*Note: Major Spoilers in this article! Do not read this if you are planning to watch the Show! (This article is continuously updated).
In recent years we have seen an emergence of children shows that have challenged the mainstream traditionalist standards. But none of them ever quite fully embrace their own powers of dissent quite so much as one particular animated family series that came out in 2013, the fantasy/sci-fi show known as Steven Universe (2013-present) created by Rebeca Sugar (the first solo woman creator at Cartoon Network).
Steven Universe is a vital artifact of queer discussion, and by studying various episodes of how queerness is worked in the series; I will prove its importance as a gloriously queer failure to be mainstream.
But before we get into discussing the episodes what do I mean by “failure”?
According to gender and queer theorist Dr. J. Halberstam, the term “Failure” is an “anti-nationalist discourse in dissent in the era of the superpower.” or to be “Queer” is to regularly and willingly choose to fail within the terms of normalization (or mainstream) that society has set-up (Halberstam, J. p.27-52 & Halberstam, J, IPAK Centar Interview, 2014).
Steven Universe as an artifact of programing geared with children audiences in mind, is a beautiful failure to adhere to the popular mainstream tenets of this target niche, it shakes the foundations of what defines both children’s programing, and foundation ideologies of children themselves. Why and how is important in highlighting why it is so uniquely queer.
All Children are Queer?
In the works of Dr. Kathryn Bond Stockton, she theorizes that all children are essentially queer.
Not born destined to be straight, that heteronormativity is in fact an illusion that is instilled in children through various forms of conditioning (Stockton, K. Reynolds Lecture, 2010).
This is a radical theory that fails to adhere to the mainstream contention that one is born with their orientation, and defies the set belief in the liner progression of the heteronormative straight child into the ideal of marriage (one woman and one man) and then procreation as a “natural progression” forces children to in fact not develop linearly at all, but develop sideways under the reeling in conditioning of various authority figures and media that play a large part in informing the expected realities of a mainstream citizen (Stockton, K. Reynolds Lecture, 2010).
Stockton’s theory fails the dominant mainstream desire of silence in regards to the queerness of children by challenging the figure of “The Child”, which is a dominantly believed in being this state of divine purity bolstered by a pillar of innocence and weakness, or as Stockton puts the figure:
“..A creature of gradual growth managed away and bolstered by laws that ideally protect it from its own participation in its pleasure and its pain.”– Quote, Stockton, K (Stockton, K. Reynolds Lecture, 2010).
This child figure idealism echoes into our media consumption, particularly in anything directed towards children. Animation especially is still not taken seriously as a medium for adult, children, or something in between. This is a sentiment carried across both cinema and television despite some of the magnificent strides made in family shows like Animaniacs (1993-1998), Hey Arnold (1994-2004), Courage the Cowardly Dog (1999-2002), Over The Garden Wall (2014), Avatar Franchise (2005-2014), Adventure Time (2010-present), .etc. (Rosewarne, L. p.1-16).
Granted that is a belief that has been seeing a decline in the recent decades, there are entire adult fan communities that are proud to declare their appreciation for particular animated shows originally geared towards the younger set, one of the most infamous at present being Bronies (predominantly Adult men who enjoy My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic).
But there is not only still a certain level of ideological prejudice lingering around animation due to its target audience origins, even accepted titles aside. Some modes of animation, particularly family oriented animation, remain predominantly segregated from live action fare, and to severe degrees, is even condemned in some parts when crossing ageist, and in the case of Bronies, gendered lines as well. This particular fanbase are quite commonly criticized and mocked for liking a show geared towards a “little girl” audiences, despite the fact that Bronies speak of a resistance to desiring the mainstream ideology of masculinity. Enjoying a community that gathers around a decently written show espousing the morals of friendship through diversified characters and character growth and in no way speaks about who they are as men or women, only as people and their desire for something more then what they can commonly find in media.
This underlying notion of child ideology affects a harsh ageist binary line in a medium like children’s television that is still, regardless of strides made and evidence to the contrary, considered to immature to be worthy of serious discourse, and many mature topics combined with both the view of what a child is combine into what dominant culture defines both animation and children’s programing, leaves little room for appealing to subject matters that are very much a part of a child’s development, and should be recognized.
Sexuality is one of the bigger taboos in children’s animated television, and as a result there were very few, if any, that contained any sort of dominant queer characters or themes. Though the rebellious context of animation as a medium does utilize the general disdain of serious consideration to its advantage regardless, and thus within the optimum ground Steven Universe takes an entertaining delight in confronting mainstream ideologies of the Child and their distinct queer identity overall in a television show that defies the ideology of children’s programing. (Rosewarne, L. p.1-16 & Halberstam, J. p.27-52 & Halberstam, J, IPAK Centar Interview, 2014.).
It’s a Fluid Universe
Gender fluid/Transgender/Nonbinary individuals have found a long history of difficulty gaining a competent visible foothold in children’s television.There have been some strides over the years within other programing such as Orange is The New Black, The Fosters, Transparent, etc. (though non-binaries and gender fluid are still relatively left out in the cold), but in children’s animated programming, prominent upfront representation has been willingly ignored by producers, primarily because of either internal unconcern, ignorance, or prejudices, or the more popular concern of of negative flack from the general public because The Child Figure is considered to immature to question such things as gender identity. And of course the old argument or the show being singularly remembered only for queer moments, as brief as they are, and not for the rest of the show as a whole (Rosewarne, L. p.1-16, & Stockton, K. Reynolds Lecture, 2010).
Only in the past decade or two has programming for children started to shed some of the strict gender polarization that was given strong emphasis in particular in the 1980’s, particularly for commercial purposes, and shows began appearing that broke down some of the strict gender categories, particularly within the last 5-6 years, though these attempts were often not quite as upfront and certainly not with a main character.
For example, My Little Pony Friendship is Magic introduced the concept gender fluidity as an actual existence within the canon of the show through a minor character (Big Macintosh) who is shown to desire a state reserved strictly for female characters (being an Alicorn princess). In another episode “Brotherhooves Social” Big Macintosh donned a female persona to be with his little sister during a festival for sisters, but it interestingly wasn’t played for some sort of gag, as it usually goes in these sorts of set-ups, whether children’s shows/films or adult. When he was found out to be a stallion, the judge was not upset by it, in fact stating “…The Sisterhooves Social has always had a loose policy when it comes to what counts as a sister”. In “Do Princesses Dream of Electric Sheep?” Big Macintosh shows his greatest dream/desire to be an alicorn princess in a transformation scene that homages famous anime Sailor Moon, another show with its own history with queer characters.
There are other examples of course, but a common thread in these instances is that these incidences of queerness have either been alluded to (Korra The Last Airbender- Bisexaul characters), stated off screen (Adventure Time- Princess Bubblegum/Marceline) or kept as brief little moments isolated in an episode or two such as MLP or shows like Hey Arnold and Gravity Falls (both had brief depiction/reveal of a gay couple).
Steven Universe unlike other Western children’s shows however takes it a step forward by using both allusion and overt queerness, with the later in the majority. Breaking down the heteronormative gender and sex categories in their episodes, and best of all isn’t afraid of utilizing main characters while doing it.
For example in the episode “Tiger Millionaire” (Season 1, Ep. 9, 2014) Steven discovers that Amethyst, one of the other main characters, sneaks out at night to go to an underground wrestling arena. When she is in the ring she transforms herself into the heavily muscled Purple Puma and is addressed as male.
In this setting she revels in her hyper aggressive masculine identity, glorying in being free to express this side of herself “in the ring nobody can tell me what to do and if they try,I hit them in the face with a chair” (Amethyst, 02.49). Later in the episode when the other two Gems Pear and Garnet storm the arena expressing their displeasure with Amethyst and Steven’s actions (he’d joined up with Amethyst at this point as a wrestler) Steven intervenes with his fighting family to explain the Purple Puma’s stage backstory:
“…He was the wildest cat in the jungle, so wild the other cats couldn’t take it so she, I mean he, went to look for somewhere he fit in, somewhere with other people who were also misunderstood…that’s why we are all here, to be wild and body slam each other and wear cool costumes and make up nicknames, and…uh…so can’t we just have this? Can’t we just…wrestle?”– (Steven, 09.30).
While the episode can be seen as a commentary on pro-wrestling overtly, this episode also can be read subversively as a very solid allegorical lesson in acceptance of being one’s self in the multiple ways people present themselves, and accepting that outlet, particularly the environments, of expression.
Amethyst, who is one of the prominent characters on the show, often enjoys fluid gender expression multiple times throughout the series.
Granted the above mentioned episode is an early example of allusion, more then overt, but wait, there is more.
The show meanwhile also acknowledges and attempts to break down/comment on the binary gender tropes common to popular fields of animation.
Anime in particular is referenced due to the show in part being inspired by the medium, and often pays homage to its roots in many episodes, despite the medium certainly being rife with binarisim.
One of the most visible subversion of gender norms used on Steven Universe is the common anime trope of “the magical girl” or “mahou shoujo.” This is a character trope usually considered female, and geared towards female audiences. Some of the most popular in North America being shows like Sailor Moon, Tokyo MewMew, Pretear, and Cardcaptor Sakura (1998-2000) just to name a few.
“Magical girls” are usually small cute figures or cute voluptuous figures, having a magical transformation before a battle with a lot of melodramatic gestures and speeches sometimes involved, and devices such as bubbles, hearts and flowers combined with a gendered feminine color palate such as pink, which is utilized ALOT (tvtropes.org, Magical Girls).
The main character Steven is the embodiment of that trope combined with some characteristics that are associated with boys, creating something entirely new, and something entirely unlike his anime counter parts. He dissolves gendered expectations, and the expectation of main characters having to be recognizably gendered/heteronormatized. Nearly everything from his present state to his origins has a distinctive failure to be a mainstream boy character.
In the episode “An Indirect Kiss” (Season 1, Ep. 24, 2014) Steven’s status as being based on the magical girl trope is emphasized when he tries to access his mother’s healing magical tears (healing powers and tears long in animation also firmly categorized as feminine).
Trying to do so in his efforts Steven moves in the melodramatic gestures and stances of a transforming magical girl, with profuse roses and pinkness (pink roses very much a dominant theme and symbol of his power carried over from his mother Rose and prominent throughout the series) (Season 1, Ep. 24, 2014).
In the episode “Sadie’s Song” he has no problem dressing up in exorbitant make-up and a dress and singing a pop song in front of his town when his friend Sadie bows out of the show. There is no mockery in the moment, and the audience takes enjoyment in his performance.
Steven is an embodiment of numerous female gender trope signifyers such as his powers being primarily defensive, nurturing, and life giving, forming in a manner associated mainstream as female with his most distinct personality trait being empathy, something that is given little, if any, light in a male identified character, no matter the target audience, particularly in a male hero character.
Much of the show’s roots, particularly Steven’s own Gender fluid depictions, come from early queer sources.
Revolutionary Girl Utena is considered one of the biggest inspirations for Steven Universe, a show about a girl who decides she wants to become a Prince, an anime that is considered very queer leaning for its time.
Steven Universe references this root in the show through various scenes: such as Steven pulling out his mother’s sword from Lion’s head in a similar manner that Utena pulls out a sword from Anthy’s chest, and Pearl’s swordsmanship is a copy of a fight scene of Utena’s.
There are also the mixing of mainstream gender codes within the show: Lion, whom as a male lion is considered a masculine symbol (often associated with Kings) is combined with the color pink and a vaguely heart shaped head design which are female gender codes, and Healing (feminine) combined with spitting as a mode of use (masculine), just to give a bit of an example.
Then we start to get even more queerly overt with the introduction of Fusion.
In “Giant Woman” (Season 1, ep. 12, 2014) the viewers are introduced to the concept of fusion for the first time, which is the ability for two or more gems to merge their bodies and minds (provided they are compatible) into a new being, which has a distinctly different identity and name.
First it is an element expressed through the gaze of Steven.
Periodically throughout the episode Steven expresses his desire to see the fusion (whom is called Opal) and sings a song (04.02) about that desire. At first it comes across as almost auto-erotic in his fixation, but then the last line of the song reveals his true desire.
“…But if it were me, I’d really wanna be a giant woman,
a giant woman!
All I wanna do, is see you turn into a giant woman…”- (Steven, 04.45).
In “Alone Together” Steven and Connie manage to fuse and create Stevonnie, a gender neutral or genderqueer individual who was only prominent in one episode and briefly there in another until seasons 3-4 where they are given more screen time.
They are never referred to as “he” or “she”, usually referred to as “They,” and are often considered attractive by both males and females alike, though Stevonnie seems to be somewhat unaware of the later.
The visual depictions of characters are also continuously used to challenge the gender binary.
The show is careful to depict a wide variety of body types, both male, female, and otherwise. This is in part because of its embrace of its own medium as an animation within its character designs. Wide shouldered and muscular females abound here, such as Sadie, Sadie’s Mother, Jasper, the Rubies, etc.
The best example of these though, has to have been the 2016 introduction of the character Bismuth in the show’s special 20 minute episode “Bismuth”, season 3, episodes 20-21.
Much like Steven, she embodies gender tropes normally distinct to masculine depictions: She is a guardian, a Blacksmith, and used to work in construction. She is distinctly aggressive and favors violent, even fatal actions against her enemies instead of just subduing and capturing them, but is also boisterous and affectionate with her fellows.
Her physical depiction however, is that fine line between genderless and hyper-masculine.
The motivation of the show’s creator is also a big part in the inherent gender queerness.
In an article by Entertainment Weekly, she is quoted as saying that she wanted to “tear down and play with the semiotics of gender in cartoons for children.” She considers the gendering of children’s programing to be absurd (Howe-Smith, Nina. 2015).
The queering of gender isn’t the only aspect explored by the show.
An Erotic Universe?
Steven Universe is surprisingly rife with erotic content that acknowledges its queer characters and youth characters as physically intimate beings in a largely non-standard sexual way, and delights in going out of its way in its failure to keep things “behind closed doors” so to speak with intimacy.
As mentioned earlier, the concept of fusion was first introduced in “Giant Woman” but some of the intimate connotations were first fully realized in “Coach Steven” (Season 1, ep.20, 2014).
In this episode Garnet and Amethyst decide to fuse to create Sugilite (another giant woman). The dance that follows in Sugilite’s creation is unmistakably erotic, a lot of pelvic movements and provocative gestures, and ending with Garnet in a decidedly hard-to-interpret-as-anything-else pose with her legs spread wide, and Amethyst leaping head first between her thighs at the moment of the merge (01.36-02.07).
The erotic nature of this is also signified through Pearl who bears a keenly embarrassed look on her face, as she tries to block Steven’s view, who is quite excited by the display (01.36-02.07).
With this implication of the more intimate nature of fusion firmly signified in the viewers thanks to this episode, when “Alone Together” mentioned earlier comes along, viewers are introduced to the uncommon sight of two child characters, one of which whom has shown to have a crush on the other, engaged in their own form of intimacy when Steven and his friend Connie merge together into Stevonnie while dancing.
They are encouraged to be the experience that Stevonnie is by Garnet; despite Pearl’s objections to the inappropriateness of it.
In an article by the editor of “Polygon” Carli Velocci comments on how the Stevonnie character can be perceived as a positive metaphor for consent, in an entirely non-sexual context (Velocci,C. 2015). Indeed, the notion of consent in fusion is brought up by Garnet herself in the show as well more then once, particularly in the episodes such as the 5 episode Steven bomb of the second season when Pearl abuses her relationship with Garnet (and by extension 2 others) lying so that she can experience the joy of fusing with Garnet and being Sardonyx.
Garnet’s anger over the incident, started in “A Cry for Help” (season 2 ep 11), took an unusually realistic turn by not resolving for several episodes of the Steven Bomb, quite awhile by Steven Universe standards of cannon time, emphasizing the severity of of the lesson of using intimacy and relationships for self gratification. Not to mention her reaction to Homeworld’s forced fusions of deceased gems in some sort of Frankenstein defilement in episode “Keeping it Together” (Season 2, ep 8).
A Queerly Romantic Universe?
Later on in the episode “Jail Break” (Season 1, ep. 52, 2015) it is revealed that Garnet herself is in fact a fusion, the personification of the romantic relationship of two female identifying characters Ruby and Sapphire. They are often depicted as an overt couple since their first appearance: kissing, touching, hugging, arguing, flirting, and physically acting as a couple on the show.
Soon after the revelation that Garnet is a fusion, there is a musical reveling of the relationship, sung by her as she battles Jasper in a lyrical flip-off to traditionalist narrow mind-sets that Jasper and the rest of Homeworld (the antagonist faction in the show) embodies (05.16-07.35).
The Show even inspired a children’s book, The Answer based from an episode from the series, and came out in September of 2016.
It is based on the fairy tale-like story telling of the episode and was created by Sugar meant as a queer Fairy-tale aimed at young children because she felt there wasn’t enough children’s fairytale/fantasy literature out there with a non-heteronormative theme.
“Everyone tells stories of attraction to kids, everyone tells these fairy tales to kids. And it’s just like, the air you breathe, it’s so normal that it’s completely invisible…What you learn as a kid when you don’t see any of those stories or relate to any of those stories, is that you are denied the dream of love. You should get to appreciate and love and trust your own feelings.”– quote Sugar, (Fusion, 2016) http://fusion.net/story/344549/steve n-universe-the-answer-book/
Not that Ruby and Garnet are the only queer romance. There are other overt queer relationships and desires as well, such as Pearl and Rose, a relationship that echos the old style chivalrous love depicted between medieval knights (Pearl) and a royal (Rose).
Rose was not exactly a saintly character when it came to some of her relationships, whether romantically or with friends and allies, though she is primarily depicted as a saintly sort of figure at first. As the show goes along, her dehumanizing pedestal is carefully deconstructed without outright sending her into the territory of anti-hero or villain in disguise, more into someone who has faults, who is the leader of an army where thousands that died in a war, making many hard and morally ambiguous decisions sometimes, and sometimes had an ambivalent streak existing in an odd symbiosis with the figure head of love and empathy on the show.
Steven as both her son and being Rose herself, has to come to grips with both her and and the idea of her while being her in a fashion, and it colors his personal arc throughout the series. And one of the things was Rose’s relationships with other people.
She herself was the focus of a love triangle between Pearl, her first and most devoted follower, and Steven’s Father Greg. Pearl and Rose are the first attempts by the show to depict desires in a same gender relationship. Watching Pearl’s struggles to deal with the fallout of no longer having Rose and losing out to Greg (both of which had been in competition with each other for her, it is revealed in later episodes) is part of her defining story arcs in the show.
Pearl in this sense could be seen as something of the tragic queer figure stereotype common in many early television and films, but what makes her character work in this instance is the writers failure to fall completely into that easy trap of drama by actually trying to resolve the tragedy and not even leaving Pearl singularly pining.
Certainly her love for Pearl does play out through a large portion of the show to the point where she will sometimes break her motherly role to Steven and address him as Rose, or work out her relationship with Rose through Steven and Connie, but when season three and season 4 came around, the show actually confronts Pearl’s lingering inability to deal with Rose’s loss and her losing out to Greg.
In “Mr. Greg” (season 3, ep 8) the two prominent characters actually resolve their relationship as old love rivals, and Pearl finally comes to the realization that she has to move on, despite how hard it is to do so. This was done most poignantly through a song number “It’s Over Isn’t It?” and “Both of You.”
After that episode, Pearl’s growth in this direction is later shown in her attraction to Mysterious Stranger (has no name) a female presenting human with bright pink hair who looks similar to Rose, and even gets her phone number at the end of the episode “Out of Beach City” (season 4 ep 6).
Later on as the show progressed we see further queer relationships.
For example there is Topaz who first appears in “Are You My Dad?” who it is later revealed during her short time on show that she is a fusion of two other Topaz’s in a close relationship, to which Aquamarine, the antagonist of the episodes uses against her by threatening to separate the two Topaz’s. And like Bismuth, the show plays with subverting mainstream gender expectations by creating a stocky hyper-masculine soldier’s body and giving her a sort of Valley-girl voice when she finally does talk in “I Am My Mom.”
It was also soon after, when Steven and Lars were brought to Homeworld and after the two escape in “The Trial” they are taken in by a group of outcast gems called Off Colors, which are introduced fully in the episode “Off Colors” among the outcast there is Fluorite who is the wise an calming voice of the Off Colors and the polyamorous fusion of six gems currently and has also stated that she wouldn’t mind adding even more to her if she meets “the right Gem,” and Rhodanite, who like Garnet is the romantic fusion of two gems, a Pearl and a Ruby in this case.
The show was also not afraid to delve into presenting abusive/unhealthy relationships and the the Fusion known as Malachite, formed from the antagonist Jasper and Lapus-Lazuli, was utilized in this.
After Jasper and Lapis are separated in “Super Watermelon Island” (season 3 ep 1), they meet again on board a boat in “Alone At Sea” (season 3 ep 15). Jasper, much to the surprise of everyone, instead of attacking outright, beseeches Lapis to rejoin with her again. In a very dark moment for a character on the show, Lapis, who had always been shown as ranging from defeatist, to kind, to dead-pan, with an underlying determination that has appealed to many viewers over time, reveals a deeply cynical, self-hatred as she admits to how much she enjoyed causing Jasper pain, felling power over the other when she kept the both of them as Malachite trapped under the ocean, but eventually she rejects Malachite’s appeal.
While the topic matter of abusive relationships have made it into children’s television from time to time, even in animated kids shows like Courage the Cowardly Dog and their episode “The Mask” which was also decidedly dark in its tone, as well as queer through allusion.
“Alone at Sea” touched on something of the allure for those in destructive relationships, and the episode didn’t utilize the victim/abuser tropes utilized in other attempts from other shows.
Steven Universe also shows an uncommon complexity to the scenario in that those within the relationship recognize that what one desires may not be necessarily what both are able to cope with, and it can lead to something harmful and unhealthy for both.
Malachite is an appeal to the nature of unhealthy relationships as well as pointing out that often being rescued from such relationships wont work unless those themselves in it see it is unhealthy and recognize it as such.
Malachite also puts a bit of a light in depicting a non-hetero abusive relationship. Often in media queer relationships being depicted are romantic, seductive, or some great big tragedy, or something temporary for gratification.
In North American Society there has been a recent push to recognize that abuse in same-sex relationships does happen, but they are not treated with the same severity as an abusive straight relationship, and certainly rarely, if ever depicted on television. This is in part because there is an ideology surrounding power dynamics in relationships, in that males are considered the more powerful body capable of abusing the less powerful body, female. This notion is not supported in same-sex relationships, and thus not given as serious attention as straight relationships. In fact, male abuse victims in straight relationships also suffer from this very outdated and incorrect ideology as well.
In fact, the episode was also careful to show that that Lapis, the slighter, smaller, distinctly feminine body type, was the abuser in the relationship between her and Jasper, who is distinctly larger and physically more powerful.
It can be argued that the episode is not going down that route at all off course, and certainly its not a clear cut statement within the show that this is about a type of abusive relationship, but it has been popularly read as such and there are some compelling points in the read allusion that have supported the interpretation, an thus why it is mentioned here.
There is also an interesting episode that came out during a Steven Bomb in which Greg was kidnapped by Blue Diamond and stuck in a human zoo that once belonged to Pink Diamond. The humans, or Zoomans as they are known collectively in the Steven Universe fandom, have existed for thousands of years doing only what the voice in thier earrings tells them to do.
They are depicted physically without any largely different gender differences in how they dress or comport themselves and are relatively innocent and prone to suggestion, and when it comes to pairing, their designations are seemingly randomly chosen (or ‘choosened’ as they call it). When Greg has a Zooman chosen for him, he refuses and gives a speech about choice in his partner (the show careful to not make it an issue about anything like the gender of his partner being an issue). This amusingly leads to everyone of the Zoomans choosing to be with Greg, and the entirety of the group are heartbroken when they are turned down by Greg.
The Zooman episode was a nicely veiled allusion to the idea of choice and autonomy and breaking away from mindless expectations of the of an authoritative higher power and the dangers of giving up freedom for the sake of an easy and pleasant seeming way of life, including things like who says how you end up with someone.
Or as Greg puts it:
“There’s always a catch to these Utopias.” -Steven Universe, “The Zoo.”
Steven Universe makes a point to depict both the loving, the tragic, the variegated, and the harmful romantic relationships that exist, something that flies in the dominant conventions of their only being a specific type of romance, the kind that reassures the happy ending, which Steven Universe doesn’t promise, despite the packaging.
Steven and the Family.
It should also be significant to note that Steven Universe also features a visible queer family dynamic, often in contrast with the mainstream Nuclear family dynamic found commonly in television (whether hetero-normative or homo-normative), and does discuss this from the point of view of both Steven as a child from the former, who doesn’t understand how having 3 mother figures (one that also doubles as a sisterly relationship), and one father who doesn’t live in the home. Steven doesn’t even conceive of anything in his family dynamic as different.
This theme of family was done in “Fusion Cuisine” (Season 1, Episode 32) quite well when Connie’s parents want to meet Steven’s parents, whom they had been led to believe were a nuclear family by their daughter.
The episode did well at portraying Steven’s point of view on the matter, showing his confusion with the “Nuclear Family” dynamic, as well as parodying it with the interactions between Greg, Alexandrite, and Connie’s parents during dinner.
The notion of “Nuclear Family for Steven is something unknown to him, never being reared with that term even touching his personal Lexicon, and understands it only as “other” in contrast to his own famile norm when Connie attempts to explain it to him, highlighting that there is no real “norm” in regard to what a family “should be” in the first place, highlighted well by Steven’s confrontation with Connie over the issue, and Connie’s parents reaction to the truth of Steven’s family situation.
Basically, as long as a child was reared with proper discipline and boundaries in the eyes of Connie’s parents,they saw no problem with who was enforcing it.
The family dynamic has long been a bone of contention in the debates of Queer representations on television. Some believe that depicting monogamous same sex nuclear families promotes a sense of absorbing queer identity into a non-threatening hegemonic ideology informed by heternormativity, and certainly something that is prominent when Queer families are depicted in family shows, whether animated or live action. Shows like The Fosters and Glee for example. This stance can be seen again as part of making the queer child grow sideways, preserving a large part of the linear hetero ideology of marriage with a single individual and children to follow.
Here, we have Steven who is being reared in an environment without those expectations, with a house hold with several mother/sister figures, that rear Steven without enforcing a set standards of ideology for what a family is. Steven Universe touts something of a community of people helping in raising the child instead of a rigid two parent parental structure of the nuclear family dynamic, whether straight or same-sex.
As PBS channel host puts it in an opening:
“Steven Universe demonstrates that there is no universal concept of family…”
So in conclusion Steven Universe is a glorious failure to be a mainstream children’s show. It overtly subverts, declares, and challenges viewers in dominant ideologies about children, queer representations in television, intimacy, relationships, gender, and family while also providing a fiction which speaks to the queerness of all children in general with a strong emphasis on embracing and communicating ones identity and uniqueness.
This is an important show in the continuing steps forward in children’s programming.
*Note: this bib is somewhat incomplete as more stuff was added to later, and some are entirely common knowledge by this point anyway.
Halberstam, Judith. Queer Art of Failure. Durham, NC, USA: Duke University Press, 2011.
Accessed December 9, 2015. ProQuest ebrary.
—“Chapter One Animating Revolt and Revolting Animation,” p.27-52.
Howe-Smith, Nina. “Steven Universe creator Rebecca Sugar on growing up, gender politics and her brother”, Entertainment Weekly, June 2015, http://www.ew.com/article/2015/06/15/steven-universe-creator-growing-gender-politics-her-brother
Rosewarne, Lauren. American Taboo: The Forbidden Words, Unspoken Rules, and Secret Morality of Popular Culture. Praeger, An Imprint of ABC-CLIO, LLC, 2013. Kindle EBook.
—“ The Gay Chapter : Homosexuality in Animation,” p.1-16.
“Magical Girl.” Tvtropes.org. Last modified November 29, 2015.
Dr. Kathryn Stockton. “The Strangeness of Sexuality: What is Queer Theory? Are Children Queer?” 2010 Reynolds Lecture at the University of Utah, published November 25, 2014. Online Video. Retrieved at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NklYXR4mY5I&list=PLbP1qZTHfPXoHJ6gnyGb1NzvMIbRa5r9z&index=12
Prof. Jack Halberstram, “Interview with Prof. Jack Halberstram”, 2014 Summer School for Sexualities, Culture, and Politics, Research Centre for Cultures, Politics and Identities (IPAK) Faculty of Media and Communications (FMK), Singidunum University, September 05, 2014. Online Video. Retrieved at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iKDEil7m1j8
Rebeca Sugar, et al.
Steven Universe. United States: Cartoon Network, 2013-present.
Velocci, Carli (2015-07-14). “What a children’s show can teach us about sex and healthy relationships”. Polygon.