“I cannot BELIEVE how soon you people forgot that jack sparrow is literally canonically gay divorced,” reads the end of a Tumblr post by user everythingispirates. The post argues that Pirates of the Caribbean deserves a place at the table with Our Flag Means Death and Black Sails, as an example of pirate media with queer representation. More importantly, the post argued that because this trio could be a possible competitor to Superwholock, the infamous hybrid Supernatural-Doctor Who-Sherlock fandom that ruled Tumblr in the early 2010s.
For the record, Jack Sparrow is not canonically gay divorced. But with some edited screenshots hinting at a relationship between Sparrow (played by Johnny Depp) and fellow pirate Hector Barbossa (played by Geoffrey Rush) and a few other blogs playing along, it certainly seemed like it could be true. At least to a reader only loosely familiar with the Pirates of the Caribbean movie franchise. While the original post was made on March 31, it wasn’t exactly an April Fool’s joke. Instead, it was simply meant to be an inside joke among the Pirates of the Caribbean fandom on Tumblr.
But nothing on the internet is ever completely isolated, and the joke bled out from the community it started out on, and further from its initial context. The original post ended up racking up tens of thousands of notes, and soon enough so many people were posting about Pirates of the Caribbean that the franchise became the number one trending topic on Tumblr in the first week of April. Last week, like a sleeping kraken rising from the depths, Pirates of the Caribbean breached the most buzzed about movie list on Tumblr’s official Fandometrics blog. This week, it was #1.
“We saw a 1,207% increase in engagements around Pirates of the Caribbean for the week ending on April 4th compared to the week of March 28,” says Tumblr head of editorial Cates Holderness. “Actually, it’s a bigger number than I anticipated.”
It’s not as if Pirates of the Caribbean’s recent surge in popularity was uncalled for. Holderness says she regularly sees it pop up from time to time. Even though the first movie came out in 2003, people still make gifs of iconic moments, draw fan art, and write up posts examining the lore and character arcs of the franchise.
“A lot of it is Keira Knightley,” Holderness admits. While there is plenty of love for the scoundrel with a deeply buried heart of gold, Jack Sparrow, Holderness says that Knightley holds a great sway over the Tumblr audience, citing other period movies like Pride and Prejudice. “We’ve seen so many posts from people being like my queer awakening was watching Elizabeth Swann in Pirates of the Caribbean, which is hilarious to see and also just nice to see. I’ve seen so many posts talking about how Pirates of the Caribbean is bisexual eye candy.”
Even without clear LGBTQ representation, the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise occupies a strange, warm place in the hearts of its queer fans. It’s no wonder this nautical series inspired them to do some shipbuilding of their own. What is particularly funny, though, is the choice to make Jack Sparrow and Hector Barbossa “gay divorced,” which is its own inside joke when it comes to ship dynamics across Tumblr.
The large shipping culture on Tumblr unites many fans, particularly around shows like Our Flag Means Death, which boasts multiple canonically queer characters and relationships. Representation has come a long way since the days of Johnlock and Destiel breadcrumbs, and franchises that highlight queer characters often become very popular on Tumblr. Our Flag Means Death is obviously one of them, but series like the vampire comedy What We Do in the Shadows and Amazon’s adaptation of Neil Gaiman and Terry Prachett’s Good Omens have also commandeered the top of Tumblr’s lists and garnered large fandoms. But can any of them actually come together to usurp Superwholock?
“I don’t know that anything could be the new Superwholock,” Holderness says. “That was a moment in time — and on Tumblr — that was incredibly unique.”