"Steven Universe" (SU) is a fairly recent "Cartoon Network" show that’s gained a lot of traction in its online fandom, and especially with queer people who are arguably older than the show’s intended audience. I’ve started binge-watching this summer and while I find it charming, poignant, and chock-full of much-needed LGBT and QPOC representation, the fandom worries me. I feel like it’s my responsibility as a queer consumer of "SU" to remind my fellow fans of ways to ethically consume the show, without turning it into a My Little Pony situation.
1. Keep your voice down.
I’ve seen a lot of situations where fans will tweet the producer of the show, Rebecca Sugar, or react angrily to episodes via social media. I understand the pain that comes with a plot twist that doesn’t make sense, but this is exerting a privilege that many 8-11 year olds don’t have - access. If the “crewniverse” begins catering its content entirely to older people, then the target demographic of the show will shift entirely. Edging kids out of media meant for them is unfair and potentially dangerous, as evidenced by the My Little Pony fandom. Once meant for little girls, it became increasingly popular to older (mostly) white men, and now you can’t safely Google the show without seeing some sort of sexualized content.
2. Discuss the show in an accessible manner.
I love the "Steven Universe" fandom’s creativity and excitement in connecting themes throughout the show, especially on Tumblr. However, sometimes the theories and discussions can nose-dive into the land of queer theory, where terms like “heteronormativity” are bounced around effortlessly. I think this sort of thinking can be invaluable, but in the proper spaces. It can be incredibly alienating to people without a proper queer studies toolbelt, and academic discourse is far from reach for younger kids. The issues brought up on SU are rich and nuanced, from abuse, to queer relationships, to multiple meanings of family, but instead of convoluting these ideas, fans should use more clear language when discussing them, especially on open forums.
3. For the love of everything, do not consume or produce SU porn.
This has been my biggest fear since watching the show – that older fans would immediately sexualize the three feminine-presenting characters (that are actually non-human entities, but whatever). Not only is this completely removing the characters from their context and reproducing it for the male gaze, it’s opening up kids’ exposure to sexually explicit imagery in an unsafe and nonconsensual way.
I’m going to keep binge-watching "Steven Universe" throughout the school year, but I hope that keeping these reminders on hand for other older fans will help remind them that first and foremost, this cartoon should be safely enjoyed by kids.