Our Flag Means Death: Representation in Media

 

Our Flag Means Death is a show in which two worlds collide. It follows the life of the protagonist Stede Bonnet, an upper class gentleman who leaves his life and family behind to pursue his life’s goal, to become a pirate. Alas, Stede is not used to the life of a pirate and quickly realizes the dangers of his new life. But, he’s determined to be a pirate, no matter what. As his journey progresses, Stede meets Blackbeard, the king of pirates. Blackbeard is known for his dangerous exploits, and yet Stede falls in love with him. Surprisingly, Blackbeard falls in love with him as well. The rest of the show follows their relationship as it progresses.

 

Our Flag Means Death means many things to me. It has taught me to pursue what makes me happy, regardless of obstacles in my path. It has shown me that being queer does not mean the loss of a family. Of course as Eve Sedgwick states, some parents will wish their child’s death over their queerness, but blood connection does not define family. Stede meets his chosen family throughout his journey as a pirate. His crew became his family and they stood by each other, even during fights and through many disagreements, regardless of sexual orientation.

 

Identity and sexual fluidity are two key themes in Our Flag Means Death. Stede hasn’t completely found his identity yet, but he’s tried many throughout his journey. As previously mentioned, Stede was raised as an English nobleman. He had extreme wealth and a peaceful life, but he never identified with his life as an English nobleman. When he left his life behind, Stede began exploring his identity. He no longer identified as a nobleman, but as a pirate. He didn’t identify with the traditional pirate life, so he decided to become a “gentleman” pirate in an attempt to mesh his personality with his new identity. Stede also explored his sexual identity.

 

Sexuality is fluid, it can change over time. Stede was a husband to a woman of similar social status. He never loved her. Stede hadn’t explored his sexuality until Blackbeard. In the beginning, Stede was hesitant to love a man because of old social expectations. However, the sea did not care who was in love with who, the life of a pirate meant freedom, especially sexually. Once he realized this, Stede allowed himself to embrace the concept of loving Blackbeard. Although he remains unlabeled in the show, Stede’s sexual identity can no longer be considered heterosexual exclusively.

 

I relate this concept of sexual fluidity to “Growing up Gay”. In “Growing up Gay”, an individual of Hispanic descent spoke of exploring his sexuality in secret. His family was strict in their decision that they would only accept his relationships if they were heterosexual. His family restricted his ability to be free and to explore his sexuality. This can be connected to Stede as he was forced into a loveless heterosexual marriage and he didn’t explore his sexuality until he was a pirate out at sea.

I also connect the theme of identity being complex to Eve Sedgwick’s definition of queer that states that queer could not be made to signify monolithically. Even though he is unlabeled, Stede still falls under the umbrella term of queer. In Our Flag Means Death, Stede explores many facets of his identity and still isn’t completely sure but his identity is, and that’s okay. Being queer allows one to explore the many facets of their identity without feeling constrained to a label. I feel that the storyline of the show truly portrays the complexity and intersectionality in regards to being queer.

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