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  • Writer's pictureGrace Saadi

The Answer: it's OK to Question it

Updated: Feb 15, 2020

"On earth, you can be your true self. And that’s worth protecting"- Steven Universe

I never really grew out of watching cartoons. Might seem obvious with the topic of this blog- but it’s true! I love animation in all of its forms, from 2D to CGI to stop motion, which means cartoons are no exception. And like many others, I grew up with these adventures, but I couldn’t let them go. And maybe that’s for the better because, like children’s books, they hold more wisdom than one might expect. Which is one of the many reasons why I love Steven Universe.

Rebecca Sugar became the first female solo creator on Cartoon Network with the show. It’s is an all-encompassing 2D animated show that tells the coming of age story about a boy of the same name. He is half human, half “gem”- an alien race at war with itself over the safety of earth and its inhabitants. Join Steven as he discovers the world around him in the show beautifully colored and stylized backdrops, creative its design, and influential plot.

At first glance, one would not expect the lessons this show contains. Tales of love, friendship, happiness, war, life, loss, and so much more are laced with impactful tales of characters relatable to a new generation. Relatable in a manner that no children’s cartoon has never been before.

I’d introduce the characters, but I think the theme song does it best:

With recent studies finding that approx. 73% of LGBTQ youth feel that they are unable to be themselves at school and have faced verbal threats due to their identity, these messages are more prevalent now than they have ever been before.

Sugar created The Answer...

a hardcover extension of the Emmy nominated episode of the same name. The New York Time’s Best Selling book acts as a literal solution to the lack of LGBTQ representation in children’s media. The book and the show are both blueprints for how to illustrate a healthy relationship that is relatable and understandable to younger audiences.

The Answer focuses on the story of Garnet, or more specifically her origin. In the show, there is a powerful force referred to as fusion. It is when two gems quite literally fuse together to create a bigger more powerful version of themselves. It was only until Ruby and Sapphire came along (the tale’s two heroines) that we see a fusion of two different gems.

Sugar uses this as a paradoxical metaphor for the public’s perception of same sex relationships. The higher status gem’s only allow for like gem’s to fuse (ex: ruby + ruby), but with the fusion of a ruby and a sapphire, they’re nearly sentenced to death at the mere accident. This can easily be interpreted as the reverse how society has continuously perceived same-sex relationships: with disdain, disgust, violent words and extreme actions.

Not only that, but Sugar also wrote the gem race exclusively using the pronouns “she” and “her” and presents the characters as a variety of females, all with vastly different body types and cultural interpretations.

Back to the story, the two outcast gems flee the scene and find themselves on a little-known planet called earth! There they go against their assigned roles as fighters and aristocrats. Through the show, this is what earth tends to do to a lot of people- give them a new life, a new start. The reference to the constant changes of earth, and I mean literal changes as in the seasons as well, reflects how we are not this one, stoic, stagnant being with a singular purpose.

So, what does this have to do with relationships?

This new found liberty reflects back to the two gems utter fascination by how each other went against the norms and slowly falling in love. As a result, they now make the choice to fuse, making the concept take on a whole new meaning- trust and consent. It is staged throughout both the book and the song Something Entirely New from the episode. This is truly where I believe no children’s media has tackled properly before, and in such a clear manner at that.

And that’s not the only thing Steven Universe covers.

Here are some other songs that cover healthy aspects of relationships:

The question still remains: What exactly is the answer?

And in both the story and show, their fusion creates (you may have already guessed it) Garnet! In a previous episode, Sugar attempts to describe it as “you are not two people, and you are not one person, you are an experience. Make sure you’re a good experience.” Which once again links back to Sugar’s uses of fusion as a literal metaphor for a healthy relationship.

When Garnet is presented this, asking a flurry of questions for how this was possible, she is faced with the conclusion that she herself already is the answer. And what exactly is that?

(The book's ending!)

As a result...

Steven Universe became one of few cartoons to illustrate not only a lesbian relationship, but also the first ever on-screen same-sex proposal and wedding in a children’s show. Sugar created the character Garnet to be a literal metaphor for love and in doing so, built on the blueprint already established by the shows representation. And just like fusion, she did so in a way that takes on multiple meanings. The first obviously being a loving, healthy relationship with another. But the second is in a different form of relationship: self-love.

And this is part of why they worked with Dove in their self-esteem project. It promotes the confidence to be who you are despite your body, size, sexuality, and more. A lesson so important to that 73% and Rebecca Sugar knows that, stating:

And it's all through the story of an alien race at war with itself, the use of unique concepts like fusion songs sung by relatable characters, and so much more. It's what makes Steven Universe a blueprint for displaying healthy, diverse relationships. And it does so in a manner that is understandable to younger audiences, that much is confirmed.

But what I find to be ironic is that, when glancing at the show’s demographic, the target audience appears to be, 8-13 year olds, statistics have shown that the average viewer is typically older (my 19 year old self included) with the average being approximately 22 years of age. So maybe Steven Universe is acting not only as an educational tool for children, but also as a much-needed reminder for young adults.

Any Steven Universe fans know the depth the show reaches and don’t need me to remind them, but to any authors (TV show writers and animators too!), take a note from Sugar:

And to all the parents out there, the next time you find your kid watching TV, pause before lecturing them to take a seat and watch it too.

You may just learn something entirely new.

Side note: these posts were created for and during a class in college- if you see any images that you recognize or may be your own, please let me know! I will happily give credit or remove any images!


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