Steven Universe: Illustrating Conquest for All Ages

Educational animation and the danger of imperialist narratives.

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The horrors of conquest: Homeworld remains depleted of natural resources.

All transcribed audio from the video:

{Steven Universe Episode Transcript: Can’t Go Back}

Steven: (gasps) Lapis?

Blue Diamond: You begged us for a colony of your own.

Steven: The Diamonds!

Blue Diamond: And now, all you want to do is be rid of it. First, there were too many organics, then their cities were too difficult to dismantle, and now, these Crystal Gems? We’re tired of your excuses, Pink.

Pink Diamond: …

Blue Diamond: This Rose Quartz can’t hurt you. You can’t be swayed by a few unruly gems. Enough! You must understand. You…are a Diamond. Everyone on this planet is looking to you. You don’t even have to do anything. Just smile, and wave. Show everyone you are unfazed by this little uprising. Your gems will fall into line, and these Crystal Gems will be no more. As long as you are there to rule, this colony will be completed.

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Is Steven Universe the best animated series of all time?

With my last article, the Marvel of Imperialism I initially wished to take my video in a completely different direction. I wanted to do something lighthearted and free-spirited in tone to break up the monotony of monstrosities that have been a constant on my channel. However, I had an epiphany after the Steven Universe episode of: Legs from Here to Homeworld. The creators of Steven Universe never relent with trauma. Perhaps, I should rephrase that a bit…the creators never relent with the processing and living with trauma. The primary characters of Steven Universe — human and gem alike — have all experienced pain and trauma of various degrees. The show attempts to untangle how each character deals with that trauma and that each person’s healing is singular, profound, and unique.

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The character Pearl on the battlefield reminisces about war, her fallen comrades, and leader.

Thus, I came to a moment of clarity with my channel here at Pop Culture Connections, wherein I’ve been examining media with a Black feminist framework and a socio-political lens…it’s in the description box of every video…but I thought to what end? Well, I came to the conclusion that this work has been dually taxing and revelatory for a reason. To continuously unpack and sift through the media I consume is a cathartic process and I legitimately have fun parceling out the good, the bad, and the ugly of every medium I devour. So, I stay the course and chip away at the media that irks me, hurts me, and infuriates me because I know there are literal gems out there that get pop culture right unflinchingly and revolutionarily well. Which, brings me back to Steven Universe and today’s topic…illustrating conquest for all ages. Steven Universe has resonated with so many audiences globally, because its universal messages of love and trauma have been condensed to a tight well written 12-minute episodic animated structure. This series that seemingly started out cute, fun, a little silly, with layer upon layer of sci-fi, gradually gave us a peek beneath the curtain about the realistic horrors that lie beyond its child-friendly veneer.

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The result of mining for resources on Earth.

{Steven Universe Episode Transcript: Now We’re Only Falling Apart}

Pearl: Is everything alright, my Diamond? You seem troubled.

Pink Diamond: All this life that’s been growing wild here on Earth…none of it will survive my invasion. We’re not creating life from nothing. We’re taking life, and leaving nothing behind.

Pearl: Forgive me, my Diamond. I shouldn’t have brought you to such a place.

Pink Diamond: No. I needed to see this.

Steven: So she did want to protect Earth. She didn’t realize what the colony was doing to the planet.

Sapphire: So what?! She suddenly started to care about Earth? Why did she have to rope us into all this? Why couldn’t she just stop the colonization herself?

Pearl: She tried. When she told the other Diamonds she didn’t want to go through with the colony, they told her to finish what she started. When she told the other Diamonds she wanted to preserve life on Earth, they created the zoo and threw a handful of humans in. She did everything she could as Pink Diamond. But her status meant nothing to Blue and Yellow. So she decided to make a stand, as someone they couldn’t ignore.

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The mural of each Diamond. (from left to right: White, Yellow, Blue, Pink)

Steven Universe had always been leading up to something grand. This was shown throughout the series via the decimation and excavation of the Earth, gem history, gem artifacts, peeling back the layers of the Crystal Gems themselves, the beauty and significance of fusions, and lastly the omnipotent omnipresent Diamond Authority. The process in which the show reveals the Diamonds is masterful. In fact, the way in which each diamond is shown singularly highlights the various facets of the complexity of conquest. The imperialist structure can be conveyed in a multitude of ways in film and animation, but the brilliance of Steven Universe is leaning into the rigidity and conformity of shape and function. Each gem is cast with a societal function designated by their gemstone type and color. The Diamonds who reign supreme are perfection incarnate, without flaw or equal. Blue diamond is shown to be very regal and elegant, with the power of manipulating emotions, yet is shown to be swift and merciless when meting out punishments for insurrection. Yellow Diamond however is shown to be all sharp angles with an austere militaristic design that deplores questions and demands the utmost authority.

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Steven Universe knows how to mesh beauty and tragedy.

{Steven Universe Episode Transcript: Message Received}

Peridot: Wait! I-I wouldn’t have called to waste your time with a report.

Yellow Diamond: You already have.

Peridot: No, I mean… the reason I called… the real reason is… I believe we should terminate The Cluster.

Yellow Diamond: …Why?

Peridot: The organic ecosystem creates resources unique to this world, we can’t sacrifice all that potential just for one geo-weapon! I’d like to tell you some plans I came up with to utilize the planet without disrupting the local-

Yellow Diamond: I’ve heard enough! I don’t care about potential and resources.

Peridot: What?!

Yellow Diamond: I want my Cluster, and I want that planet to die. Just make that happen.

Peridot: …No!

Yellow Pearl: *gasps*

Yellow Diamond: Are you questioning my authority?!

Peridot: I’m… questioning your objectivity! My Diamond.

Yellow Pearl: Well!

Yellow Diamond: You are out of line.

Peridot: I just think -

Yellow Diamond: I’m not interested in the puny thoughts of a Peridot –

Peridot: But -

Yellow Diamond: You have disrespected this channel and my time with your presence and you would do well to -

Peridot: But -

Yellow Diamond: Shut your mouth! You have failed at every stage of this mission. Your only chance to redeem yourself is to obey this simple order. You are to leave the Cluster to grow. It will tear apart the Earth, and I will take immense satisfaction in erasing that hideous rock off of our star maps. Is that clear?!

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The combined attack of Diamonds: Yellow, White, and Blue.

Pink Diamond could be seen as an outlier in comparison to the other Diamonds — the poofs and ruffles of her design almost childlike and non-threatening — but as the series unfolds we learn that she was just as callous and cruel as her fellow Diamonds. And last, but certainly not least, the first gem in fact would be White Diamond…the pulchritudinous enigmatic Alpha of all gem-kind. We have only had the briefest glimpses of her symmetrical balanced visage on murals and one previous flashback in which she assisted Blue and Yellow Diamond with the corruption of the Earth. With the episode’s release of: Legs from Here to Homeworld we have finally reached the frightening blinding introduction of White Diamond. The episode is incredibly tense, for at this moment we are meeting the series epic big-bad-type villain character. The mood in the episode dramatically shifts as soon as we see the state of Homeworld. It is vast, lustrous, and split in twine…crumbling but held together by gravity, two planetary rings, and perhaps White Diamond herself. We have been on Homeworld before in the series, but never greeted with applause and every caste of gem celebrating our arrival. The clamor ceases, White Diamond’s Pearl emerges with her muted color palette, religious evocation W pose on display, and summons Steven directly to White Diamond’s chambers. The moment we have all been waiting for arrives. She finally comes into frame with only her magnificent heels and blinding countenance within eye level. Steven must crane his neck to the fullest to even peer into the face of the most gargantuan being we’ve seen to date on this series. White Diamond is drawn as an entity of pure light and pure terror. Her lustrous design attempts to distract us from the fact that she is the most destructive being in the Universe. Her cape and stature alone evoke the cosmos and the enormity of intergalactic conquest that she singularly has wrought. White Diamond is beautiful in all of her simplicity and intricacy, but we come to grips quickly with how unyielding and exacting White Diamond truly is. Steven is not allowed to speak nor even allowed to see White Diamond for too long. He Is whisked away as quickly as he is brought in.

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Various murals and artifacts show the war that waged for thousands of years on Earth’s surface.

{Steven Universe Episode Transcript: That Will Be All}

Blue Diamond: Pearl, close the door. [Sighs]

Yellow Diamond: Please tell me you’re joking. You only just left, and you’re already back?

Blue Diamond: Yellow! W-what are you doing here?

Yellow Diamond: I’m here to bring you back to reality, Blue.

Blue Diamond: I’m fine. Just leave me alone.

Yellow Diamond: It’s been thousands of years, Blue, and you still can’t bring yourself to destroy these Gems? She was shattered by a Rose Quartz! The entire cut of Gem deserves the same fate!

Blue Diamond: But they were hers.

Yellow Diamond: They should be wiped out of existence, not kept safe in bubbles!

Blue Diamond: Yellow, she made them. This is all we have left of her. These Gems, this place, and the Earth.

Yellow Diamond: I thought we agreed we need to put that planet and this whole debacle behind us.

Blue Diamond: Why can’t you just let me grieve?

Yellow Diamond: You can’t keep coming here forever!

Blue Diamond: Why not?

I applaud the creators, writers, and illustrators of Steven Universe because they have always had to walk upon a tight rope of storytelling. The task they had to undergo seemed insurmountable. The crafting of a story that is not alienating but able to draw in new viewers of every age demographic with the story of a little boy and his fight against the imperial. The series is brilliant in that regard again and again by easing us into Steven’s Universe, by painting an Earth that we recognize, breathing life into humans that we care for and empathize with, and highlighting the peripheral forces outside of our control that wish to do us irreparable harm. I certainly never expected that the show that started with an upbeat song about an ice cream treat, would be sandwiched between an impending sense of doom and dread at the behest of beings composed of light and gemstone — and yet here we are — with White Diamond’s saccharine words laced with threat.

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The blinding illustrious White Diamond.

{Steven Universe Episode Transcript: Legs from Here to Homeworld}

White Diamond: Pink! There you are. Hello Starlight! You certainly gave everyone a scare. They’re all just thrilled to see you safe and sound.

Steven: Um…hi. I -

White Diamond: As for this latest little game of yours…thank the stars it’s over! Did you have fun? Did you get everything out of your system?

Steven: I -

White Diamond: Good, good. Everyone is so relieved. Welcome home, Pink.

Palatable. Palatable is the word that I think fits Steven Universe’s grand design of education about conquest and its ramifications. How do we teach children about the concept of conquest and its conquerors in a way that can be understood and palatable? How do we make palatable a childhood lesson learned when we become adults about the inhumanity of conquest? The answer is simple. Show the world of a place, show the characters that inhabit the world’s place, show the right, the wrong, and the grays of a world’s place, show the pain, the trauma, and the love of a world’s place. And then, truly then you have the makings of a Universe.

Editor: We Are Horror Magazine. Writer: An Injustice, Fanfare, Gayly Dreadful, Haw Creek Horror, Rely on Horror, Something Ghoulish, and SUPERJUMP.

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