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Running head: STEVEN UNIVERSE

Analysis of Steven Universe Using the Social-Conflict Approach


Jenna Bruce
Ivy Tech Community College

Analysis of Steven Universe Using the Social-Conflict Approach


Steven Universe has just recently been added to Cartoon Network. There have been
complaints regarding the shows messages and implications. Burning reviews have surfaced from
critics and parents alike condemning the portrayal of alternative sexualities and parenting styles,
but when observed critically the show gives a new perspective by providing a glance into a
surreal but all too familiar universe. Among the Crystal Gems there is not discrimination based
on power, gender, or class rank. Love is accepted without question, and the characters with the
most power and influence are female. These ideals are directly opposite of reality and the gems
place of origin (Rebecca, 2013). The shows main conflicts are highly comparable to what we are
facing in our society today which is male dominated, defined by class systems, and
discriminatory; the characters prove that inequality can be resolved by demonstrating socialconflict theory.

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Social-conflict theory is a theory that views society as an arena of inequality that


generates conflict and change (Macionis, 2015, p. 18). I have come to think that Rebecca Sugar,
the creator of the series, has used it to give an example of these changes in hopes of making an
impact on society (Rebecca, 2013). The show itself is a sociological lens that allows the audience
to peer into a universe that, besides the magical effects, is much like their own. A sociological
lens is a perspective defined as seeing general patterns of society in the lives of particular
people (Macionis, 2015, p. 28). So theoretically the audience can pick up on these patterns or
conflicts within the show and then use the newfound outlook to make comparisons to their own
society. Awareness of the issues will fuel the conflict which will then result in change according
to the theory (Macionis, 2015, p. 18).
Steven Universe is a cartoon about a young boy that is being raised by three women
named Garnet, Pearl, and Amethyst. These three women are aliens who were allies of his mother
Rose Quartz, who was also an alien. These aliens are from a planet they call Homeworld. They
each have a precious gem embedded in them and they are made of light. So in essence their gems
are their life source, and if their gems are shattered then they die. Otherwise the gems are
immortal and they do not age. Rose was the leader of a rebellion that was against her own race.
The gems invaded earth to use it for making new gems, but Rose felt this was wrong because it
would eventually destroy the Earth. She assembled a rebellion force called the Crystal Gems and
they successfully took back the Earth from Homeworld. Rose saw how beautiful the life on Earth
was and wanted to preserve it. Humans fascinated her with their compassion and the concept of
family. That is why after falling in love with Stevens dad Mr. Universe she decided to give up
her physical form to have Steven. So this is why Steven is the first of this kind, being half human

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and half gem. He inherited his mothers powers including her shield, healing tears, and overall
compassion (Rebecca, 2013).
The founder of social-conflict theory, Karl Marx, mostly focused on class-conflict which
is conflict between entire classes over the distribution of a societys wealth and power
(Macionis, 2015, p. 123). On Homeworld there is a class hierarchy. Some gems have more power
than others depending on what type of gem they are (Rebecca, 2013). This structure is similar to
our economy and its unequal distribution of wealth. The children of the poor usually stay poor
and the children of the rich stay rich. Poorer communities do not have as much resources so their
children do not get to move up the pay scale ladder. This implies that a person is usually born
into their situation except for a few outliers (Macionis, 2015, p. 454). The gems have no control
over their where they stand on the social ladder or how precious their gem happens to be
(Rebecca, 2013).
Diamonds are the most powerful and all the other gems must answer to them. The power
structure filters down from there starting at the most and then going to least precious gem. The
gems with the lowest social standing are pearls. They are considered servants as shown by the
treatment of Pearl by Peridot upon her arrival from Homeworld. Peridot is stranded on Earth and
before she ends up becoming friends with Steven and the gems she still participates in the
hierarchal mindset when interacting with the gems. Garnet is technically considered the leader of
the crystal gems, but since Amethyst is a more precious gem Peridot refers to her as much more
superior than the others. She also treats Pearl as a servant and talks down to her which causes
outrage among the group because they treat everyone as equals. Pearls can be compared with
blue color workers, because they are made to do physical work, and Diamonds are not expected
to do any work other than make the plan about which planet they will invade next. They are

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treated with the upmost respect and nothing they do is questioned. These gems could be seen as
white color workers or even government officials. Peridot actually tries to betray the Crystal
gems to Yellow Diamond, but was dismayed when Yellow Diamond rejected all of her advice
and opinions based upon her fieldwork on Earth. Peridot has the most trouble understanding
Garnet because she is constantly a fusion which is a foreign idea to Peridot (Rebecca, 2013).
Fusion can be explained as, stated by a writer of the show Matt Burnett, A fusion
represents a relationship between the people that form it. And by relationship, I don't mean
strictly romantic (KENNYU4, 2015). Gems are beings of light so they can fuse together to
become stronger to preform practical assignments, which is the main and accepted reason to
fuse. Garnet defies this logic by fusing solely because of love. Garnet is a combination of Ruby
and Sapphire who accidently fused on a Homeworld ship. Ruby was going to be killed because
she is of a lower social standing than Sapphire, so them fusing was forbidden in Homeworld.
They escaped by jumping off the ship and were consequently stranded on Earth. The two gems
ended up falling in love and decided that they always wanted to be fused. This is considered an
abomination in gem society but Rose, the leader of the rebellion at the time, accepted Garnet
(Rebecca, 2013). This represents the acceptance of LGBTQ members by the rebel group and
provides an example for the audience to apply in their own life. The Crystal Gems are a group
that defied the societal norms of their race. Norms are rules and expectations by which a society
guides the behavior of its members (Macionis, 2015, p. 96). They accepted Garnet even though
her existence went against what they had been socialized to believe (Rebecca, 2013).
Socialization is the lifelong social experience by which people develop their human potential
and learn culture (Macionis, 2015, p. 126). Going against your own socialization is something
that is usually quite controversial, but this is how conflict is created and change is achieved.

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Feminism is also a main theme in the series. Feminism is support for social equality for
women and men, in opposition to patriarchy and sexism (Macionis, 2015, p. 381). The majority
of the main characters are female and they are strong and independent. This is quite different
than our patriarchal society. Patriarchy is a form of social organization in which males dominate
females (Macionis, 2015, p. 363). Even the side characters Sadie and Lars challenge the idea of
male dominance. They both work in a doughnut shop, but Sadie in the manager (Rebecca, 2013).
This contrasts with our societys view of women being in powerful positions. The glass ceiling is
the idea that women cannot reach the top or most prestigious positions even when they are
qualified, because men are preferred for those positions of power (Macionis, 2015, p. 369). This
theory is not applied in the show which gives women strong role models. There is also a
possibility that positively representing the situation in now mainstream media will lend a hand in
breaking the ceiling.
The gems are the main influences in Stevens life seeing as they are his moms. A problem
forms around this when Stevens best friend Connie can no longer hang out with him until her
parents meet his parents. So they plan a dinner, but in an attempt to normalize Stevens parenting
situation Garnet, Pearl, and Amethyst fuse together into one large space woman. The fusion turns
out to be unstable and Connies parents find out that Steven has three moms, but they see how
good their parenting is and they agree to let Connie be around Steven (Rebecca, 2013). This
shows that the quality of the parents is much more important than tradition. A conflict formed
because of the social norms regarding parenting, but the conflict ended up being resolved
because they decided to deprioritize tradition. This is a stirring influence for children who have
never seen an alternative family unit. Normalizing this kind of parenting situation and placing

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less emphasis on tradition can lead to significantly less stress and shame on those who happen to
be in that situation.
We live in a patriarchal society where class, gender, and power play a huge role in how a
person is treated and where they will go in life. People are discriminated against based on their
skin color and who they love. These forms of discrimination are very similar to how it is on
Homeworld. Instead of skin color it is gem type and love is only meant to be practical. The show
fights these themes that have been normalized in our society as well as theirs. The Crystal gems
transcended the bonds of their socialization and created an oasis of equality and acceptance
(Rebecca, 2013). This show is a great model for children because it gives them an idea about the
conflicts they will eventually have to face in their own world. The alternative ideas introduced in
the show play a large part in moving our society forward.
While watching the conflicts unfold on screen people can relate them to their own
situations that they have to deal with. This informs the public and creates a desire for change.
When these things are brought to the attention of those who it effects or for those who care a
spark is lit. If the characters created this change and they are portrayed as successful and happy
then people will start to want that for themselves. Questions will start to be asked about why
things are the way they are, and that is exactly what shows like this have set out to do.

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References
KENNYU4. (2015, July 16). Fusion and sexuality in steven universe [Blog post]. Retrieved from
https://thekenpire.com/2015/07/16/fusion-and-sexuality-in-steven-universe/
Macionis, J. J. (2015). Sociology. (D. Musslewhite, Ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.
(Original work published 2015)
Rebecca, S. (Producer). (2013). Steven Universe [Television series]. United States: Cartoon
Network.