A while back on Twitter, I was chatting to someone about the homogeneous nature of onscreen male physicality, particularly in superhero movies. Every guy has the same body, that muscle bro aesthetic that screams ‘we all attend the same gym and don’t care much for leg day.’ This sexless Ken doll look is the default form for male protagonists in blockbuster cinema, regardless of whether or not it makes sense for the character. There’s a whole other conversation to be had about this phenomenon and all it represents, but during my online chat, I came across a curious defence. A man, of course, barged into my mentions with an unsolicited assertion. This abs-forward look was about conveying a kind of peak physical form, yes, but it was also about appealing to women. All the Chrises look like that because it’s for the female viewers to drool over.
I’ve never believed this line and it always stuck in the back of my mind whenever I see the internet enter a new cycle of lecherous hooting. Fandom seldom goes for such traditional models of sex appeal. If they did then why would we all be so thirsty for Rhys Darby?
rhys darby please call me on thursday when i am free im free on thursday i will be ready for a date on thursday night which is the night ill be free i will dress up very nice for you if you just call me on thursday (thats when im free) pic.twitter.com/1VC8510WHS— katy 🦇🏴☠️ (@brokenkassette) June 22, 2022
The surprise success of the HBO Max comedy Our Flag Means Death has led to many interesting online conversations. None of them were all that surprising to those familiar with fandom mechanics and tastes, but many less informed critics seemed bewildered by it all. To them, the idea that the middle-aged funny guy from New Zealand who isn’t Taika Waititi would be the Thirst trap of 2022 seemed to come out of nowhere. To those in the know, it felt inevitable.
AND WE SAY THANK YOU RHYS DARBY. pic.twitter.com/JKlLkB67ud— ash 🏴☠️ | bearded stede truther (@teachbonnet_) June 20, 2022
In Our Flag Means Death, a show extremely loosely inspired by historical events, Darby plays Stede Bonnet, a dandy gentleman who decides to give up his comfortable life among the landed gentry in favor of becoming a pirate. While he has no experience with the brutality of piracy or really anything remotely criminal, he soon bands together a crew of dysfunctional rogues, weirdos, and occasional sweethearts to take on the high seas for adventure, booty, and friendship. It’s the perfect role for Darby, who is so adept at playing loveable losers whose enthusiasm typically outweighs their aptitude and preparedness for whatever concoctions they’ve whipped up. He’s like the Kiwi Pollyanna with a droll twist befitting of New Zealand humor.
so the foot touch in ofmd was taika's improv. and rhys went on with it. these 5 seconds alone created one of the most iconic scenes we have in the show and it's still one my my fav blackbonnet's scenes. everyone say thank you taika waititi and rhys darby. #OurFlagMeansDeath pic.twitter.com/JZIq5M8ahY— mia (@teachbonnets) June 16, 2022
I often wonder what defines an Internet Boyfriend. There are so many famous dudes of varying styles, appearances, and careers, and their elevation to this hallowed status of squee frequently feels like it comes out of nowhere. The more traditional beefcakes are there, from Chrises of all kinds to Jason Momoa, but they’re typically outnumbered by funny guys, sensitive souls, and striking faces. Sure, Keanu is hot but I don’t think that’s why he’s an Internet Boyfriend. It’s more to do with his endurance in the public eye, his good cheer and sensitive responses in interviews, and his reputation as one of the nicest guys in the business. Timothee Chalamet is an attractive man yet his appeal is more in his mixture of non-threatening teen girl fodder, indie star clout, and thoroughly millennial personality. The internet wants a full package (heh), some substance behind the good looks, or at the very least the sense that you could hang out with this guy and feel like he’d treat you well. Rhys Darby is the king of that. There’s no way in hell you could ever be intimidated by someone so openly warm and self-deprecating.
But of course, a big part of the fire behind the Darby love is for Stede Bonnet, perhaps more so than the actor who plays him. If you’re a lover of romance novels then the idea of the sensitive beta male disaster bisexual with incredible hair who just wants things to be good for everyone is literary catnip so strong that it’s probably illegal in several countries. He’s just got so much gumption, darn it. And, of course, there’s Stede’s romance with Blackbeard, played by Waititi, Darby’s long-time friend and collaborator (and you really sense the well-worn chemistry between the pair.) Our Flag Means Death was heralded by fans for actually committing to LGBTQ+ inclusivity, and having its central romantic pair kiss rather than string along audiences with some casual queerbaiting for a few seasons. If you’re a fandom regular who lived through Supernatural and Sherlock then this can’t help but be a long-awaited tall drink of water in a desert of disappointment. They kiss! They actually kiss one another on the lips and it’s not dismissed as an oopsie or walked back as a joke! Seriously, we ask for so little, TV.
Our Flag Means Death was renewed for a second season, and fans are impatiently waiting for more of Darby on top form. He’s clearly enjoying the new burst of appreciation, albeit with a self-effacing slant. Let’s hope his hair remains that bouncy.
Have we discussed Stede’s little wide-eyed expression as Ed is leaning in to kiss him yet? Because I feel like it needs to be talked about. Give Rhys Darby his Emmy NOW. pic.twitter.com/AjufLj0O88— Kylee 🏴☠️💗💜💙 (@cannonball_ky) June 19, 2022
Header Image Source: Don Arnold // WireImage via Getty Images