By Sarah Vale Twitter @SarahValephotos
Steven Universe created by Rebecca Sugar, one of the many creative’s to come out of the Adventure Time crew, is a derpy little show that’s a lot smarter than it seems. Shows that we conventionally think of as targeted solely to children have always had one liners and themes meant more for the adults in the room but Sugar seems to take these subtle messages one step further. Imparting new and improved social progressive agenda that both kids and adults need to hear.
For the uninitiated Steven Universe is about a half human half crystal gem Steven and his three guardians the Crystal Gems. Each of the Crystal Gems, Garnet, Amethyst and Pearl, has their own distinct form of parenting. In the episode “Alone Together” Steven and his best friend Connie accidentally fuse together, forming the character Stevonnie. This isn’t the first time Steven’s uncontrolled gem powers have caused him to change shape or just messed with his reality but rather than have another monster of the week Sugar– intentionally or not– gives the viewer a pretty awesome message in sex positivity.
Anyone that’s ever listened to a pop love song knows that our popular portrayals of love and thereby sex, can be a little well—clingy. It’s interesting that in a situation where two characters seem to have literally become one Garnet affirms not only their individuality but also their importance as a unit. Neither is given more weight that the other. What’s important is what they do together.
The importance of partnership is an idea that’s been around for a while but Garnet’s next point, about ensuring it is a good experience is rather new. For many people sex isn’t really something they think of as being in their control. Really good sex requires a lot of communication on both parts and that’s not something we’re good at remembering to teach children. Most portrays of sex in the media are anything but accurate. Even our sex ed courses tend to leave things at the biological level. To admit that we have a part in making a good experience good is unheard of to many people.
The stress on it being a good experience also implies a lot about consent. Many people try to claim that consent is hard to gage because if you aren’t comfortable having a conversation with your partner then of course it’s going to be hard to tell what their non-verbal signals mean. When you put an active effort into understanding someone, what they and or don’t want becomes a much simpler issue. In the episode Stevonnie, in what can be seen as a conversation between Steven and Connie, checks in and offers to stop if the other is uncomfortable. They both decide to keep going.
They attend a rave and another character Kevin attempts to coerce Stevonnie in to dancing. The viewer is able to see the difference between an experience where peoples wishes are heard and respected and one where they’re not. When Steven and Connie finally decide to unfuse it ends with them bursting into hysterical laughter. Changing our cultural dialogue on issues is really just that simple. We can impart healthy messages without detracting from the shows entertainment. Steven Universe sets the bar for the right way to handle important conversations in kids shows.
Sarah Vale is a freelance writer and photographer based out of NYC. She runs the feminist nerd blog More than Fables. She spend her free time reading all the comics and watching to many cartoons. She’s an activist working to make higher education free and bringing harm reduction practices to the mainstream. You can tweet her at @SarahValephotos