Steven Universe: The Good, the Bad and the Gay
Steven Universe is a fantastic show that I’ve already written a very positive article about. However, as I was writing it I realised that I had so much more to say about one of my favourite features of this brilliant little cartoon. I’m gonna discuss all of the positive social messages Steven Universe has about race, gender, sexual orientation, stereotypes and even sex. So if you’re the sort of person who uses the phrase ‘social justice warrior’, open your window because there’s gonna be a lot of steam coming out of your ears any second now.
Everyone’s gay. Well almost, it’s only the Gems and they’re considered to be genderless anyway but that’s beside the point. All the Gems identify themselves as female, referring to each other as she and her and looking relatively feminine. This makes romantic relationships between them important because they are clearly representing lesbian women, which is fantastic to see on TV, let alone on a children’s show. Children are not exposed to same-sex relationships very much in the media, which can lead to them having very strange or even negative outlooks later in life. This is not helped when they grow up and still see very few non-straight characters in fiction that are not over-the-top stereotypes.
Steven Universe contains many different types of relationships and explores them all in depth. But whatever type of relationship it is, the gender of the characters involved is irrelevant. That’s what sets Steven Universe apart from the crowd, it doesn’t feature same-sex relationships so that it can implicitly discuss the struggles of being LGBT, it just contains characters who are gay and bi and says nothing about it. In doing this it normalises these types of relationships in the eyes of the viewers and treats the fact that both people involved are women as secondary to the relationship itself.
I mentioned before that the Gems identify themselves as female despite being in fact genderless. This not only allows for the Steven Universe crew to show same-sex relationships without being arrested by the Cartoon Network censors, but it also gives them the opportunity to explore the concept of gender identity. Gender identity is the idea that you can choose which gender you want to call yourself irrelevant of your biology; this is a very alien concept to many people which is why using aliens (such as the Gems) to explain it is such a good idea.
The only Gems present at the beginning of the show are all relatively feminine but some of the later ones introduced take on traits that are generally associated with men, such as a deep voice and muscular build. This is again expanding on the idea of gender, showing how someone is not less of a woman simply because she isn’t the way we expect women to be; there are plenty of feminine woman in the show as well but it is important for people to feel comfortable being who they want to be, and Steven Universe displays that perfectly.
The Gems act as metaphors for many different real world issues and people, and race is no exception. Gems are artificially grown and each type is designed to fit a different role in Gem society; they are born with all the necessary traits to fit that role and are expected to do it without any complaints. This parallels real races among humans and the stereotypes that people have to live with. Gems are trapped in their roles by social pressure; similarly, people sometimes act in certain ways because they are driven that way by society due to their race. Many Gems also look down on our main characters for breaking their roles and trying to find a new way of life that makes them happy, again mirroring real life.
However, it is important to mention the fact that the main characters did break out of their roles, in fact they started a war over it. One of the morals of Steven Universe is that no one should be expected to be something simply because of what they are; just because you’re a Pearl doesn’t mean you have to be a servant and just because you’re Asian doesn’t mean you have to love maths. It’s wonderful to have such a mature theme represented in a show aimed at children and with Steven Universe’s wide appeal, hopefully some adults can learn too.
Speaking of mature themes, who wants to talk about sex? This is a topic on which Steven Universe switches into full metaphor mode, which I’m sure you’ll agree makes sense. Gems can fuse with each other to become more powerful and take on bigger opponents. However, there are other reasons to fuse, for example Garnet remains constantly fused because her two constituents, Ruby and Sapphire, are in love. This shows fusion as an act of love and Garnet herself refers to it as ‘an experience’; this shares many similarities to sex for many people.
Steven Universe goes the extra mile, however, by introducing the concepts of forced fusion and lying in order to make someone fuse; both of these are portrayed as appalling and Garnet specifically is horrified due to this being so personal to her. This is a genius way of discussing sexual consent with kids; fusion is an extremely personal and intimate act and the idea of one or both of the participants either not consenting to it or to its terms is disgusting and immoral. This is an extremely important mind set for anyone to have and I applaud Steven Universe and everyone involved for finding a nice way to help children understand such a complex issue.
There is so much to compliment about this show that I barely had enough space to talk about one aspect of this brilliant piece of television. It is sweet and cute but also clever and mature and manages to convey its messages without feeling preachy. Steven Universe is truly a masterpiece and I have immense respect for the creator Rebecca Sugar and her entire team; they have produced something excellent that I promise not to right another article about. Well, at least not until the finale!