Cartoon Network’s “Steven Universe” covers topics such as sexual assault, consent, queer themes, PTSD and unconventional family dynamics under the veil of goofball comedy in a way that does not threaten “childhood innocence,” but creates a child-friendly discussion that adults tend to avoid.
The story revolves around a boy, Steven Universe, who is being raised by his car-washing father and a small, intergalactic rebellion of female aliens called the Crystal Gems. As Steven and the Crystal Gems protect the Earth from outer space threats, the characters face humanizing conflicts that expose both the beauty and hostility of society.
The most memorable dynamic presented in the cartoon is their depiction of queer intimacy. One of Steven’s mother figures, Garnet, is the literal embodiment of the romantic love of two gems. All gems are women and therefore Garnet is the humanoid existence of a consenting lesbian relationship. Garnet acts as Steven’s voice of reason and most responsible mother figure, proving that a queer family (as constructed by two women-gems) can establish a healthy and reliable structure for a child grow alongside.
However, Garnet’s representation of parental figures does not deny the credibility of the single parent. Steven’s father, Greg Universe, is not in a relationship, but still maintains an authoritative and trustworthy hold on Steven’s development. Greg seems to share custody of Steven with the Crystal Gems.
Steven’s birth mother, Rose Quartz, was a Crystal Gem before she “died” giving birth to Steven. This both haunts the Crystal Gems that remain and Steven as they all continue to protect the Earth.
By offering different parental groups that feature both loss and unconventional dynamics, “Steven Universe” offers the most honest depiction of the “family.” This diversity will allow kids that tune in to understand that it is okay for them to love who they love and that they are acknowledged in their own perception of the universe.