The Profoundness of “Alone Together” | Steven Universe
The Cartoon Network series, Steven Universe, created by Rebecca Sugar, is a refreshingly beautiful and emotionally tinged sci-fi/fantasy series about a young boy named Steven, who lives with his three guardians known as the Gems: consisting of Garnett, Amethyst, and Pearl, all of whom protect the world from evil monsters and invading forces that are related in some way to their alien Gem heritage.
The series, as far as I’m concerned, seems to have broken new ground in thoughtful and engaging family entertainment, effectively creating something that is both all-inclusive in relation to race, gender, and personal life choices, and is also open to personal interpretation by anyone and everyone: which is an extremely beautiful thing to see. Because I don’t think I’ve ever watched a show that was so innocent and often so subtle in the way that it presents social concepts within such a unique world view. It encourages everyone to go for their dreams, work hard, learn good honest morals, all while being comfortable with who they are on the inside and the outside.
However, the one thing that has come to impress me more than anything else this show has done thus far, is the introduction of the character known as Stevonnie: a character that is neither two people, nor one person; they are in-fact… an experience.
Now if that sounds really odd to you, then you most definitely need to watch the episode in question, which is called “Alone Together.” But for those of you who may not be able to, I will give you the back story and the run-down of this episode, because I really want to talk about this in its entirety.
Now over the course of the series, Steven discovers that he himself is a Gem: imbued with powers and abilities passed down by his mother, Rose, in order that he learn to become a protector of Earth himself. And throughout the first season he learns about these different abilities that each Gem can possess, and which ones he can possess personally.
For instance, all Gems have the ability to transform themselves into other shapes or other creatures. They also have the power to activate warp pads, which can send Gems from one location on Earth to another, or even across space to other worlds. Specific to Steven’s rose-quartz gem, he has the abilities to create force-fields around himself, to create guardian shields, and the ability to heal and repair things with his spit. But, the last and most intriguing power of Gems that has been presented thus far is their ability to “fuse.”
Now “fusion” is the process by which Garnett, Amethyst and Pearl can merge themselves together into a single being that is much stronger and much more powerful than either Gem is alone, and it is an amalgamation of both Gems’ personalities. During the course of the show, both Amethyst and Pearl fused into a being known as Opal. Amethyst and Garnett fused into a being known as Sugalite (which happened to be voiced by Nicki Minaj). And all three Gems fused together to create an even bigger being known as Alexandrite. So it was only a matter of time before Steven attempted to fuse with one of them as well.
The way that a Gem fuses with another Gem is already quite interesting, because they achieve this fusion through dance. And not some traditional tribal or formal dance: but rather through any dance at all: Disco, Waltz, Tango, Ballet, Square-dance, Break-dance, grinding, or even twerking; anything counts.
One day, after Steven attempts to learn fusion with the help of his Gem guardians, he then goes out on the beach to hang out with his friend/girl-friend, Connie. And they talk about why Steven may be having trouble learning to fuse. Connie begins to confess her embarrassment and lack of dancing experience, and Steven offers her a private dance with him, in the hopes that it will ease her fears. After a short song, it looks like the two are really getting the hang of it and having a really wonderful time.
But, by sheer coincidence, Steven’s rose-quartz gem begins to glow, and both Steven and Connie wake up to discover that they are no longer themselves, they have in fact… “fused together.” And this is where the series officially becomes amazing.
When Steven/Connie run back home to tell the gems what happened, Pearl (the studious and practical of the three) is gob-smacked. She had no idea that a Gem Being could fuse with a Human Being, and considers the merging somewhat inappropriate. Amethyst (the tom-boyish, rough-and-tumble of the three) on the other hand, is extremely impressed and gives Steven/Connie their new official fusion title, Stevonnie. But Garnett is by far the most pleased with this new development, and goes over to Stevonnie to express her delight. And she tells Stevonnie what I had mentioned earlier: that they are not two people, nor are they one person, they are an experience, and they should take this opportunity to make it a good experience. But more simply, to just have fun.
This concept as a whole is so fresh and so unexpected that it potentially holds numerous connotations and possible interpretations as to its meaning. I mean, what is Stevonnie’s fusion supposed to convey to the viewing audience?
I can’t begin to speak for Rebecca Sugar herself, or the intentions of her creative staff, but I would like to put my best foot forward and bring up some ideas that I think this concept may be trying to express to the younger generation.
First let’s start with what could be the easy interpretations. For one, Stevonnie is a 20-something being that was created by merging two pre-teen kids into one person. This can be seen as rather strange, as one could interpret the idea of “fusion” as a metaphor for sex. As far as the Christian Bible has expressed, sex is the act of bringing a man and woman together, whereby for a brief moment in time, they are no longer two people, but they are one person. And despite what Garnett said earlier, to anyone else looking at Stevonnie, Steven and Connie have effectively become one person that is the combination of both character’s personalities and character traits. Even their clothes have blended into each other.
Similarly, one could also interpret Stevonnie as what could come about if Steven and Connie were to have a child, and this is what their future daughter might look like and act like; even though Stevonnie is an extremely tall person.
Personally speaking, while I think that some of the ideas behind the “meaning” of sex could be the basis for this “fusion” concept, I don’t think Rebecca Sugar was intending to allude to children having a “sexual experience,” nor do I consider the idea of “fusion” to be as base and simplistic as that.
The idea of Marriage, and indeed of all types of romantic Relationships, should be built on everything else except sex, with sex being an additional benefit. Because what makes a relationship work best is when both romantic partners are in-tune with each other, when they can understand one another’s wants and needs, and can mutually experience life together fairly and equally. This isn’t to say that both partners can’t still argue with each other and have disagreements, but when things are at their best, both partners are able to live life as one being: working along-side each other to achieve their goals, improve their lives, and maybe even raise a family. And this is what I believe the concept of fusion is built upon.
It serves as an analogy for deeper, more complex, and more trusting relationships; and can be considered something that can occur not just between romantic partners, but between best friends as well: which is why I am even less in favor of believing it has something to do with simple sex. It’s far more meaningful and emotionally magical than that. You ever heard how someone can be high on love? That’s a little bit closer I think.
Something else this particular fusion of Steven and his girlfriend Connie can present is the idea of androgyny or sexual ambiguity. Because throughout the course of this episode, Stevonnie is presented as a figure that can be found attractive by both men and women alike, but who also exudes a generally feminine nature in order to make things come across more accurately to those who might not get it if Stevonnie was too masculine. The voice for Stevonnie is a female, and she has long voluminous hair and a very slender attractive face. Stevonnie’s body is also rather masculine in that it’s well toned and rather sturdy, but yet has very under-accentuated breasts. The combination of Steven and Connie’s clothes on this much larger body also presents Stevonnie’s fashion statement as one that is more open to showing off their body rather than concealing it, which could be interpreted to mean that Stevonnie is very comfortable in their body and with who they are.
This all makes generalizing Stevonnie as either more male or more female contextually and socially difficult, as we are given no indication as to what gender they biologically could be, which further compounds one of the overall ideas that I think this episode stands for: that no one need be associated or labeled by their gender, nor treated differently because of it. And I find that a very nice idea. You can be comfortable with being a women, but like things that guys do. You can be comfortable with being a guy, but like doing things that girls do. Or you could consider yourself not as a man or a women, but just you, and no one gender may fully define who you are.
One can easily tell that Stevonnie and the ideas behind their creation have caused a stir amongst fans and artists, because Stevonnie became an instantaneously popular character immediately after the episode’s release. Just a quick Google, Deviantart, or Tumblr search will reveal dozens upon hundreds of fan-art pieces, all created within the last 2 weeks. And the reasons why this character is so loved by the fans could be for some of the reasons I’ve talked about, or for numerous others. But however one approves of Stevonnie, it’s clear that the character has sparked the minds and enchanted the hearts of many teens, young adults, and especially the millennial generation at large.
Putting speculation aside for a moment, we were bound to get a more definitive explanation from creator, Rebecca Sugar sooner or later. And so here is what she had to say about Stevonnie on the io9:
“Stevonnie the androgynous fusion of Steven and Connie was a big game changer character, did you expect the kind of reaction to Stevonnie received? What do you love about Stevonnie? Is Stevonnie agender or bigender…. or is gender is even a concern in Steven Universe?
Rebecca Sugar: Stevonnie is an experience! The living relationship between Steven and Connie. What I love about Stevonnie is that we are working with a metaphor that is so complex and so specific but also really, really relatable, in the form of a character. Stevonnie challenges gender norms as an individual, but also serves as a metaphor for all the terrifying firsts in a first relationship, and what it feels like to hit puberty and suddenly find yourself with the body of an adult, how quickly that happens, how it feels to have a new power over people, or to suddenly find yourself objectified, all for seemingly no reason since you’re still just you… and they are still just them, they’re Steven and Connie who you already know and relate to, and if you do you can feel, for this episode, what all of those feelings are like. And they feel it too and that stays with them. I knew that was bound to be interesting to people, for at least one of all those reasons!“
Only in this day and age could we have an animated cartoon series like Steven Universe that would present such complex and unique social ideas as this. Trying to make a show like this may have been possible in some form back in the 1990s or early 2000s, but it would never have had the exact mind-set or world-view that it does here and now; which is perhaps its strongest and most endearing trait.
I think it’s safe to say that the world will never run out of either men or women that associate themselves as such, and who personally like it that way. And the difficulties of puberty and learning to understand and be comfortable with your own body won’t ever not be an issue for young kids starting to grow up. But because more and more people from my generation, and likely younger, are preferring to no longer identify themselves by one gender or the other, it might behoove society, and Professors of the English language, to come up with a new term that can be used for people who consider themselves “gender-neutral,” and one that will not be considered a derogatory term.
Perhaps you saw all of these things in Stevonnie, and in the profoundness of the concept behind them, and maybe you didn’t. But perhaps now that I’ve expressed my thoughts on the topic, and included Rebecca’s own intentions, maybe you’ll start to look at this character differently, and for all the right reasons as well.