Category: Social Issues


 

steven-universe-season-2-episode-76-still-1Yes, it’s true. I know, I know, some people find this to be a very obvious theme in the show. But call me naive, I just didn’t see it as I was watching it, not until very recently – and even then, I only wondered about it because of all the pro-gay media out there, and didn’t believe it til I read  an article that talks about how Rebecca Sugar, the show’s creator, thinks more LGBTQ representation in kids shows is needed, and wants Steven Universe to reflect that.

“But how, Firefly” you might wonder, “could you miss something like THAT?” Well, it’s easy. You see, I don’t think in LGBTQ terms. Never have. And while that automatically makes me “heteronormative” or maybe “cis”, or perhaps even “homophobic” in some people’s minds, I find that all to be just a ton of jargon that muddies the waters more than it helps.

I base part of that feeling on my own experience growing up. People always talk about learning about love from Disney movies & such, but I didn’t. Sticking to Disney for simplicity’s sake here – as a kid, I would watch Disney movies, and thought the romance was sweet, but I didn’t “feel it”. It didn’t “seem like me”. The only Disney movie I saw as a kid where the romance resonated with me was Aladdin; otherwise, it was just part of the story. I did often identify with various characters cos of their personalities or skills, though – Disney’s impact on my role models were mainly Ariel and Robin Hood. I wanted to be those characters – I wanted to be smart, resourceful, talented, adventurous, and in the case of Robin Hood, terribly clever. Luckily my parents didn’t care if I found that resonance in a girl or guy character.

As an adult, I’ve often had more guy than girl friends, and from the time I was about 18 I really strongly identified more with the guys in my life than the women. I think more like them, I enjoy the things they tend to enjoy, and I very much didn’t resonate very much with stereotypically feminine things, except perhaps fashion.

From what I read online, a lot of people would say this falls pretty well into LGBTQ territory – but the thing is, it wasn’t a “queer” thing either. I was treated as a person – I am a person – and a person can have a variety of characteristics. I personally don’t really “identify” as a female. I am a female. I am a person. I am a female person. That’s all there is to it. I identify with my sexy parts about as much as I do with my hair colour. They’re a part of me, yes, and a useful label in describing myself to others. But they’re not part of my core identity the same way my interests, talents, history, or spirituality are – it takes a backseat to all of that. In my mind, while I am a female, what am I supposed to “identify” with there?  Yes, it shapes my experience to a degree – but to me, this all seems less of a queer thing than just an obvious fact of life.

This was one of my favourite things about Steven Universe, message-wise. Although the characters are technically not female and are technically asexual, they all look female. So there are 2 elements there. On the one hand, having them all look female does give a nice variety of full, well-developed, diverse “female” characters that you don’t often see in media.

On the other hand, the fact that they’re technically not female was nice cos it allowed you to focus less on the external form and more on the character as a person. It was kind of liberating to watch. Not just the gems, but all the show’s characters seem like real people. There is no stereotyping with any of them, and that makes the more real. It was nice to see diversity in SU – not “LGBTQ” diversity, but just diversity of characters with all of them being portrayed as normal, whole, flawed people that could be any one of us. The relationships between the gems, by making the gems not technically have a sex, lets you focus more fully on the relationship itself, on the characters and how their relationships develop. I found it to be really nice – so often, we identify a character or person with their external characteristics – I think this “as a woman”, you think something “as a black person”; we fit ourselves into these neat boxes. I feel like SU and the gems broke that – it weakened those preconceived notions, and that makes us get to the core of things, without that framework to fall back on in our mentally lazy common fashion.

Making the show about queerness and gay relationships kind of breaks that. Although, according to Sugar, “it’s not meant to be political”, just by classifying it as pro-LGBTQ it kind of becomes political, you know? LGBTQ anything is political, as it’s basically a political construct with political implications and very politically-current political controversies. I know people might not like me saying that – I’ve been called a homophobe more than once – but it’s true. I get that some people are gay or bi. But to be honest, any other colour on that LGBTQ rainbow has always eluded me as to its purpose. Why does anyone need to come up with these intricate labels to create this detailed continuum of gendered-ness and where they fall in that continuum and how exactly they want to express it? Why not just be people? 

steven_universe__ruby_y_zafiro_by_msmimundo-d9ncrm1

Ah, but you might wonder, that’s only part of the equation. You can basically say that Ruby & Sapphire are gay, and that Pearl wanted a gay relationship with Rose! As asexual female-ish aliens, I find no issue with any of these relationships.

But it’s official that it’s not really intended to portray that, now. So yes, I will say it, I have problems with showing gay relationships in kids’ shows. People talk about “representing” gay people in shows for the sake of gay kids. I understand where they’re coming from – but really, how many kids (especially younger ones) think they’re gay? Many might realize that a certain thing does or doesn’t resonate with them, or that they do or don’t want this or that. But kids are… well, they’re inexperienced. They don’t know much about themselves or how the world works. And while I mean no disrespect toward gay people, the truth of the matter is that heterosexual relations are one of the very few social norms that are rooted in actual biology. I find it unwise to teach kids that the feelings of a small minority are an option, when in reality it has a bigger chance of confusing a kid than helping one, just by the numbers.

I think of my guy friends who, as teens and young adults, wondered if they were gay cos they weren’t interested in dating, or liked women’s fashion, or were more sensitive (spoiler alert: none of them were gay or even bi). I think of myself, a girl who often identified more with the guys in my life than the girls – and I’m not gay or queer or anything either. The non-LGBTQ reading of Steven Universe hits this mark well by representing so many different kids of people for anyone to resonate with. I think it helps eliminate confusion.

But this experience also makes me think this whole focus on representing “gay kids” misses the mark. If I grew up in this day & age, there’s a good chance that I, and my aforementioned guy friends, would have been encouraged in a direction that’s just not us. Not only would it have led to confusion, but in this day & age if any of us had realized we were confused and tried to get help to correct it, it’d be actually frowned upon – even outlawed in some places. It’s in the best interest of kids to correctly guide as many as possible, and the truth is that for most kids, the direction they go is straight ahead, as is biologically normative, for what should be obvious reasons.

So yeah, I don’t think putting gay relationships in kids shows is a great idea – kids just don’t know enough about the world or themselves yet, and focusing too much on it could create confusion like I mentioned above. It’s more likely to do harm than good, in my opinion.

But creating all these amazing characters, where the focus is on the personality and not the form that person takes… that’s nice. Steven Universe’s well-developed relationships really teach good lessons to kids and adults alike. I think that’s lovely, and really breaks down the barriers we have as seeing people as just people, and from seeing relationship dynamics in a clear view. I kinda wish SU had stuck on that line- it’d still work just fine for LGBTQ people, but without the controversy (and, despite the wishes of the creator, political-ness) of whether people think it’s a good idea for kids to see that.

tall-poppy
I’m in Australia right now on a working holiday, and learning some rather interesting facts of the culture here. So I ended up looking up “Tall Poppy Syndrome” : basically, the desire to cut down anyone who distinguishes themselves as being above the rest. Apparently, this attitude is common not only in Australia but in Canada too, as well as pretty much every Anglicized nation but America.

I see it all the time here… most especially, when someone drives by in a nice car, anyone within earshot of it will go on about how the guy’s some jerk who wants to show off how great he is by driving around in a nice car. All this guy wants is our attention, and that makes him a huge jackass; if that weren’t the case he wouldn’t be driving a Lamborghini or whatever. It’s like the guy’s pompous jackassery is implicit in the car he drives. Even the nicest, most reasonable people I’ve met here will start spitting venom at the sight of someone revving the engine of a Ferrari… despite the fact that they also really love nice cars.

I find this to be a pretty alien attitude, so when I see online that apparently we Canadians have it too, I was a bit befuddled. To use the same example, when someone drives by in a nice car, maybe revving their engine a little, I don’t think it’s common for people to react as strongly as they do here. Sure, depending on how ostentatious the guy’s being, we might giggle a little and roll our eyes a bit at how he’s showing off, but it’s been pretty rare to see the kinds of character judgments and hard edge to the criticism that you see here in Australia. On a broader scale, in Canada you see little of the anti-intellectualism common in Australia, and people often strive to do their best with little thought given to whether they’ll seem arrogant or distant for doing well.

So in my opinion, I think largely the idea that Canada has much in the way of Tall Poppy Syndrome is more to do with lumping us together with other Commonwealth countries. If anyone reading this has any ideas about the concept, though, I love to hear them 🙂

indoctrination

So I was doing a little early-morning reading and came across this article from the BBC. Essentially, first they outlawed teaching creationism in state-funded schools, then they made sure their purposes couldn’t be circumvented by also putting it into law that one has to teach evolutionary theory as well-supported fact. I have to say I was rather surprised at the number of positive responses this legislation was receiving. The majority of comments, blog posts & the like regarding this are applauding the success of these laws… but frankly I think they’re a little nuts for saying so. Continue reading