Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Gender and Mental Illness Through a Kid's Cartoon

The cartoon Steven Universe by Rebecca Sugar may appear like any other children show, but the progressive plot suggests otherwise. Covering topics such as homophobia, rape, anxiety, and the concept of gender, this Cartoon Network series opens the eyes of the viewers to modern society ‘in the real way.’

Most of the characters in the story are a fictional species of alien beings called ‘gems’, the main characters being part of an organization called the Crystal Gems. They are all named after gemstones and rocks found on Earth. Pearl, Peridot, Garnet, Amethyst, almost any gem you can think of has/will appear on the show. These gems have feminine characteristics shown through their hair and clothing, and go by she/her pronouns. But the creator Rebecca Sugar said that she did not intend for the gems to have specific genders. “Gems are Gems!” said Sugar. “Steven is the only male gem because he is half human! Technically, there are no female gems!” With the modern American world beginning to accept the flexibility of gender, Steven Universe gives early exposure of this to its predominantly younger audience. Gender is a topic that many people have valid and true opinions on, representing these opinions through a cartoon gives them an accepting and less stressful connotation.

The gems in Steven Universe are able to do something called ‘fusion’, in which two gems combine to make a bigger and stronger gem. This, in a real world sense, represent love and sometimes can specifically be sex. You can only fuse with someone if you both are open to it. On Homeworld, gems are only allowed to fuse with another gem of their own kind to become more powerful in battle. If one were to fuse with a different kind of gem, the would be banished or killed. One of the Crystal Gems is Garnet, who is a constant fusion of two gems names Ruby and Sapphire. Ruby was a guard to Sapphire and eventually fell in love with her. When they ‘accidentally’ fused into Garnet, their leader Blue Diamond threatened to kill them. Eventually they escape and join the Crystal Gems. They remain fused because it feels right to them, they love each other so much that they never want to be apart. A fusion that contrasts Garnet is Malachite. The Homeworld commander Jasper threatens her prisoner Lapis Lazuli to fuse with her in order to destroy the Crystal Gems. Lapis agrees, but as soon as they fuse into Malachite, Lapis takes control and traps herself and Jasper as Malachite deep under the sea. Many episodes later, The crystal gems find Malachite and frees Lapis. But Jasper begs Lapis to fuse with her again. Jasper said she felt amazing, and believed that Malachite could be the most powerful gem in the world. But Lapis is very scarred and traumatized from the experience, and bravely refuses Jasper. The contrast between these two fusions represents the contrast between a good versus a bad relationship. The younger audience will go through good and bad relationships when they grow up, therefore the show's truthful depiction of these relationships is important and goes unnoticed.

The last true topic shown in Steven Universe is their coverage of mental illness. In a recent episode "Mindful Education", the audience gets to see deeper into the anxiety of Steven and his friend Connie. Connie accidentally hurt a kid at school in the hallway and felt very guilty about it. Steven has also gone through similar, but must worst experiences being a Crystal Gem and having to fight and hurt other gems. Neither one of them wants to talk about/confront their anxieties, therefore they fall apart when they fuse into Stevonnie. Garnet tells them they must think about the bad things in order to move on. They sing a duet called "Here Comes a Thought" in which they calm their nerves together as a fusion. Anxiety can begin at a very young age and can affect someone awfully if they don't deal with it right. Another mental illness hinted at in the show is depression through Lapis. She is real messed up after she is released from Malachite, and has a very pessimistic and sullen attitude. Even before this, she didn't care much for her own safety. But Steven shows her some of the beautiful things on Earth, and she becomes friends with another gem named Peridot who has also had a bad experiences with Jasper. Finding comfort and happiness in the world and in your friends is another true coping method the show introduces to it's audience. These illnesses are often avoided on even adult television, so the fact that Steven Universe chose to cover really justifies how progressive the cartoon is.

Steven Universe is one of the only cartoons that truly captures what it means to live in America. Rebecca Sugar has truly shown how a children's show can still cover real world topics with shoving ideas in their face. I highly recommend this Cartoon Network show, and look forward to how it will continue to cover true topics in the future.


  1. Super strange. I have watched the cartoon before, and i didnt pick up on any of these things. You really drew a clear and concise point.

  2. Compelling observation of a segment of contemporary media. I find your analysis to be all inclusive, relevant, and well proven, to say the least. Such an intricate consideration of potential themes allows me a substantial plateau of understanding to the fascinating structure of the show.