif in British literature and Hollywood movies. It aims to explain our ongoing fascination with the maritime outlaw, focuses on how a text’s cultural background influences the pirate’s portrayal, and pays special attention to the aspect of gender. Through the intertextual references in
Pirates of the Caribbean, the motif’s development is always tied to Disney’s postmodern movie series.
This chapter focuses on the pirate characters in Disney’s movie series. It highlights how Disney rewrites, and thus revives, the pirate motif for the twenty-first century. After a detailed analysis of the main pirate, Jack Sparrow, and its proclaimed uniqueness, the chapter compares and contrast Jack to the Gothic pirate villains and their crews, before turning to the role that love relationships, desires, and romance play in the movie series. The chapter also reads Pirates of the Caribbean alongside other postmodern movie series, most notably Star Wars, to reveal how they rely on the same character archetypes and power relations in order to appeal to a worldwide audience.
The second part of the book traces the development of the pirate motif in both British literature and Hollywood film from the early nineteenth to the twenty-first century. Each chapter concentrates on one major period in order to show how the motif was adapted by authors to fit their cultural background and current aesthetics. In addition, every chapter closes with a comparative subchapter that highlights which elements of the period are reworked in Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean.
Mainstream blockbusters have often been eschewed by academic criticism, although they have a huge impact on popular culture. This book uses postmodern film theories and a mainstream blockbuster series, Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean, to investigate the development of the pirate motif in literature and film over the last two hundred years.
Starting with an analysis of Romantic pirate stories, among them Lord Byron’s The Corsair and Walter’s Scott The Pirate, the chapter traces the transformation of the pirate from an outlaw rebel in adult literature into the cutthroat villain of juvenile fiction. The analysis of nineteenth-century pirate fiction includes, among other books, the two classics of British pirate fiction: Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island and James Matthew Barrie’s Peter Pan. The representation of the pirate in early twentieth century children’s literature is illustrated by discussing Richard Hughes’ A High Wind in Jamaica and Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazon series. The chapter concentrates its analysis on the representation of the pirate captain and on the evaluation of piracy in general, but also shows how the genre – already long before Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean – has relied on intertextuality and on borrowing elements from earlier texts. At the end of the chapter, Jack Sparrow’s indebtedness to his Romantic predecessors and Long John Silver is investigated. Furthermore, the chapter tries to illuminate the origin and development of traits and features nowadays commonly associated with the pirate motif, like the parrot, pieces of eight, and treasure maps.
This chapter illuminates the transition from historical travel reports to fictional representations of piracy, and highlights the difficulties of drawing a clear line between the two. It is also shown that Pirates of the Caribbean consciously plays upon this ambiguity when alluding to historical facts and figures.
This chapter includes an analysis of the famous first wave pirate movies with Douglas Fairbanks and Errol Flynn, the best-known movies from the genre’s golden era in the 1950s, as well as the parodies of the pirate film’s third wave. Special attention is placed on the surprising rise of female pirate captains in the 1950s and Hollywood’s return to a female lead pirate in Cutthroat Island in 1995. The chapter questions the applicability of linear models of film genre development, since they cannot account for the re-emergence of the pirate movie in the 1990s. By proposing a re-assessment of Cutthroat Island in the light of postmodern film theory, the book demonstrates how it forms an important link between Hollywood’s earlier pirate films and Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean. Finally, similarities between earlier pirate movies and Disney’s series are analysed.
Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean is analysed as an example of a postmodern blockbuster movie by successively applying the four postmodern criteria defined in the theory chapter and illustrating each criterion with a number of examples from the movies. Furthermore, the economic considerations and franchising are shown to be an essential part of Hollywood’s contemporary blockbuster machinery.