I will start this off by saying that I have never once watched a full episode of Steven Universe, only bits and pieces here and there. I have mostly learned what I know about it from cultural osmosis and friends who are into the show. That being said, I have always admired it from afar as a show that encourages progressive thinking about gender and gay relationships.
Thus, I was horrified recently to hear about one of the show’s storyboard artists being chased off of twitter.
The reasons for this perplexed me, to be perfectly honest. From what I’d gathered, she had posted art encouraging a “ship” between two characters that was later encouraged by the show. This apparently led to an explosive response from people against that ship, and accusations of “Queer baiting” for encouraging a relationship that may never come to be.
Now, I’m not that old. But I’m old enough to remember a time when the only instances of gay characters on TV were as offensive caricatures and mocking jokes. I remember growing up reading manga and watching anime, and seeing countless gay characters played up as crossdressers and pedophiles, with no respect for personal boundaries. I remember watching movies that would constantly use “men accidentally kissing men” as a springboard for an awful joke, or just straight-up homophobia.
We’ve had some good examples of representation in media recently, and Steven Universe has helped to encourage more progressive characters in children’s media. But it wasn’t that long ago when such a thing would be unheard of. In fact, it wasn’t that long ago when being gay at all was a crime in some states. Representation is sparse and fleeting, and it’s important to support and encourage what little we can find.
Yet when I see people acting snobbish about representation like this, I just wonder what they expect it’s going to accomplish. Scaring off people who try to bring about representation is not going to suddenly make it better. If anything, it’ll simply prevent others interested in doing the same from doing so, for fear of incurring the same reaction.
That is not to say people should not be critical of representation. But it’s possible to be critical of representation while still showing your appreciation for said representation, and encouraging others to do more like it. I recently wrote about a gay character from a game I liked, and how I appreciated the representation in that game. That doesn’t mean I didn’t have issues with it (I will likely bring those up in a review of the game) but my first priority was to say “this is good. Do more like this.”
Representation is not a dish at a restaurant that you can take a few sniffs of, and then send back because it’s not cooked quite right. It’s a rare thing that should be cherished and encouraged, and politely criticized if necessary. Acting like a snob about it and encouraging harassment campaigns over the tiniest of things is not going to make it better, and is simply going to discourage others from doing the same.
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