Thursday, August 27, 2015

The Characters We Need, In Their Own 'Universe'

With everything I create, I always think about the implications of my work and the affect I want it to have on my audience. This week, as we develop characters for our theses, it's important to think about how we can break stereotypes and better represent the diverse world we live in. I recently (as in today) started watching a show on Cartoon Network called 'Steven Universe,' and it is easily the most revolutionary program on children's animation.

Steven Universe is the coming age of a young boy (Steven) who is half human, half alien. As a member of the Crystal Gems, magical defenders of the earth, Steven is given magical powers that he is still trying to harness at the start of the show. His mentors are three power woman named Pearl, Garnet, and Amethyst, who have devoted their lives to defending the earth from the weekly supernatural monster or universe-threatening phenomenon.

Steven Universe is a show that takes it's responsibility to represent diversity very seriously. It's very clear to see that it was created with awareness of the fact that their audience is made up of little kids longing to see themselves as the heroes on screen, and that seeing heroes that look like them would change these kids' lives.

The very first thing that I noticed about Steven Universe was the bodies. And I'm not talking about the Disney princess/Barbie body type. I'm talking all body types. Bodies that look like mine! And yours! In the world of Steven Universe, all sorts of people who look all sorts of ways get to be heroes that you've never seen before. Even the title character, Steven himself, is a chubby little kid with big bushy hair, and no one ever comments on this or calls him fat or tells him that he needs to loose weight or even ever acknowledges it. So Steven is pudgy. Who cares?

And it's not just their diversity in body image that makes Steven Universe revolutionary. The show also pushes gender roles and breaks stereotypes overused in television. The fact that these three strong women are raising this boy while defending the earth is progressive in itself. But each of the gems are far from perfect and come with their own set of flaws. Just like you and me!

This is just the tip of the iceberg and I'm sure I'll expand on this show's groundbreaking diversity later in the semester. Steven Universe is one of the most positive, progressive shows on television and you should probably drop what you're doing to start watching now. Season 1 is available on Hulu. Just saying.

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