Our flag means death became an overnight sensation, attracting heaps of fans for its brilliant music, clever writing, and hilarity. More than anything else, however, its incredibly human romance focused on its two main characters, Taika Waititi’s Blackbeard and Rhys Darby’s Stede Bonnet, struck a major chord with fans. So much so that a large number of the show’s LGBTQ+ fans have started using the show as a way to subtly communicate their identity in public places. There are several designs from the show that can be used by new buccaneers to show their pride, but one of the most common is actually ironically meaningful to members of the LGBTQ+ community: oranges.
In the seventh episode of the recently renewed pirate show, “This Is Happening”, the plot revolves around a character who contracts scurvy due to the lack of oranges on The Revenge, Stede Bonnet’s ship. In order to save their teammate and eliminate the inconvenience of being in such close proximity to someone suffering from the rather disgusting effects of scurvy, part of the crew sets off in search of oranges. As Stede and Blackbeard grow closer in this episode, almost tipping the scales of their romantic tension on several occasions, the rest of the crew spends the episode performing menial tasks in exchange for oranges until all parties come together to dig up a petrified orange. Wearing orange-themed designs per se isn’t inherently offensive, even when they’re oddly part of popular culture. What is, however, is the fact that less than half a century ago, mundane citrus fruits represented anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment.
Anita Bryant, orange juice and LGBTQ+ rights
The late 1970s represented one of the first times in American history when members of the LGBT1+ community could speak publicly about their sexuality without much fear of legal repercussions. However, this does not mean that there was no risk of persecution. In fact, Hollywood stars still frequently campaigned against the legalization of same-sex marriage, and one of the best known was an actor with a persona built around traditional family dynamics, Anita Bryant. Her fame, combined with the housewife image she chose to portray, made her perfect in the eyes of her home state’s Florida Orange Juice Commission to advertise the world’s leading scurvy-hunting export. Sunshine State.
Unfortunately for the commission, that meant it ran directly into conflict with the LGBTQ+ community. Naturally, this being well before the age of annulment, the FOJC decided to keep Bryant. This led to a simple solution from the American LGBTQ+ community: they and their allies started boycotting orange juice.
As with all ad cycles, Bryant’s tenure at the Orange Juice front ran out of steam at the end of his third year. After divorces and scandals, the public and the FOJC realized that her traditional housewife act was just that. The end of his tenure meant gay bars could continue to serve real orange juice in their mimosas and oranges were no longer relegated to the most acidic citrus fruit among LGBTQ+ Americans. Simply put, oranges became amoral for the next 40 years.
Our flag means death peddles the oranges of pride
Enter David Jenkins. With the close association of pirates and scurvy, having the goofy crew of Stede Bonnet seek out their preventative fruit was a natural progression of the story. What was not expected was the importance of oranges in the budding relationship between Stede and Blackbeard. The radically redesigned gentleman pirate later uses oranges as a bond with his daughter, whom he is unlikely to see again. Conceived as a silly MacGuffin, the oranges in the series have become a meaningful symbol of love and kindness, as well as the bonds between two people who are on different paths but love each other.
By an interesting coincidence, oranges were a common pattern in textiles for the spring 2022 fast fashion season. From Old Navy to Target, orange and clementine patterns were one of the top options for patterned clothing. As such, picking up a patterned orange top or two has become common practice among Our flag means death fans, especially those in the LGBTQ+ community. It was something of a fandom oddity, but not much more remarkable than typical fandoms with AO3 stories and fan art.
The real momentum of Our flag means death selling orange patterned clothing around the world was Vico Ortiz, who played Jim on the HBO Max series. The Our flag the cast are uniquely invested in the series, with the environment seemingly as invigorating as the fan base. Because of this, the actors have actively spoken about their love of the show on social media, an ironically charged and almost obsessive love of work that fans have fondly called “brain rot”. Vico Ortiz was one of the leaders of the group, cosplaying various characters and re-enacting their lines from the show before donning an original Old Navy orange-patterned outfit. With that, the fandom exploded. Orange-themed clothing seemingly sold out overnight, and this non-binary leader of the Our flag brain rot has firmly brought the former symbol of LGBTQ+ oppression into the LGBTQ+ camp.
With the second season of Our flag means death confirmed, fans will no doubt be waiting to see how the story unfolds. However, the show has already had such an impact on popular culture and the LGBTQ+ community that it’s unlikely to be forgotten. If nothing else, it went so far as to reconcile some long-forgotten bad blood between the LGBTQ+ community and, of all things, oranges.