CALLING OUT HATERS: “Steven Universe” and Appeal (Minor SPOILERS)
Oftentimes we like to narrow fiction into specific audiences, that the Sylvester Stallone action shoot-a-thons are for the testosterone fueled manly men, or that the movie where Sandra Bullock falls for a guy she initially can’t stand is just for the sucker-for-romance-loving women. World of cartoons it seems like the divide is made clear boys love action, girls love pink, something I’ve covered before last year so I don’t think I can say much more why that has been pretty much something children’s media has been struggling to break from.
But where does a show like Steven Universe fall? A show centric around a male character, surrounded by women who aren’t there to just make him look better, in a world covered in pastel colors and it’s not afraid to be cutesy. It may have predominantly female characters in the cast but it isn’t all light fluffy and pink, the show doesn’t shy away from a bit of immature humor and deals with some very heavy adult themes. It is a kids show that is released for the mass market, yet decidedly takes risks on gender identity and sexuality, including having ended its first season with two female coded gems expressing a lot of love to fuse into one. It may be on Cartoon Network, the network that seem to love to cancel shows that try to appeal more than just one demographic, have not only ordered this show for a second season, but a THIRD. And yet still airs the same damn promo over and over again, even when promoting its big #StevenBomb week?
In the words of the titular character as he’s sees his pants suddenly become sentient: “That’s unusual!” A show that doesn’t conform to what we expect children’s entertainment, yet it looks to have a healthy life and a lot more stories to tell. What is this odd beast that Rebecca Sugar had created?
I honestly ask because I have become far too used to networks pretty much burying shows because they don’t conform to certain standards: they don’t pander to just one group, they don’t sell merchandise, they got low ratings on a timeslot we barely promoted. Reading stories about what happened with shows like Sym-Bionic Titan, Thundercats, Young Justice, Green Lantern: The Animated Series and The Legend of Korra made me fear that Steven Universe would fall victim to the same thing that undone them, because like many of those shows this is really hard to pin down and define to just one thing.
Is it a cute? Is it a dark? Is it a silly? Is it emotionally draining? Is it simple? Is it challenging? Do people talk about weird things? Do people talk about serious stuff? Does it have content kids can watch? Does have content adults can watch? The answer to all of these: Yes.
I just find it so fascinating that now we’re getting shows that seem to appeal to more than just one crowd and are not thrown out because of it. That appealing more than just to the core audience of children and boys is not considered a determinant. This show in general deals with themes of growing up, having friends, responsibilities of raising a child to be live up to a legacy, an ongoing story arc involving an ancient war, interpersonal character drama, as well as the somewhat standard happenings of the week like dealing with a sentient fry costume, playing at the arcade or the disturbing illusions in a room that is tailored to a child’s fantasies.
Another reason I’ve been thinking of this broad appeal thing is when supposedly the founder of a My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic Brony fan website would do the same for Steven Universe, and rumblings that there would be a fanbase like Bronies calling themselves Gemtlemen. I have no real hard feelings towards Bronies (At least those who don’t draw porn of it), but it’s an absolutely absurd concept, a show that has had appeal towards multiple audiences, yet one portion wants to be treated differently.
I get that MLP isn’t normally something that is geared towards boys, but what does diverging yourself from a main fan base to cross-appealing show like Steven Universe accomplish? Because it covers itself in pastel colors, usually has a genuine feeling of warmth and cuddliness, that sort of stereotypically girly things you think it’s not common to enjoy that kind of stuff? Steven Universe itself is a case in which it doesn’t try to conform to the usual gendered roles, has its moments in which characters of both genders display feminine treats and other times masculine ones neither of which is used with scorn and disdain. It just feels like a sickening desire some people part of a fanbase just like to be treated different from everyone else, like it gives them a high of being noticed.
But what’s wrong with being noticed as just a fan? You might get odd looks from some people not aware of it, but it doesn’t mean it is anything to be ashamed of. You have plenty of people who love the same thing that you do and it’s nothing to be ashamed with to be part of them. I think people would love to have you as long as you don’t express your love in a way that just makes you look like an entitled dick. Though Steven Universe like other fandoms do have a portion that might be taking their love a little too seriously, though at least looks very small, right now most of the outrage seems to be about the upcoming Uncle Grandpa cross-over (Which was actually Rebecca Sugar’s idea… so there’s that). I’d really dread if there will ever come a shipping war out of this show.
But putting all that aside… oh my glob, I am just so excited this show looks to have a healthy future. It just feels like so much love is being given to it, by its writers, it’s animators, it’s actors, it’s composers, set out to make a show that just feels like the right combination of warmth, excitement, tears and laughter. Deals with the fantastical but at the same time feels very human, wears the numerous inspirations proudly (Magical girl anime and animated sitcoms like The Simpsons in particular), but at the same time trying to break out on its own.
My words probably don’t do any of it justice, but it’s definitely a show that I think has a strong stable fanbase that would welcome you if you check it out. I see a lot of people just finding a whole lot within the show to latch onto, whether it’d be character moments, how absolutely addicting the songs are (Helped by a cast mainly made up of capable singers), getting caught up in the on-going story arcs and foreshadowing, getting excited to see when something from their childhoods are referenced, it’s not just one thing that people seem to love. And it certainly does not feel like it’s just meant for one demographic. Though maybe not those hateful conservative people some of which that run organizations like the Parents Television Council, I’d imagine if they were completely aware of this show, they’d want CN to be burned to the ground.
Does it make it the best animated show out right now? Well… honestly I haven’t seen Gravity Falls, so I probably couldn’t make that call. I’d really wish there was an easier way to catch up on it, I’ve been hearing a lot of good things about that show as well, and apparent to me that has some cross appeal. But I can say that I’ve been feeling more attached to Steven than the current state of Adventure Time, which seems to have lost me a bit in terms of tone and plot progression.
End of Rant