Since its premiere, Steven Universe has meant a lot of things to a lot of people. The representation of numerous gender identities, sexualities, ethnicities, and creeds has been a phenomenal example of how diversity can lead to better storytelling and has provided many fans of all types with new fictional role models. The recent remarks by former Doctor Who lead Peter Davison, however, have had me thinking about one group that some say is overlooked in discussions of how this diversity is having an impact: straight white men.
Now, before anyone says anything, the reason this group is “overlooked” is that they have occupied a widely disproportionate number of the roles that need to be diversified in the first place; they aren’t overlooked, they’re usually the group being looked at. This demographic is the exact opposite of an underrepresented minority, and the overwhelming number of complaints I see about their exclusion are, as sixth Doctor Colin Baker says in his reply, “absolute rubbish.”
“Straight white male” has been the default target demographic for a wide majority of western mass media in the last century, and that identity is one that is effortlessly validated by a seemingly unending parade of straight white male heroes (even just ones named Chris). There is, IMHO, absolutely no argument whatsoever to be made that straight white men are underrepresented in media, let alone solely within the subgenres of animated kids shows featuring aliens or British time travel franchises. But the result of this debate was that I got to thinking about the nature of what messages these shows send, and how the identity of the messenger can impact the way it is received.
He can show you how to be strong. (screenshot from Steven Universe)
Which, of course, led me to Steven Universe. SU is a show with a straight male protagonist, but also one in which the bulk of the show’s main characters are women and many are (essentially) queer women of color. The show demonstrates both that a straight white male can deliver a highly inclusive message and that characters with a different identity can deliver messages that are particularly important for those same young boys in need of a role model—the same ones that Davison is worried about. By validating that a straight white man can in fact be a messenger for diverse audiences, SU simultaneously demonstrates why straight white men can and must begin to learn more of those messages from messengers of other identities.
(Note: while the racial component to the “default” hero identity is equally important, this article will obviously focus primarily on the gender and sexuality components.)