In the forty-seventh episode of the first season of Steven Universe, Steven teams up with Buck to promote his dad’s new business, but it does not go as he thought it would. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Steven Universe.
This is such a great episode to be paired with “Open Book” because it’s about how people choose to engage with art. Steven is shocked by how Buck behaves in “Shirt Club” because… well, I hate to use Buck’s words, but he’s naïve. He’s never met someone who appreciates something due to irony. Thus, he assumes that Buck’s interest in his flyer promoting Greg’s guitar lessons is genuine. And why wouldn’t it be? Steven’s a literal guy most of the time, so when Buck expressed interest, he didn’t pick up on Buck’s ulterior motive.
Now, Buck isn’t intentionally cruel here; he just assumes that Steven’s on the same wavelength as him. And lord, it’s heartbreaking because Steven’s flyer is so cool and heartfelt and sincere, and Buck makes it out to be an ironic joke so that he can seem on the cutting edge of what’s cool. There’s a part of me that will always see “Shirt Club” as an anti-hipster story, then, since it’s about people who dilute the meaning of things or appropriate them in ways that harms the original artist. If you’ll allow me to take things way too seriously for a second: THIS IS WHY CULTURAL APPROPRIATION MATTERS. I don’t think this episode is even necessarily a direct metaphor for that phenomenon, but what it has given me is a great way to point out how appropriation can be harmful!
Think of it this way: Buck appropriates Steven’s design. And even if he just wants to make it cool, even if he appreciates it on an ironic level, he is the one who receives the credit for it. No one thanks Steven for drawing it. And as Buck gets more and more popular for it, how many people actually visit Greg and get lessons from the shirt? Is there any material wealth passing in his direction? Yes, Buck doesn’t sell the shirts, which is good, but the metaphor still works. Greg doesn’t see any positive from the shirts aside from people thinking he’s brilliant and hilarious – ironically, of course.
There’s a happy ending here, which is great! Steven’s “revenge” – which is both a super hilarious and super disturbing sequence that evokes SNIPER ATTACKS ON POLITICIANS – allows Buck to see how genuine statements of art can be just as powerful as ironic ones. His dad cries! Buck cries! Emotions! (Does Mayor Dewey just keep winning every mayoral election, only to then immediately start campaigning for the next election? Seems so.) And Buck realizes there is a value in Steven’s interpretation of art, too. ALSO: I WOULD TOTALLY TAKE GUITAR LESSONS WITH GREG.
Bonus: “I’ve been shirt!” is the best pun I have seen from this show. AMAZING.
The video for “Shirt Club” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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