I’ve been having a rough summer. My career isn’t where I’d like it to be. A shoulder injury has kept me from going to the gym as much as I’d like and also forced me to stop crocheting. The air is actively trying to kill us. And I’ve been terribly lonely. I have amazing friends and a wonderful family, but I don’t have a partner and the cats aren’t really interested in picking up the slack and sometimes the longing can be a lot. So I’ve been wrapping myself up in Steven Universe like a security blanket. You know, like healthy adults do.
Steven Universe is a cartoon on the Cartoon Network. Each episode is 11 minutes (15 with commercials) and Cartoon Network airs 1-2 hours of reruns every day. The premise is that somewhere around 6,000 years ago, these alien beings called Gems (they are literal stones with the ability to project the illusion of bodies) came to Earth and tried to colonize it for their own purposes. Some of the Gems (the Crystal Gems) saw that there was already life on Earth and what they were doing would destroy that life. The Gems in charge were all “organic life has no value to us,” and so there ended up being a huge war and eventually the rebels won. There are only a few left (that’s another long story) but they hang out, protecting Earth and cleaning up the damage from the war. One of them, Rose Quartz, fell in love with a human man and they ended up having a kid. But since her body was only really an illusion and the essence of her life is in her gem, when she had a baby and her gem transferred to the baby, she ceased to exist. So now that little boy, half human and half alien, is being raised by his dad and the remaining Crystal Gems who mourn his mom and also protect the planet and clean up from the war. And also there’s singing.
It’s kind of a heavy show. There’s an ongoing meta-joke where Steven’s favorite show is a cartoon called Crying Breakfast Friends and everyone he shows it to doesn’t understand what’s appealing about watching a bunch of characters crying. This often precedes an event that causes multiple characters to start crying. And me. I start crying. Not always. But sometimes. And sometimes I laugh, too, because the show can be wickedly funny. It explores a lot about relationships and class issues and how complicated life can be. But it does it in a way that’s cathartic.
And then something happens like an artist for the show gets bullied off of Twitter by some fans. And… it’s just… the most INSANE story. Basically, one of the themes the show explores a lot is same-sex relationships, because all of the Gems present as female. While romantic relationships seem relatively rare in their culture, they do happen, and at least half of the relationships on the show are same-sex. One group of fans likes to “ship” (imagine that two characters are romantically involved, literally “relationshipping”) two of the tertiary characters, Peridot and Lapis. They tweeted this to the artist, and she was like, “oh, ha ha, that’s cute” and drew them a little picture of the two characters. Not doing anything, just being in the same place at the same time. But for some reason this acknowledgment INFURIATED this other group of fans who were shipping Peridot and Amethyst, who is one of the main characters, and they went off on the artist about how she was queerbaiting them (in this case, by somehow promising a relationship the show had no intention to deliver on) and harassed her into quitting Twitter.
So, first, to just state the facts: neither of these particular relationships are established or even hinted at in the show. The characters all know each other and Peridot and Lapis are recent roommates because otherwise they would be homeless, but there is zero indication of anything romantic between any of them. (Lapis actually just got out of an abusive relationship, but again, long story.) There are other established same-sex relationships on the show, so we know what those look like and how they’re established. Fandoms love to put characters together for themselves (South Park explored this hilariously in Tweek x Craig) but that has nothing to do with anything the show actually does. For instance, there’s an episode where Amethyst is helping Steven’s dad, Greg, clean up his storage space and tells him, “I’ve seen your junk before.” I heard someone posit a theory that Amethyst and Greg were once commiserating over losing Rose Quartz and became intimate. Amethyst tried shapeshifting into Rose Quartz (she shapeshifts a lot) to seal the deal, but this freaked Greg out and he put a stop to the whole thing. I could totally see that being a thing that these characters would do, so I’ve accepted it into my head canon. If the show specifically refuted that, that refutation would be canon, which trumps my head canon. What I think happened has no bearing on what the show says happened, and what they say wins. Fighting that is stupid, and I would lose. Taking someone from the show down with me would just be petty and mean.
A lot of people involved in any show production have vibrant Twitter personalities. Personally, I find I just don’t think in 140-character bon mots and mostly use Twitter to find out what the local Trimana has on special for lunch. But many showrunners talk about being able to engage with fans and how wonderful it is. Networks and studios like being able to tout the social media reach of their show creators and stars. But I’m not sold on the value of that particular reach, when it emboldens a small community of people with not nearly a strong enough grip on reality to be assholes at you. Will I ever become more active on Twitter? Possibly, if I have to. But stories like this don’t make it more likely.