Happy Black History Month, dear readers! This month has always meant a lot to me on a personal level. Being a Black person, I’ve witnessed erasure of our achievements, dismissal of our problems, and omissions of us from opportunities. These types of slights often expand into nerd media, where representation is already scant. In that spirit, I want to discuss an issue that makes the existing representation troubling. We need to stop giving non-human characters Black traits to code them as “other”, as alien from the protagonist and audience. These characters, rather than just being another character in a group, are specifically different or strange.
Many of you have seen the Steven Universe episode “The Answer”. Many of you had the same reaction I did which was an unequivocal “this is the sweetest thing ever!” Some of us were surprised (and impressed) that they’d been allowed to “get away” with it, even in a show like SU. But what was it about “The Answer” that was so groundbreaking? It was a seriously cute love story about two immediately likeable characters; a fairy tale romance that was as innocent as it was beautiful. It was also the first fairy tale most of us had ever encountered where the two star-crossed lovers were both female.
If ever there was an example of innocent (and insanely adorable) love in a cartoon, this was it. It’s a storybook romance about an aristocratic seer and an impulsive soldier falling in love and defying the established order to be together, becoming rebels fighting for the survival of Earth in the process. That is the kind of story that seems like it would be a natural fit for a Disney movie. It’s the kind of story kids are exposed to on a regular basis and it’s considered appropriate, healthy, and even necessary. But none of those stories have queer characters, especially not in the leads.
The fact that Ruby and Sapphire are depicted as women is what made this groundbreaking, even though it is the kind of story most kids grow up watching over and over. By featuring two female characters instead of a heterosexual couple, this episode pushed boundaries—boundaries that make no sense to begin with. I mean, this isn’t an Adult Swim show we’re talking about. We’re not seeing or hearing about anything that could be considered remotely explicit; there’s not even a kiss in the episode! It’s a cartoon that no parent would consider objecting to if it told a heteronormative story with the exact same plot and dialogue. The simple fact that the two leads happen to be women made it seem taboo; or at least “edgy”. It often feels like these stories can’t exist in children’s media.
But, like all inclusive stories, the people being included gain while nobody else loses. Everyone who watched got to see a fairy tale romance about two of our favorite characters, and girls realizing that they love other girls got to see that their stories are just as beautiful and inspiring and normal as any other. It is precisely the lack of stories like this that give them the air of controversy and sometimes make them feel… different.
That is what Rebecca Sugar and SU’s other creators attempted to address with The Answer and in adapting it to book form, they have taken an incredible (and incredibly cool) new step in that direction.
Our community here at Lady Geek Girl and Friends is a tight-knit one, and as a majority queer group, we were shaken to our core by the horrible tragedy that occurred a week ago in Orlando. Our deepest sympathies go out to the victims and their families, and we urge those who can to take an active role in responding to it, whether through blood donation, financial aid, or political activism. In the wake of the shooting, the LGBTQ+ community has responded with vigils, with calls to action, and with affirmations of self-worth. Notably among the latter is the #queerselflove hashtag, started by Welcome to Night Vale actor Dylan Marron on Twitter.
The hashtag quickly took off as the wounded queer community took the time to reflect on what made us special and important. In response to a hate crime, we told the world that if it was not going to love us, we were still going to love ourselves. I contributed my own personal #queerselflove to the tag on Wednesday night, but today I’d like to talk about a few of my favorite happy LGBTQ+ people and pairings in pop culture. We’ve spent so many posts recently condemning the treatment of queer people in fiction and this post isn’t meant to erase or negate those. Indeed, the importance of meaningful queer representation is more important than ever in a time when the gays we’re burying are no longer fictional. Queer people need to be able to look to something and see ourselves being happy.
Black History Month is tomorrow! This is a time for celebration, learning, and spotlighting cool stuff in Black nerd culture. I’m excited. In the meantime though, I want to talk about making good characters in our fiction. And because I’m still riding off the adrenaline, here’s another post about Steven Universe and Star Wars: The Force Awakens!
Spoilers for both after the jump.
I may be episodes and episodes behind on… every other show I watch, but I try to keep up with Steven Universe for a few reasons. Firstly, the episodes are really short—it’s not hard to keep up with something that comes in eleven-minute bites. Secondly, it’s one of the most genuinely awesome and unproblematic shows I watch, so I don’t have to go through the mental gymnastics of feminist guilt that come with other shows. Finally, and most importantly, the people I follow on Tumblr fuckin’ love it, and if I don’t keep up I’ll get spoilers as soon as I look at my dash.
That said, this review is a bit late. Con season has started up for me, so I’ve been hot-gluing and spraypainting and sewing like a boss and… not writing so much. So that means it was three weeks ago that the Crewniverse brought its delightful cartoon off hiatus, just in time for its titular character’s birthday, and blessed us with a Stevenbomb—their term for a bunch of new episodes dropping in a week. This mini-marathon of five episodes was just plain awesome in terms of character development, plot advancement, and queer representation, and even this long after it aired, I still can’t stop grinning thinking about it.
Spoilers for the entire Stevenbomb after the jump!
Halloween is right around the corner, so it’s that time of year again where we need to have a discussion about what is or isn’t appropriate to use as a costume. As with cosplay, costumes are a way to have fun and express yourself. However, some lines shouldn’t be crossed. This is not a post discouraging people from doing “sexy” costumes; I’m not one to slut-shame. No, I want to have a discussion about offensive costumes.
This has been a hot topic in the cosplay community recently. I’m sure many of you have seen the now (in)famous picture of a white cosplayer doing a version of Garnet from Steven Universe in which she employed brownface to get a desired “more accurate” version of the Crystal Gem. Although this makes me and others fairly uncomfortable (as did the ensuing non-apology), I’m not here to start a dogpile on someone—different cultures have different understandings of race relations. I’m much more invested in discussing why the action, not the person, is racist and problematic.
I’m not necessarily the best at taking my own advice. So when I said more than a year ago that everyone should be watching Steven Universe, I had intended to follow suit. With the exception of an episode here and there, I unfortunately didn’t get around to watching. In a way, I’m glad for it—I’d much rather marathon a show than wait for weekly updates. With the announcement of Cartoon Network renewing the show for another two seasons, though, dreams of watching it all at once (in the near future) were all but dashed, and I finally sat down to watch the entire series alongside my brother.
We’ve discussed a couple of Steven Universe‘s elements before, all in glowing terms. Today will be no different. As much as I want to gush over Pearl’s unmistakable queerness when it comes to her relationship with Rose Quartz, another underlying theme has caught me off guard with the subtlety and the delicacy with which it was written. Steven Universe is, of course, not the first show to tackle the subject of grief. Yet the way it’s approached in this show is so nuanced that I’m left feeling it in the pit of my stomach long after the episodes have ended.
Spoilers for “Rose’s Scabbard” under the cut.