In the forty-sixth episode of the first season of Steven Universe, Steven and Connie write fanfiction with disastrous results. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Steven Universe.
THIS EPISODE IS ME, IT IS MANY OF US, IT IS SO SPOT-ON AND HILARIOUS AND CREEPY AND TOUCHING AND I LOVE IT. Look, if I asked practically any of you to name a book series you were disappointed by, I don’t think it would be that difficult to come up with something. I’ve spoken of my disdain for how C.S. Lewis ended his Narnia books. I’ve gotten in arguments with people about the ending of LOST. (And I still fight that one, not because I need people to like it. Season six is a hot mess, but I am still astounding at how many people just flat out did not understand what I thought was a clear-cut description of the whole thing.) I recall the conversations over the end of Battlestar Galactica or Harry Potter, though in the latter case, Rowling just won’t let that world go, so it’s an ending that keeps happening.
This is what we do. It’s what plenty of folks do, whether they consider themselves fans or nerds or geeks. There are entire websites devoted to discussing works of art in this manner. And then there is fanfiction, the great force within fandom that does exactly what Connie and Steven do in “Open Book.” There are so many reasons to write fanfiction, y’all, and it would do a disservice for me to even to attempt to figure out what they are all. But I know that plenty of you find an allure in fanfiction because it allows fans and consumers to re-write, re-cast, and repair. We may do it for a multitude of reasons, but “Open Book” focuses on Connie’s desire to change the perceived “failed” ending of her favorite series. And I love that this episode acknowledges the idea of investment: Connie invested a great deal of time and money in a series specifically because it subverted all the tropes of witches in fiction.
So what happens when a creator does something that feels completely at odds with their own work? It’s not like there are no examples of that in history, either. Hell, J.K. Rowling is a fantastic example, and both her Pottermore output as well as that trashfire garbage known as Cursed Child stand as stunning demonstrations of willingness to contradict one’s own work. But what does that mean for us? Oh, we can get angry – and trust me, I have yelled at many a convention over the past year about this garbage – but what of this specific thing Connie speaks of? She invested herself in this series; is it fair to feel betrayed by it?
I suppose that has to be something we determine on a case-by-case basis. I felt a loyalty to The X-Files for many years, and when the show finally did an episode based on Latinos and their struggles with immigration, it was a racist mess. I felt betrayed there, and that comes off as something that’s less about entitlement and more about being harmed by something you consume. In Connie’s case, the ending to this series more or less comes down to taste. Connie wanted an ending reflecting the anti-authoritarian tone and nature of the series; Steven, on the other hand, loved the wedding because he valued the emotional relationship that the two main characters had. Thus, the ending served two completely different purposes for these people.
DOESN’T THIS SOUND A LOT LIKE WHAT I TALK ABOUT ALL THE TIME no one should be surprised I loved this as much as I did. Both of these people approached the text differently and got different things out of it. While this is a big part of “Open Book,” there’s another layer to it: Steven’s desire. I completely fell for the trick that Connie had come out of the costume ship, not thinking that everything created in Rose’s room is from Steven’s mind. Thus, the show manages to address a separate phenomenon that comes from consuming fiction: what if you like something everyone hates?
I’ll give an example with a film that is so universally despised that it took me until two weeks ago to find another human being who actually enjoys it: The Village. YES, I KNOW, EVERYONE FIGURED OUT THE TWIST IN THE BEGINNING, M. NIGHT SHYAMALAN HAS MADE TONS OF TERRIBLE MOVIES. But y’all, Unbreakable is the film everyone lauds as his best and you are wrong. IT’S SO BAD. Okay, that’s a completely separate post, but my point is that I deeply understand what it feels like to have an unpopular opinion when it comes to a fictional work. Granted, Steven only deal with one person here, but you know what? He cares so much how people feel about him! He always has! So it made sense to me that subconsciously, he’d want a version of Connie that wouldn’t be mad at the ending that he liked. Of course, that manifests in a DEEPLY DISTURBING WAY, because this is Steven Universe and nothing is safe.
So what does it mean for Connie and Steven’s friendship now that she knows that he likes her? It wasn’t addressed here, but perhaps she just interpreted what her alternate said differently than I did. (See what I did there???) She knows now, though. Right???
Anyway, I adored this episode a lot. I STILL WANT TO READ THIS SERIES.
The video for “Open Book” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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