In the thirteenth episode of the fourth season of Steven Universe, the Homeworld Gems are so fucked up, y’all. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Steven Universe.
Trigger Warning: For discussion of abuse, consent, racism, and human zoos. (Honestly, I swear.)
I had a painful and distressing experience in Paris a couple summers ago. I managed to visit the Musee d’Orsay for the first time, something I’d wanted to do for many, many years. I cried in the room full of the Impressionists, particularly Van Gogh’s work. And on my way out, I passed Ernest Barrias’s The Alligator Hunters, a stunning sculpture that grabbed my attention for its dramatic composition. I read the placard next to it â€“ as I do whenever I’m in a museum I LOVE LEARNING THINGS â€“ and was utterly blown away by how soft it was on the concept of human zoos or human menageries, displays at state and international fairs across Europe and the United States that acted as, in one sense, justification for colonization. I’d learned about them in AP European History, and I’m thankful that my teacher that year did not shy away from the ugly, horrific things that Europe did over the years. (Despite that our textbook wasn’t very critical of these same exhibits.) I understood that the work was created in a specific time, and yet, I still felt the description of the sculpture focused on the technical magnificence of the work and not the fact that IT WAS A SCULPTURE OF AFRICANS IN A HUMAN ZOO, FIGHTING FOR THEIR LIVES. (And as far as I remember, Barrias couldn’t even bother to be specific about where in Africa these people came from; they were just ambiguous, stereotype-laden “Africans.” THANKS.)
I’m opening with this because I felt it was impossible to talk about “Gem Heist” without reminding everyone that human menageries are not an invention of Steven Universe. If you think they’re fucked up here in the show â€“ and they most certainly are â€“ then you’re not even ready for the actual reality. (Hence the trigger warning. It’s monstrous, and I wanted to warn you.) So why go there? Why introduce the Human Zoo? There’s a telling scene in the midst of this surreal nightmare where Holly Blue Agate speaks openly of Blue Diamond’s mercy. In the buildup to that exchange, we play witness to the horrifying hierarchy in this place. Holly smacks the two Amethysts repeatedly and speaks to them like they’re garbage; she insults Ruby; she treats Pearl like… well, like the servant class she expects her to be. Everything we see here is a demonstration of the social strata of this world, and it’s relentlessly uncomfortable. It’s supposed to be, and I appreciate that the show makes it very clear that this behavior is unacceptable. The characters say it out loud â€“ like when Ruby angrily decries Blue Diamond â€“ or they express their distaste with facial expressions. (Spoiler alert: this is how you write bigoted language or behaviors into your work and still include criticisms of said behavior within the text.)
It’s just so appalling to me to see how casual Holly Blue Agate is throughout this episode in regards to their own violence. The same goes for how she speaks of Blue Diamond with reverence in her voice! Like, I would never classify Blue Diamond as anything other than terrifying. But mercy? Blue Diamond is kind and gracious and merciful because SHE KEPT A HUMAN ZOO OPEN?
Obviously, it’s a matter of perspective; the Gems have always had such a hardline policy on humans, and they probably would have shut the zoo down and killed all the humans once Pink Diamond died. But to them, Blue Diamond’s “memorial” to a fallen comrade comes off as mercy. Of course, it’s anything but merciful! After watching the dehumanizing “assimilation” process, it’s clear that there’s no real mercy offered to the humans in the Zoo. I’m just glad the show is openly addressing this because I got real worried, especially after the whole Bismuth fiasco, that we were supposed to feel sympathy for Blue Diamond when she’s demonstrably worse than Bismuth.
I don’t feel this at all, and I hope that the next episode continues to show that this Zoo is immoral and wrong. WHICH SCARES ME. Like… what if Blue Diamond finds them? What if she realizes that the rebel Crystal Gems have infiltrated the Zoo? HOW ARE STEVEN AND GREG EVER GOING TO ESCAPE?
Goddamn, this arc is so stressful. WHAT HAVE YOU ALL DONE TO ME.
The video for “Gem Heist” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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