The Life and Lessons of "Steven Universe"

The world has changed in a number of ways in the last several years. People and ideas are being allowed to be expressed in new ways throughout media. With this acceptance comes a need to teach it to children so that they can carry on these ideas. And that’s where Steven Universe comes in.

Steven Universe is a Cartoon Network show by Rebecca Sugar centered around the character of the same name. It features Steven Universe, the child of an alien woman and human man, and his many adventures with his family fighting all sorts of threats. Many people are attracted to the strong messages that it teaches children, getting it an audience of both the young and old. Beware of spoilers ahead as I lay out some of the various topics Steven Universe touches upon.

Gender

Many of the characters in Steven Universe are of an alien race called Gems. They’re essentially space rocks that emit a bright light that forms their outer body. They have no reproductive organs unless they choose to shapeshift and thus have no version of sex. And as an alien species, the Gems have no concept of the gender binary. Most Gems use she/her pronouns with the only exceptions being Steven and the occasional fusion that uses they/them. All of this is just one really long way of saying that gems mainly are non-binary women, like their creator Rebecca Sugar. The representation of this gender identity is rarely seen, if ever. It’s important for kids to see strong examples of different genders so that, if they identify in a similar way, they can feel validated.

Steven Universe also says “no” to gender roles. Steven is shown multiple times to perform feminine acts such as wearing dresses without it being played off as a joke. Most notably is the ending scene of episode 17 of season 2, “Sadie’s Song,” where Steven wears a sparkly two-piece dress and high heels and performs a pop song in front of the entire town. The entire scene is played straight - no one laughed or made fun of Steven for his appearance or actions. It promotes the idea of being able to express your interests or dress however you please without the threat of ridicule.

Relationships

Steven Universe has a unique way of showing relationships. The show utilizes the idea of fusion, where two gems, and the occasional human, combine their bodies and minds into one singular being. There are multiple different combinations of the gems that can create many different fusions, each showing their own type of relationship.

The main fusion of the show is Garnet. Garnet is the fusion of the gems, Ruby and Sapphire. Unlike many of the other fusions in the show, Garnet chooses to stay fused for the majority of the time. It isn’t until episode 52 of season 1, “Jail Break,” that the audience finds out that she is a fusion. Garnet represents a romantic relationship. Ruby and Sapphire are in deep romantic love, sharing kisses and holding hands every time they are unfused. They are shown to be the perfect relationship if a little dependent. Pearl once told her, in season 2 episode 15, “Friend Ship,” “You're perfect... You're the perfect relationship... You're always together.” One of the most important things to note about all of these relationships is since most gems use she/her and are of essentially the same sex, all of the fusions, except the ones with Steven, are same-sex relationships.

Platonic love, such as the love between two friends or siblings, is shown through the fusion of Smokey Quartz. Smokey Quartz is the fusion of Steven and Amethyst. Their relationship throughout the story is shown to be similar to that of a big sister and little brother, dragging each other into trouble and pulling each other out. Relationships, as well as fusions, can stretch beyond two people. The fusion of Fluorite exemplifies the idea of a polyamorous relationship. Fluorite is the fusion of six different, unidentified gems. Like Garnet, she chooses to stay a fusion a majority of the time.

Even abusive relationships are represented in Steven Universe. Malachite is the fusion between the gems Jasper and Lapis Lazuli. Unlike the other fusions, Malachite is joined together through negative emotions. They both are using each other when they are fused. They represent a terrible manipulative relationship that hurts both people. Garnet said about their fusion in episode 10 of season 2, “Chille Tid," that it “is unstable, bound together by anger and mistrust.” Luckily they un-fuse, and Lapis starts getting help from the other characters for the trauma she suffered as Malachite.

Similarly to the representation of gender identities, the representation of different relationships, especially same-sex relations can help children realize the validity of their feelings. This includes abusive relationships. By seeing it on screen, it can help viewers realize when they’re in a similar situation and help them know how to get out.

Parenting & Family

The only relationship not shown through fusion is the relationship between a parent and child. Steven Universe also takes time to show the validity of multiple different types of family situations. The character Sadie has a single, working mom. Her coworker, Lars, has the typical married, opposite-sex parents. Their friend Sour Cream has a mom, a stepdad, and a half brother. The Pizza family consists of a father, teenage twin girls, and their grandmother. Steven himself has probably the most unusual family situation being raised by his father and then three women who have no biological relation to him.

Steven Universe takes time with each family to show how its dynamics work and what effect that has on each of the kids. Each family has at least an episode dedicated to them and their relationship. The whole town has a lot of development and character than other shows would give. The representation of these different kinds of families can mean a lot to kids with unusual family structures.

Violence & War

Steven Universe has action and a lot of it. Each Gem has the ability to create their own, individualized weapon which they use to fight whatever enemy they might encounter. While the other Gems have weapons such as spears or whips, Steven has a shield. He can expand his shield to cover multiple people and can encase people completely. Another important ability of his is the ability to heal others, both Gems and humans. Nothing better sums up the show’s stance on violence than a healer as the main character.

Steven Universe, both the character and the show itself, does their best to try and talk out problems and fix them rather than resorting to violence. Once Steven learns about his healing powers, he tries to use it to heal the corrupted gems that are hurt mentally and physically in a way that causes them to be violent. It deals with pacifism in a way that doesn’t shun the necessity that violence might be an option. It simply pushes communication over violence to solve problems but isn’t afraid to show that sometimes talking doesn’t work.

Mental Health

With all of the events that happen in Steven Universe, memories of what was loved and lost will often haunt the characters. This is shown most clearly in the evolution of the character, Lapis Lazuli. As stated before, Lapis was part of an abusive fusion with Jasper. She was also introduced by being freed from a mirror prison in season 1 episode 25, “Mirror Gem.” Both of these events caused her to have a deep-seated lack of trust in others and gave her symptoms similar to depression. However, the show goes through great length to depict how Lapis is improving and moving forward. It gives the audience hope and promotes the message that things can get better.

There are also scenes that show Steven and how he copes with everything around him. Everything that he learns about his mom and the world around him adds pressure. Season 4 episode 4, “Mindful Education,” explains his feelings and how to handle them, or at least begin to. The song of the episode, “Here Comes A Thought,” goes with the message of not focusing on past mistakes or trauma but not repressing it either. As a character, Connie, says in the episode, “You have to be honest about how bad it feels so you can move on.” It’s not a solution to the issues but it’s a starting point and often that’s what people need.

All of these messages and ideas create a beautiful world that both kids and adults can learn from. The topics are discussed in unique ways that make it easy to understand. Throughout the show, it can be seen how much the creators want these messages to be seen. Added with Steven Universe's ever-growing popularity, it can only be hoped that more and more shows can have the same amount of creativity and genuine passion in promoting messages that can better the world as a whole.