Mark Watches ‘Steven Universe’: S01E52 – Jail Break

In the fifty-second and final episode of the first season of Steven Universe, I am made of love, and it’s stronger than you. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Steven Universe

Trigger Warning: For talk of homophobia and abuse.

It’s hard not to overstate the importance of this, but it means something to me that might not be the case for others. I’d like to think that the Mark Does Stuff universe is one big expression of empathy itself: What’s it like to see the world through someone else’s eyes? How do my experiences affect the things I consume? For the past seven years, I’ve tried my best to explain myself, to give people an insight into what it’s been like for to be me. That’s a challenging and scary thing to embark on, and I still recall how frightening it was for me to open up about my life while I was reading Twilight and, even more specifically, Harry Potter. But I found a power in honesty, even if that honesty exposed my raw edges to the world, if it made me look bad, if it reminded me of my cosmic loneliness, if it forced me to admit that I’ve survived through a lot.

And at the center of it, I just wanted to be loved and appreciated. Like, if I could step outside of my own life and analyze it like a story, like another work of fiction, I’d posit that the character of Mark desired affection more than anything else. I’ve spoken to a lot of abuse victims over the years – many because of my writing – and a lot of share the sentiment: We felt like we were given so much love to share with the world, and yet, none of it was shared with us. That disparity could fuck anyone up.

But my desperation was complicated further because I liked boys, because I couldn’t find the affection or love I wanted in a way that made others happy and comfortable. And really, it was about other people. My mother didn’t want to raise a gay son. My father wanted someone who was more masculine. My friends were terrified of the idea that I secretly harbored crushes on all of them. My godfather’s father believed that I would infect his kids with my disease. My counselors believed that I was the sole cause of all the bullying directed my way. My priest didn’t want me to influence other people, so he offered to send me to a camp to get ride of my desires. (This was prior to conversion therapy camps being outlawed in California.)

Thus, my loneliness grew. It expanded exponentially over the years, and I began to yearn for companionship so much that I obsessed over it. When I was outed after high school, it reached a peak. I watched friends refuse to walk on the same side of the street as me. I had to unplug the phone because the calls had gotten so bad. And in the aftermath of that disaster, I found some hope, some people I could turn to and rely on, and I began a dangerous slide into unhealthy contact.

It’s a common thing for a lot of queer folks, but I’ve known many gay men who experienced such a drought of love and affection that they threw themselves at other people once they could. While I made a ton of terrible decisions in my early twenties, I don’t view that time as something I necessarily regret. No, I look on myself with understanding: I just wanted someone else to love me.

*

I’m going to compare Steven Universe to another popular series, but bare with me. There’s a point here. This show has done what J.K. Rowling wishes she did with Harry Potter. Over the course of the first season of Steven Universe, there have been a select group of themes, motifs, and tropes employed that combine to give us Steven himself. I’ve repeatedly praised his kindness, his empathy, his willingness to care for others. All of that is important because Steven Universe has a huge heart. He loves and cares for practically everyone he meets. And I don’t use that flippantly; he truly loves so many people. Connie; the Pizza family; the Fry family; his father; the Crystal Gems. Rose’s love for her son, for Greg, and for all of humanity is the basis for the story told this season. The Gems love for Rose is what compelled them to raise Steven, who they love completely and wholly. Greg’s love for his son has made him a tender and respectful father.

Everything in this show is about loving your fellow human. Everything. Even the creatures and beings that are hated or misunderstood by others are loved by Steven, including corrupt Gems and Lapis. Steven believed the best of Peridot, despite that they threatened Earth. That’s his first instinct: love.

Earlier this season, Steven formed Stevonnie with Connie out of love. (I’LL ARGUE THAT UNTIL THE END OF TIME.) I’m now remembering just how thrilled Garnet was at that specific fusion, and it all makes sense. She is a perpetual fusion made entirely out of love. Of course she would love Stevonnie! But that fusion is not a sleight-of-hand or a metaphorical reference. The two gems that make up Garnet – Sapphire and Ruby – love one another. SAPPHIRE KISSED RUBY. She did not just hug her and say she loved her; she expressed physical affection.

Then, she sings. Look, the decision to have an entire end-of-season climactic fight take place during a musical number is brilliant all by itself, but I’m going to latch on to that song for a different reason. This is canonical. This is not a mistake or an accident or a wink-wink, nudge-nudge from the creators. That entire song that Estelle sings beautifully is about how much Ruby and Sapphire love one another, how they are stronger and more powerful together, how no matter what Jasper does, they cannot be torn apart. They are meant to be together and they are better together.

It’s real. That’s the distinction I want to make here in invoking Harry Potter. For an entire series built on the healing, protective power of love, Rowling has been unable to once give her audience a canonical example of love that isn’t between a heterosexual couple. In fact, the one “gay” relationship happened off the page and resulted in the near-corruption of Dumbledore. If love is so powerful, if love is so important and vital, then why does only one group of people get to see positive representations of it?

*

Why did you give me so much desire
When there is nowhere I can go to offload this desire?
And why did you give me so much love in a loveless world
When there is no one I can turn to
To unlock all this love?
And why did you stick me in self-deprecating bones and skin?
Do you hate me?
Do you hate me?

– “I Have Forgiven Jesus” – Morrissey

*

There are days when the words “diversity” and “representation” bore me, when they feel so trite that they’re meaningless. To some people, they’re buzzwords, hashtags, movements, ways to make them feel progressive and meaningful. It is an odd thing to have people reference you and your identity in the abstract, and I mean that from all sides of the issues. I despise it when I see people decry diversity in fiction by trying to claim that writers just use checkboxes to assign characters random traits just for the appearance of diversity. You’ll see these same people claim that queer disabled latinxs cannot possibly exist, that they’re just created for the sake of being PC and modern.

And yet here I am.

I despise it when I see people from dominant or majority cultures/groups speak about their own work, their hand patting themselves on the back so hard that it drowns out everything else. They talk about how they totally wrote this awesome new queer character, and their identity doesn’t even matter, it’s just a casual thing that is brought up once and doesn’t affect anything! Aren’t they so progressive and wonderful because they wrote a character whose identity affects absolutely nothing in their world?

And yet here I am.

Representation only matters if it is achieved through honesty and grit, through empathy and commitment. I don’t give a shit if a character is queer or non-white if they’re still in the background; I don’t care if a character is a lesbian and disabled if they’re later killed off so that the straight characters suddenly understand how bad their antagonist is; I don’t care if you’ve written a Latinx protagonist if they’re full to the brim with stereotypes and misconceptions. How we represent people who have been historically excluded from positive depictions of themselves in fiction is just as important as the representation itself.

That’s why Garnet matters so much. That’s why this is so important. Someone is going to watch “Jailbreak” and see the joy in Ruby and Sapphire. Someone is going to see the way they rush to one another’s arms, the way Sapphire kisses Ruby’s cheek, the way they declare their love, and they are going to realize that the way they feel about someone else is okay. They are going to recognize that love should be celebrated. They might even have a new tool to fight back against all the garbage, all the hatred, all the nonsense they’ve been told about how their feelings and urges are wrong and disgusting. If they’re so gross, then why can Ruby and Sapphire save the world? If they’re so unnatural, then how can Ruby and Sapphire fit so perfectly together?

Garnet saved the world, all while singing about the power of love. She is made up of the love of Ruby and Sapphire, and no one can take that away from her.

*

It is fitting that this is being posted the same day as my review of “Far Beyond the Stars,” which goes up later today. I am here. I am human. I am Latinx, and I love my boyfriend. You cannot take that away from me.

The video for “Jail Break” can be downloaded here for $0.99.

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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