In sumo wrestling, wrestlers work hard to achieve different ranks, and once a wrestler reaches the peak rank, yokozuna, he cannot be demoted. However, he is expected to retire if his skills falter. Leave at the top, keep your honor and make sure people remember you as young Elvis. The concept of stepping down when you are at your peak is admired, however rarely followed (who still enjoys Garfield - really?).
Pirates are currently at a peak in the social consciousness of the U.S. One only has to look at the success of Pirates of the Caribbean (including Johnny Depp's Best Actor nomination) to see how much we love pirates. We have Talk Like a Pirate Day, where we, well, it's one of those self-explanatory holidays. And of course there's the extremely popular tabletop/collectible ship game from WizKids, Pirates of the Spanish Main (and all of its expansions).
And hey, I'm addicted to pirates as anyone. I have scores of those little ships sailing the Spanish Main. The game was fun, sure, but I became absolutely addicted to collecting and putting together those little boats. After I filled three sectioned boxes with ships, I decided it was time to stop. It's like any CCG, only worse, since it takes up so much more room. On the MMOG front, the upcoming Pirates of the Burning Sea focuses on sea battles. And for those of us who have been used to taking the subway as a superhero, the prospect of captaining your own pirate ship is very attractive. It's exactly what the pirates enjoyed - freedom from the rule of law and mastering the sea.
However, I am going to be the bold and say, with pirates at their peak, it's time for them to step down. They're done. We've been saturated. Anything more and we'll become sick of them, like when a good song is overplayed on the radio. Pirates need to go out in a blaze of glory. This will likely happen during the third Pirates of the Caribbean movie: One more look at staggering Johnny Depp with lots of eyeliner, and then, boom - stick a cutlass in them; they're done.
But this culture, especially our geek culture, needs a specialized group to cling to, like baby sloths. We need a fringe group to love. We need to bring someone else into the limelight. It is the nature of our culture to obsess about something and then move on, only a few things really leaving a permanent mark (Star Wars and Counter-Strike are perfect examples).
Now, I know what you're thinking: The ultimate enemy of the pirate - the ninja - is poised to take over. The ninja waits in the shadows, waiting for the pirates to sail into the sunset so they can take their place as number one. But pirates and ninjas have been fighting for so long I don't think they would know what to do without the other. Once pirates fall from grace, their nemeses, with nothing to counter them, will lose their cool factor. They will melt into the shadows and look for another enemy. Or perhaps follow the pirates.
So I humbly present three dark horse groups waiting in the wings to take over for the pirates. Three groups that hope to be the group to inspire the next Johnny Depp blockbuster as well as the next Hallmark holiday. I give you: zombies, hoboes and Cthulhoid monsters.
Zombies have been part of our social consciousness for decades. Who doesn't like a good zombie flick, our motley heroes fighting the slow-moving, ever-hungering living dead, dying one by one? But that does get old: Unlike vampires, who can have personalities, zombies are fairly one-dimensional, brain-eating automatons. Only recently has the myth transformed into something else.