I recently started watching a wonderful Cartoon Network show that premiered in 2013 called Steven Universe. It follows the young, titular character—a half-human, half-magical anthropomorphic gem—protecting the universe with his three guardians (each full-fledged gems) while learning how to harness his latent abilities. It deals with some really raw stuff. Steven often struggles with not getting to know his deceased mother, with his companions recalling heart-wrenching memories. One of his friends secretly believes her own creation was a mistake. It’s also incredibly progressive. The influential role models in Steven’s life are mostly women, with his guardians portraying strong female characters. The overall cast boasts a healthy amount of diversity within its relatively small setting. As a cartoon that pays such careful attention to real-life social issues, it’s hard to imagine that it was created for anyone other than the growing adults in tune with these issues; at least, that’s what the internet would have to believe. “It’s not a kids’ show,” the older audience cries. “It deals with mature stuff that kids can’t understand,” they’ll overanalyze.
In my experience of following magical girl anime and superheroes covered head-to-toe in plastic and spandex on a weekly basis, the comments I usually end up hearing from older fans are about how episodes can be too childish or that certain seasons are better than others because they have darker tones. Steven Universe falls victim to this as well, with the adult audience arguing that it’s too intelligent and emotional for kids and claiming that it’s a cartoon for adults aired on a children’s prime time slot.
Well, to that audience, I give a hopeful and loving “shut the hell up.”
While I agree that the show is outstandingly clever and definitely pulls at some heartstrings (It’s made me cry 2-3 times so far), I’m not exactly for the argument that it’s not a kids’ show. To me, that’s a silly defense that adult fans tend to fall back on to try and justify their older selves watching Cartoon Network before Adult Swim is on. When I hear things like that, it almost makes me feel like the people saying such things are ashamed of the show they claim to enjoy, and are afraid to be associated with a children’s show at their age. And if you’re ashamed of something, are you really enjoying it? If you have to explain why you like something by making it something it’s not, it’s only a distortion of the show made to work around apprehensions of watching something outside a demographic.
My advice to any adult that feels that way about Steven Universe, or any kids’ show they happen to enjoy: embrace it. Embrace everything about this thing that some of your colleagues will dismiss as beneath them. Don’t worry about being too old for something. Cling to the moment when Pearl stifles tears over the lingering memory of her dear friend and mentor long gone. Welcome Steven rapping about his favorite ice cream sandwiches. Stop trying to separate the deeper moments from the childish moments, because enjoying something means accepting it wholly. Steven Universe is always going to be a kids’ show, no matter how many people suffer existential crises within it, and there’s nothing wrong with that. In the end, they’re still just the Crystal Gems and they’ll always save the day.
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