Know no disgrace: queerness within the golden age of TV and piracy

[Ed. note: This post contains light spoilers for Black Sails and Our Flag Means Death]

Our Flag Means Dying has turn into a little bit of a sensation, to place it mildly. The present skyrocketed in reputation for weeks after its debut, each by way of streaming metrics and the outpouring of fan artwork. That’s in no small half because of its centering a romance between two males, Stede Bonnet and Edward “Blackbeard” Train, which captured the hearts of many, particularly amongst queer viewers starved of on-screen illustration. At the same time as queer illustration has improved over the a long time, with a number of ongoing exhibits that includes queer characters and subplots, it’s nonetheless uncommon for a collection to focus squarely on queer romance, particularly in style exhibits.

Maybe among the infatuation stems from how Our Flag Means Dying marketed its romance story — specifically, it didn’t. These preliminary trailers, teasers, and handful of episodes centered on the comedy hijinks of Stede Bonnet and his inept band of pirates. Not a lot as a longing look between Stede and Ed. For an viewers extra usually used to queerbaiting or generally no inclusion in any respect, the shock that this present actually was going to decide to that romance appears to have include a lot elation, to not point out a viewership which tripled someplace between its debut and its finale. Even creator David Jenkins has commented on the matter; talking to The Verge, he stated, “I believe I didn’t notice — as a result of I see myself represented on digital camera, and I see myself falling in love in tales — I didn’t notice how deep the queer baiting factor goes. Being made to really feel silly by tales, I assume. […] [L]ooking at how folks have been type of afraid to let themselves consider that we have been doing that was a shock to me, and it’s heartbreaking.”

Oddly sufficient, although, this isn’t the primary time a queer pirate present has buried the lede. Although the exhibits don’t share channels, a long time, and even sensibilities, the best way they slowly revealed the queerness of their protagonists reveals how each of those exhibits replicate the totally different climates through which they have been launched.

Picture: Starz

Black Sails, which premiered again in 2014, is a collection that acts as each a prequel to the basic pirate novel Treasure Island and a mishmash of actual historical past. Lengthy John Silver brushes shoulders with actual pirates like Charles Vane and Anne Bonny. Despite any misgivings you may need about its gritty Treasure Island take, it’s a genuinely considerate exploration of historical past and fiction. To make sure, it has its fair proportion of bloody violence and intercourse; it was seen as Recreation of Thrones on the excessive seas amongst critics. What it completely doesn’t do upfront is let the viewers know that certainly one of its central characters (arguably the story’s major protagonist), Captain Flint, is actually a homosexual man, and that his oppression and persecution below British society is the foundation of his complete violent quest.

In Black Sails this twist serves a goal, held again till midway by way of the second season. Flint, initially an enigma to audiences and his crew alike, is a larger-than-life character — an inscrutable, crafty, and ruthless pirate, very like the character first referenced in Treasure Island. He’s allowed to embody a hypermasculinity, the archetypal bloodthirsty captain who will do something for gold. The reveal that he’s homosexual and that his mission is to insurgent in opposition to the British Empire, to create a nation freed from its rule, complicates every thing he has completed and can do, turning him from a mercenary right into a revolutionary.

The truth that Black Sails and Our Flag each smuggled queerness into their narratives is made all of the extra fascinating when contemplating the real-life parallels of the characters. Each exhibits play with our conceptions of historical past and well-known figures. Stede Bonnet and Blackbeard actually did hang around, and the present merely makes a leap as to why that might be; Jenkins has explicitly stated he’s excited by treating recorded historical past as merely a jumping-off level. In any case, it’s unclear how a lot he’s even studying into their relationship. To at the present time, there’s quite a lot of debate about how a lot queerness has been exorcised from information and accounts, both by omission or by people’ personal mandatory discretion.

Retelling well-known histories as queer tales is extra about placing again into our previous what has been erased from it. As Black Sails co-creator Jon Steinberg stated to Den of Geek concerning the present’s historic figures, “There’s some freedom within the second you notice that the historic document is severely compromised by way of what these peoples’ lives have been like. That they had a motive to lie, and so did the folks in London. […] It offers us the room to attempt to inform a narrative that can hopefully really feel actual. It in all probability received’t essentially match as much as the textbook to what occurred, however I believe we might in all probability argue that the textbook is already a story that someone with an agenda put collectively an extended, very long time in the past.”

A close-up of Captain Flint

Picture: Starz

Vico Ortiz and Samson Kayo standing and looking into each other’s eyes in a courtyard

Picture: Aaron Epstein/HBO Max

Not that it’s arduous to learn queerness into current histories, even when the terminology and conception of the concepts differed on the time. Romanticized pirates have at all times been portrayed as camp, a picture maybe spurred on by historic figures like Jack Rackham, nicknamed Calico Jack on account of his colourful outfits (who additionally makes an look in OFMD). Mary Learn spent a portion of their life below the title Mark Learn, and whether or not it was merely a disguise or fluid gender expression or in the event that they have been even trans, it lends itself to storylines like that of Jim on Our Flag Means Dying. Accounts of Blackbeard spending all of his time with Stede Bonnet can so simply be understood by way of a queer lens that it’s stunning no story put such a twist on these figures earlier than Our Flag Means Dying.

However the reply to why nobody had is likely to be captured considerably within the response to Black Sails’ personal voyage into queer storytelling.

To be truthful, Black Sails does have queer characters from the outset — two ladies, Eleanor and Max — however the first season typically presents them below a leering male gaze, seemingly meant to titillate common audiences. The present’s curiosity within the revolutionary qualities of queerness didn’t take middle stage till its second season. Whereas it spawned a fervent following amongst some queer followers, it equally drew the ire of homophobes who felt betrayed by the reveal that half of the forged was queer. Reddit is plagued by rants in opposition to the present’s “homosexual agenda” by lads who thought they have been getting a present “nearly pirates,” all a part of an outcry that even obtained Flint’s actor, Toby Stephens, to remark. “Earlier than the revelation I had this enormous following from guys, however as quickly as that occurred it was like they’d been betrayed. It was the sense of utter betrayal and I wasn’t shocked as a result of I knew it was going to be an enormous factor.” The diploma of discomfort amongst males, that just by being homosexual Flint now not adhered to their inflexible commonplace of a male icon, is hardly one thing that’s gone away.

Within the current, although, the TV panorama has modified significantly since Black Sails aired. Streaming providers have come to rule the roost and fracture the monoculture, and the pandemic has solely additional formed that. Black Sails needed to compete in opposition to The Wire, The Sopranos, and Recreation of Thrones to earn its place on the desk. For Our Flag Means Dying, which is rather more a comedy than a drama (and in no way an epic style TV collection, although there are nonetheless loads of old school stabbings), issues are somewhat totally different.

Stede stabbing Ed, mid-stab

Picture: Aaron Epstein/HBO Max

Whereas the particular results (the revolutionary StageCraft developed for The Mandalorian) that enable Our Flag Means Dying to appear prefer it’s happening at sea would have been reserved for a lot higher-budget exhibits only some years in the past, they’re a flourish for a collection that largely takes place on small units. It may’ve been a tiny finances sitcom a decade in the past. That smaller scale could also be what allowed it to take dangers that, sadly, nonetheless really feel daring in 2022. It’s not only a romance between Stede and Edward however a whole forged stuffed with queer characters — a queerness that in its personal context largely feels unremarkable, with the crew quietly tolerant and respectful of one another all through the collection.

In the previous couple of years issues have moved alongside, however even nonetheless, each exhibits needed to function below the very circumstances of which they’re vital. As America and the U.Okay. each ramp up in homophobia and transphobia, with laws searching for to focus on these susceptible teams, the tales of Black Sails and Our Flag Means Dying don’t really feel like purely historic tales. They’re tales of the right here and now. Pirates are a solution to recontextualize those that society “others,” who’re made outcasts and fringe by the mainstream. The exhibits invite us to ask why somebody would select to reside on the sting, to unpack their histories and motives till their widespread picture is vanquished. To take essentially the most well-known of pirates and to reframe them as traumatized queer outcasts shouldn’t be meant as a historic rewrite however as a rebuttal of the very concept of a historical past written by the conquerors.

The British Empire current in each tales is depicted as an entity that’s, at its worst, all-consuming barbarism and, at its finest, all-consuming barbarism propped up by a veneer of civility. It’s an entity that not solely destroys however warps actuality round itself, reshaping historical past in its likeness.

In our current, queer individuals are as soon as once more being miscast as villains and boogeymen. In a manner, Black Sails and Our Flag Means Dying at all times dance on the sting of tragedy. Both they meet the identical ends as their historic counterparts or we see the bittersweet fact of tales which are written out of historical past, their actions twisted into one thing evil. By giving that different perspective, by suggesting one other account, these exhibits are a rallying cry for queer folks searching for their place in a world that doesn’t need them to exist in any respect — and a reminder to everybody who stands in opposition to us which aspect of historical past they’re on.

Artificial: Vik Information

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