"Same-sex" in This Instance Not Entirely Accurate
January 7, 2016 4:32 AM   Subscribe

Pink news reports that a recent episode of "Steven Universe" has been censored in the UK to remove some elements relating to same-sex romance.
posted by Ipsifendus (36 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
 
Next they'll poorly re-edit and dub it to portray Ruby and Sapphire as cousins.
posted by Mizu at 5:01 AM on January 7, 2016 [32 favorites]


I've been catching up on this series (it's fantastic) and watched this episode about two days ago. I have no fucking idea what they found objectionable about that particular bit, especially given the context of female characters "fusing" fairly often throughout the series.
posted by Halloween Jack at 5:03 AM on January 7, 2016


Just the recent one? Because there totally hasn't been lesbian undertones in any of the other episodes, no way.
posted by FirstMateKate at 5:07 AM on January 7, 2016 [11 favorites]


How odd. The fusing dances often have an… affectionate element to them (except when done by the offworlder gems). Especially as Ruby and Sapphire are bluntly stated to be a relationship by Steven in one of the more recent episodes.

Wonderful show, btw. Rick and Morty, Gravity Falls, Adventure Time, Steven Universe, and My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic – it's a good time to be following TV animation.
posted by bouvin at 5:40 AM on January 7, 2016 [2 favorites]


I am a 28-year-old lesbian who was raised in a very difficult household. A lot of my coming-of-age angst was caused by trying to reconcile my sexuality with my Christianity and, after dropping the Christianity bit, trying to figure out how to deal with the fallout from my friends and family.

I can't imagine what an amazing experience it would have been for young one of these days to have seen this kind of representation. It definitely would have made me feel a lot less strange and alone.

I nearly cried over this during the motel episode, thinking about how lovely it was to see this especially in a show that is available to young kids. The two little gay aliens were treated like a real couple by the narrative, not a novelty or a tragedy waiting to happen.

So it's a real shame to see that kind of thinking affect this show especially. Young gay kids don't get to see a lot of healthy relationships they can really connect to as it is. The idea that same-sex romance is more scandalous, adult, and sexual than heterosexual romance (even when portrayed relatively innocently!) is so, so destructive.
posted by one of these days at 5:56 AM on January 7, 2016 [40 favorites]


One of the latest episodes is Garnet's "origin story," which is pretty explicitly a love story. (Revealed much earlier in the series.) So it's interesting how they're going to handle that.

But there's a bunch of awkwardness around fusion. For people who have not watched the show, three of characters are shape-changing aliens. Fusion is a process in which two characters combine to become even stronger. In Steven's words, "You can become a giant woman!" An emotional rapport and dancing is supposed to necessary for the fusion to work. (All of this is first-season stuff.)

There's a lot of ambiguity going on though since fusion isn't sex but can be sexualized to different degrees, and something of a mixed metaphor in the subtext. I suspect the scene in question is getting a lot of attention because a love triangle and jealousy are at the heart of it, and the dance is a lot more flirty than comparable scenes.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 6:04 AM on January 7, 2016 [1 favorite]


I'm not completely caught up on this series, but if fusion isn't the most explicit metaphor for sexuality on tv, I'm not sure what is.
posted by Think_Long at 6:48 AM on January 7, 2016 [2 favorites]


This is a really crap decision by Cartoon Network and very disappointing. They seem to be weirdly out of step with other British TV though which makes the "local kids" stuff seem very odd. Certainly the main channels seem to have very little issue with showing gay relationships in mainstream programmes.
posted by threetwentytwo at 6:49 AM on January 7, 2016 [2 favorites]


I would have disappointed to read this story in 1996. In 2016, it's almost nonsensical.
posted by Rock Steady at 7:00 AM on January 7, 2016 [5 favorites]


The weirdest part is that when the UK version cuts away from the two gem-women's faces to Greg Universe, he's rhythmically moving his hand up and down in front of his crotch-region, bracketed by shots of his wide-eyed stare (in the second instance of his face, it's illuminated as if by a TV or computer screen). The same-sex romance has been edited away from presenting the women as subjects in their own right, instead refocusing on the way a male gaze has been titillated by the erotic spectacle of a girl-on-girl dalliance.
posted by Greg Nog at 7:02 AM on January 7, 2016 [14 favorites]


So that'd be basically all of Steven Universe, then, as FirstMateKate pointed out. Jeez.

This makes me so upset.
posted by fiercecupcake at 7:04 AM on January 7, 2016


I've been following this on the SU subreddit (which is much better than the average sub!). Before this happened there was a censorship issue with a French localization, that the fans were successful in getting changed. And I'd be surprised if this was the only other case of censorship; Steven Universe is aired around the world, in dozens of different languages. There are Japanese, Chinese, Russian and Arabic versions, and many others too. I'd be surprised if, among all the versions, there weren't other instances of censorship like this.

For what it's worth, I remarked on Twitter in a comment replying to one of the show's writers along the lines that: fusion is too weird to map cleanly to any human relationship. This makes it interesting and flexible for use as metaphor, but also means that the sexual interpretation isn't always the right one. He gave it a "like" so I guess I was on the right track with that. And in two cases we've seen now, fusion has been entirely accidental.

And indeed, sex is something alien to gems, who don't reproduce naturally, and apparently (on the gem homeworld) there are huge cultural taboos against the fusing of gems of different types, and apparently have social rules against physical contact to avoid this. The Earth-exile Crystal Gems have had, generally, to learn to love, apparently it only rarely comes naturally to them. As Garnet has said, love takes time and love takes work.

Anyway, Steven Universe is the most interesting show on TV.
posted by JHarris at 7:04 AM on January 7, 2016 [10 favorites]


I'm not completely caught up on this series, but if fusion isn't the most explicit metaphor for sexuality on tv, I'm not sure what is.

Fusion works as a metaphor for a lot of things, and what it's talking about isn't always (or even usually) related to sexuality. It does always require consent, which I think is nice and a good lesson to put in a kids' show.

Even Garnet, whose Ruby/Sapphire fusion is primarily about their relationship, recognizes that other Gems' fusions are different from her own (Garnet refers to herself as "a conversation", but sees Stevonnie as "an experience"). There's basically no elements where sexuality plays into the stories of Opal (Pearl/Amethyst), Sugilite (Garnet/Amethyst), Alexandrite (Garnet/Amethyst/Pearl), or Malachite (Jasper/Lapis Lazuli). There's definitely themes of sexuality in the stories relating to Sardonyx (Garnet/Pearl) and Rainbow Quartz (Rose Quartz/Pearl).

I really like fusion's versatility as a storytelling device.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 7:09 AM on January 7, 2016 [5 favorites]


(To be clear, though -- in this case, there does seem to be a romantic element I'd say, beyond just fusion, in Rose and Pearl's dance. And we know that Pearl has long had romantic feelings for Rose, which don't appear to be requited, or maybe Rose's feelings are more complicated. She's been left kind of ambiguous in this regard....)
posted by JHarris at 7:11 AM on January 7, 2016 [1 favorite]


Greg Nog, while I agree with your sentiment.. I feel the need to come to Greg Universe's defense, especially for readers of metafilter who might not watch the show. Greg watched them dance with awe, not with titillation. That the censors choose to substitute him and imply the male-gaze was a disappointing choice, I agree.. but the character himself is not as malicious as you made him sound.

He's a single father, who is supportive of his son's quirky, magical, or dangerous endeavors, and is one of the most grounded characters on the show. Greg is great, the censors - not so much.
posted by INFJ at 7:18 AM on January 7, 2016 [8 favorites]


Okay now that I'm done being flippant at how damn ridiculous this is, I'm fucking pissed.

By saying that same sex content is too explicit for young viewers, they're denying the realities and experiences of the young gay viewers that exist. It's also very, very fucked up to tell young gays "your love isn't appropriate". Gayness isn't an adult experience.

There's a lot at play here that makes lesbian romances (wrongly) seem inherently more sexualized than other romance (even than gay men)-the lack of normal/casual representation, the over-abundance of "lesbian" porn, the sexualization of the female form. And by taking away small, intimate, harmless moments like these it's only reinforcing the idea of "sexy lesbians". It infuriating. It upholds the notion that female sexuality is for the purpose of male consumption.

All of that lends itself to a narrative common among young lesbians that doesn't get talked about enough. The rise of feminism in common culture has more and more people analyzing how women are viewed, the existence of the male gaze, and female sexual autonomy. If you spend enough time either being a lesbian or talking to lesbians, a really common fear is that young lesbians are predatory/share the male gaze/are somehow perpetuating rape culture and misogyny by being sexually attracted to women. Obviously this is utter bullshit, and it breaks my heart to see other young gays have to wrestle these fears without anyone addressing them.

Editing out representation like this just reinforces the idea that lesbians are "dirty" or that their love is somehow less "pure". Its so, so fucking important to show that those relationships are legitimate, and that they're founded through things like consent, communication, respect, and commitment (which is what Steven Universe is trying to do).
posted by FirstMateKate at 7:24 AM on January 7, 2016 [21 favorites]


I do admit, that watching some fusions on this show with my kid (especially the first time Steven fused with his friend Connie) was uncomfortable for me, because as an adult I can definitely see parallels to someone's "first time" romantic awkwardness in general, and physical intimacy.

But does my kid see it that way? Don't know. I decided not to put my own feelings on his experience. It doesn't seem to have made him uncomfortable or caused him any confusion.

Maybe because, unlike the censors, he knows it's a cartoon show about polymorphic space rock aliens.

Given how healthy, honest and loving the relationships that do occur are, I want him to watch it because I want him to see that represented, and have it be not tied to gender. Because that's amazing.

Case in point; there's a story Steven's dad tells about the guy who used to be his manager. The guy teases him for always falling for really tall women (like Steven's mom), joking "You always go for one LARGE woman, when you could have several SMALL ones."

Steven's dad responds disgusted, "Women are people, Marty." I thought it was a nice feminist beat and kind of funny but that's all. But for whatever reason, that really stuck with my kid. He repeats it whenever we watch something with a creepy guy doing things like saying "Hey baby" to a character or otherwise bragging about having lots of girls.
posted by emjaybee at 7:32 AM on January 7, 2016 [48 favorites]


I would have disappointed to read this story in 1996. In 2016, it's almost nonsensical.

I know what you mean, and then, I don't. In 1996, I can recall an evangelist gaining traction in mainstream media about whether a Tele-Tubby carrying a purse was agenda, and a newly elected conservative governor in Denver floating opposition to same-sex marriage before taking office...

I'll be 50 in a little over a year...and what portion of that time has been exhausted by underestimating the inertia of conservative venom can boil my blood.
posted by lazycomputerkids at 7:43 AM on January 7, 2016 [3 favorites]


For me, one of the most poignant things on Steven Universe was Garnet describing herself as a conversation. She is a relationship. When she meets Stevonnie, she tells them that what they are is not good or bad, it's an experience. I can't think of a healthier description of a relationship than that being shown on TV, let alone in a kid's show.
posted by the uncomplicated soups of my childhood at 7:52 AM on January 7, 2016 [4 favorites]


In line with what INFJ said, I've been using Greg Universe as my non-toxic masculinity role model for a while now. That dude is just the best.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 7:52 AM on January 7, 2016 [8 favorites]


lazycomputerkids: "I can recall an evangelist gaining traction in mainstream media about whether a Tele-Tubby carrying a purse was agenda"

Was that really in the 90s? Yeesh, I'm old. But I think Jerry Falwell and Tinky-Winky really make my point. Even the most conservative people I knew back then thought Falwell was being ludicrous. I know we still have far to go when it comes to LGBT representation on screen, but I guess I thought we had come so much further than "edit out the slightest evidence of same-sex romance".
posted by Rock Steady at 7:52 AM on January 7, 2016


In the 90s, fusions between same-sex characters were completely unremarkable.
posted by sukeban at 7:55 AM on January 7, 2016 [4 favorites]


But that's Dragonball Z-world, where sex is pretty much unknown. I mean of the show's huge cast there are like three relationships, two of them are human/saiyan, and one is human/robot. Do female saiyans even exist? (Have I stumbled upon a secret truth of the saiyan race here? Maybe saiyans aren't as different from gems as I thought....)

Joking aside, I always thought that DBZ didn't really think all that hard about fusion and what it would be like. Steven Universe's crew (the "crewniverse," to fans) are positively soaked in anime and its influence, and they've obviously thought a lot about it.
posted by JHarris at 8:14 AM on January 7, 2016 [1 favorite]


To be fair, all relationships in DBZ are stable long term ones as they take several seasons to finish powering up.
posted by the uncomplicated soups of my childhood at 8:19 AM on January 7, 2016 [13 favorites]


To build on what JHarris said, when I heard about this I was mostly surprised that it was the UK and not Malaysia; if it was Malaysia I'd be all "no shit, I was wondering when it'd happen".

This is the sort of censorship all channels that go through ASTRO (the central satellite TV company in Malaysia) have to undertake as part of Malaysian law. You mostly notice this effect with music TV channels (MTV, Channel [V]) whose schedules in Malaysia are always one hour behind "live" time to account for censorship. Cartoon Network Asia could decide to stream an uncensored version, but then ASTRO would be directed to cut this or speed up that or just don't show it at all.

There is a Malay language dub of SU and I've been wondering for a long time now how they'd respond to the parts that are more and more queer. Would they power along? Change the language to imply that they were sisters or best friends? Just skip that episode altogether?

I just looked up the SU Wiki article on foreign censorship, and apparently in Malaysia (for the English language version at least) they censored out Lars and Steven hugging but left Ruby and Sapphire in Jailbreak alone?!
posted by divabat at 8:22 AM on January 7, 2016 [1 favorite]


Relevant fan cartoon
posted by baf at 8:30 AM on January 7, 2016 [9 favorites]


Fusion is partnership, and there are a lot of different kinds of partnerships. Some are romantic and some are business. Some are with people you don't even like but you have to manage it because it's important. Romantic relationships and the associated intimacy aren't strange things to portray in kids' fare. But I feel like for women in particular, there exists this thing where the general public is kind of hazy on how we can have "real sex" to start with. Therefore, in media, any affection either has to have LOOK AT THESE GIRLS AREN'T THEY GREAT GAL PALS written in big letters over it, or else everybody assumes that a portrayal of two women sharing a moment of romantic intimacy is how "women having sex" looks on TV. This scene abandons all the "gal pals" pretense, and that's the part that's fundamentally unacceptable.
posted by Sequence at 8:35 AM on January 7, 2016 [5 favorites]


Fusion works as a metaphor for a lot of things, and what it's talking about isn't always (or even usually) related to sexuality

That's a really good point, and I didn't mean simplify this show's themes only to sexuality or similar topics. Maybe I would say it is one of the most effective metaphors of sexuality on tv, among other things.
posted by Think_Long at 8:51 AM on January 7, 2016


The post doesn't make it clear--although the article does--that it was Cartoon Network censoring the programme for the whole European market. There is no indication that they ever sought to air the unedited cartoon in the UK but were refused.
posted by Emma May Smith at 9:28 AM on January 7, 2016 [4 favorites]


Fusion is partnership, and there are a lot of different kinds of partnerships. Some are romantic and some are business. Some are with people you don't even like but you have to manage it because it's important.

I love the way you phrased this, especially because that explains the fusions that produce Opal and Malachite. Business-like.
posted by INFJ at 9:44 AM on January 7, 2016 [2 favorites]


Well, Pearl and Amethyst have a complex relationship, and they were brought together for their concern for Steven, which doesn't seem merely transactional to me. There's word from a secondary source (the book "A Guide To The Crystal Gems") that Opal is extremely balanced, centered. It mentions, though, that the focus needed to maintain that balance tends to make Opal kind of forgetful (which is demonstrated in her starring episode, heh).

Yes, my brain contains an encyclopedia of Steven Universe knowledge. If you think that's weird or unseemly, then, I suggest you don't look at the FanFare posts for the earlier episodes, because I kind of went nuts....
posted by JHarris at 10:05 AM on January 7, 2016 [7 favorites]


This is a really crap decision by Cartoon Network and very disappointing. They seem to be weirdly out of step with other British TV though which makes the "local kids" stuff seem very odd. Certainly the main channels seem to have very little issue with showing gay relationships in mainstream programmes.

This makes it in many ways a more attractive proposition to Cartoon Network - they can totally corner the market for kids of homophobic parents, which is a much bigger market than the unanimity of the terrestrial channels would indicate.
posted by Dysk at 10:18 AM on January 7, 2016 [1 favorite]


I am suprised if this is soley because of UK market, as we had our first gay kiss on kids TV in 1994 on Byker Grove.
posted by Helga-woo at 11:29 AM on January 7, 2016 [3 favorites]


(To be clear, though -- in this case, there does seem to be a romantic element I'd say, beyond just fusion, in Rose and Pearl's dance. And we know that Pearl has long had romantic feelings for Rose, which don't appear to be requited, or maybe Rose's feelings are more complicated. She's been left kind of ambiguous in this regard....)

It's interesting because many of the comic conflicts of the show center on emotional intelligence. In spite of being thousands of years old, the gems don't understand humans, or even each other much of the time. I think it's likely that Rose just didn't understand Greg or Pearl, at least initially.

It's a science fiction conceit that allows for shows to explore some fairly basic emotional conflicts, such as learning to apologize or learning that an apology may not be quickly accepted if the other person has good reason to be angry.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 11:35 AM on January 7, 2016 [4 favorites]






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