B1 Intermediate US 2087 Folder Collection
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Here's an idea. "Steven Universe"
demonstrates that there is no universal concept of family.
[MUSIC PLAYING]
"Steven Universe" is an animated Cartoon Network series
created by former "Adventure Time" storyboard artist Rebecca
Sugar.
And you should watch it.
It is great.
Also, can we just literally pause here
for a moment to acknowledge that Adventure Time is
kind of like SNL in the '70s just churning out talent.
The main character, Steven Universe,
lives in Beach City with three aliens called
the Crystal Gems-- Garnet, Amethyst, and Pearl.
Steven is the child of a gem, the late Rose Quartz,
and a human, Greg Universe, who lives in his sweet van
next to the car wash he works at.
Steven and the Crystal Gems protect earth
from extra dimensional threat, and, of course, always
find a way to save the day.
But really the focus of the show is the characters, their home,
and their relationships, which feel
real and intricate and ambiguous.
Especially at the start of the show,
the writing doesn't go to great lengths
to make much about each character explicit.
It even sort of pokes fun of itself
in the first season when Mayor Dewey asks--
Are any of your sisters home?
My sisters?
Is there anyone else I can talk to about this?
Regardless, or maybe because of that ambiguity,
I think Steven Universe gets the idea of family really right.
The easiest Western concept of family
is that it is a group of people that one has a blood
and/or legal relationship with.
Hey, adopted brother.
Slightly more complicated is the idea
that a family is a network of supportive individuals.
Maybe your coworkers or friends or collaborators or even
your customers are a family.
You'll be treated like family.
You treat your customers like family.
And we work together like a family.
Treat 'em like family.
You're not just a guest, you're part of our family.
In other words, family is a group
of people who care about one another with the implication
that you should care about people you have a blood
relationship with.
But, I mean, come on, it's so much more complicated
than that, right?
Families are almost, by definition, hierarchical
and highly regulated.
In the states, at least, that hierarchy
is based on the nuclear family and reinforced
by laws, tax codes, and institutions, none of which,
I think it's worth saying, can really make you love someone.
Relatedly, families traffic to varying degrees
in discipline and structure.
A family is a group of people that encourages the behavior of
and produces knowledge for one another.
That behavior and knowledge is frequently
based on social values, which makes
the family an important political institution as well.
Families also have a strong connection
to history, both learning to cherish it
and not wanting, under any circumstances, to repeat it.
In other words, family is a cultural process
that exists in tension with it's biological factors.
A family is something we do just as much
as it's something we are.
And I think Steven Universe does family really well.
For instance, in the Universe family unit blood relations,
like the one between Steven and Greg, are celebrated
but they're not hegemonic.
They form the basis for relationships,
but they are not their entirety.
Steven's guardians can and do teach him
about himself and the world, how he fits into its history,
but they don't force that history onto him.
They have expectations of him.
They support and encourage him, but they also
worry, underestimate, overprotect, and enable him.
But in return, he challenges and surprises them,
teaches them about his world as much as they do the same.
Everyone, mostly, doesn't assert more authority over the others
than they have.
They are eventually honest about their problems.
And they keep secrets because they are unsure
or want to reveal themselves responsibly,
not because they are deceitful.
This is made all the more meaningful,
I think, because Steven's family is highly functional,
though it is highly nontraditional.
I mean, besides the fact he lives with literal aliens.
Its structure is not externally or institutionally determined.
I can't imagine what their tax returns
look like, but determined based on their situation.
He's got three adoptive mother figures,
one of whom is more like a big sister,
another of whom has romantic feelings for his late mother,
and a third who, depending upon how you read it,
represents either a loving relationship between two other
female characters or the possibility that someone with
dissociative identity disorder cannot only reconcile
their, in this case, obviously loving personalities,
but also be a total badass because of them.
Garnet is the best.
Steven's dad doesn't cohabit, but that doesn't
make him any less his dad.
And as is often the case with nontraditional families,
it sometimes feels like there is a whole world against them,
which, in this case, I guess makes
sense, because there actually is.
That the Gems and Universes can so
powerfully evoke functional family,
though they exhibit few or none of the biological,
institutional, or structural characteristics
the West tends to require of functional families,
shows that maybe there isn't a perfect universal concept that
defines such a thing.
And I mean, spoiler alert, there isn't.
Different cultures structure family differently, sometimes
drastically so, and expect different things
based on those structures.
There is way too much to cover here.
We'll put some links in the Doobly Doo.
But I hope it suffices it to say that there
are many kinship systems throughout the world's
communities.
And though they are all very different,
they all equally define family.
In this way, it might be fair to say
that there is a kind of family resemblance for families.
Not like, whoa, you really look like your sister family
resemblance, but Ludwig Wittgenstein's idea of family
resemblances, that there are sets
of things with similarities-- affinities,
he called them-- that don't really
sit within a clear, rigid boundary.
He wrote about family resemblances between languages,
games, and numbers.
We know when a certain thing is an example of each,
but to clearly and accurately describe
what makes all games, all languages, or all numbers
alike would be impossible.
Can we make a similar case for families?
Maybe.
Can we test that network's boundaries?
Where does it get fuzzy?
When are we definitely outside of it?
For me, coworkers, collaborators, and customers
remain outside that network.
Of course, your experience may vary.
But weirdly, certain fandoms, not all of them,
but certain ones, might sit at an edge.
Punk rock, I think, belongs here.
I've never felt more whatever family
is for a group of strangers than when
I was in my punk rock days.
That is, of course, until I started making Idea Channel
and began meeting all of you guys.
Also, in before, punk rock is not a fandom.
And I mean, hey, what about the "Steven Universe" fandom?
We can see how "Steven Universe" is in a family of shows.
I might claim that that has created a family of fandoms.
Does the "Steven Universe" fandom conduct itself
in a family-like manner?
Again, your experience may vary.
But as the show has grown in popularity,
especially over the last couple months,
it seems like the people making it and its fans have had
to deal with the kinds of things growing and popular fandoms--
deal with-- collective identity, hierarchy,
new members' relationship to the past, and, in my opinion,
the mostly fair and reasonable expectations of its
"guardians."
Of course, not all families struggle with these things.
And all entities struggling with these things are not families.
But I think the resemblance is strong, at least as strong
as it is between Garnet, Amethyst, and Pearl and Steven.
And
What do you guys think?
What does "Steven Universe" demonstrate
about the idea of family?
And when do non-family things, like fandoms,
become family-like?
What's the edge of that network?
Let us know in the comments.
And if you want to join Idea Channel's
massively nontraditional family, please subscribe.
So when an Idea Channel video has a significant number
of upvotes, should I feel bad because it
means I haven't presented a sufficiently
controversial idea?
Let's see what you guys had to say about Reddit and democracy.
Before we get to comments, two quick things.
You can still send us records for the record wall
until April 28.
This week we received some records
from Jason, who sent us the "BioShock Infinite Soundtrack,"
and from [INAUDIBLE], "The Super Bowl Shuffle," which
I am very excited about.
So if you want to send us stuff, details
in the Doobly Doo, including some restrictions, which do
apply.
We're keeping the things you send us forever.
And second, I was on of my friend Davis
and David's podcast, "The Electric Cybercast II--
Online," talking about Zork and text adventure games.
I made them play Zork, which was maybe, as it turns out,
not a nice thing to do to your friend.
So if you want to listen to that,
we'll put a link in the Doobly Doo.
OK.
On to comments.
Mica says there might be a deeper
level to this discussion, specifically
the divorce between the operations
of governmental democracy and the practical needs of people
who are affected by it, and asks this question of,
you know, if the operation of government
exists too much in the realm of ideas, maybe
in the same way that the internet and Reddit does,
that, you know, you're responding to ideas
and not practicalities.
And I think that this-- I think that this
holds some water, in that there's always a threat.
And I think that this is something
that, like, I fall victim to-- of getting
stuck in your own politics and not stepping back and trying
to think about how it relates to actual people
in the actual world.
Yeah.
It was a great comment.
On the subreddit, Axylon talked about their experience
with heavily moderated subreddits and the relationship
that that kind of moderation has to the idea of oligarchy
And a really, really great conversation followed that.
So I would suggest checking it out.
And it reminded me of another great conversation
that followed a comment Christopher Willis left
on YouTube about Athenian democracy, which sort of has
this aspect of randomness.
And that's a thing that Jacques Ranciere talked about,
actually, a bit in "Hatred of Democracy,"
which was the book that I quoted in the episode.
He talked about how there was this idea
that people who were just randomly given power
would be the least likely, probably,
to abuse it because they had no interest in turning it
into more and more power.
And while I don't think that's-- you know,
it's not a perfect idea.
It's such a fascinating one.
And one that I have been thinking about
since writing this episode.
mesocyclonic4 also on the subreddit,
asks a really great question that
never occurred to me, which is that-- is there
a way to measure how successful democracy is by population?
Is there a correlation of any kind
between the size of a democratic nation and how, I guess,
effective the people in it feel as though their government is?
And I googled around a little bit to try to answer this,
and couldn't come up with anything.
If anybody has any insight into this,
we would both be very interested to hear about it.
TheNinerion essentially asks, what is the big deal, right?
We're criticizing Reddit for being hostile to edgy ideas,
for not supporting difficult dialogues,
but it's not a place that people go for those things.
And I think I'm not criticizing Reddit so much
as I'm asking questions, I think, about the way people,
myself included, orient themselves
towards these democratic voting systems that exist online.
You know, I like Reddit.
I use Reddit all the time.
The big question I'm trying to ask, I think,
is insofar as Reddit is a place that people
go to be exposed to media and ideas,
is there an incentive that we can provide either
for ourselves or an incentive that Reddit
can provide to being exposed to things that are unexpected?
You are right.
Reddit is not built to do that thing,
but what does it look like if it were?
Or what does it look like our actions make it
so that it doesn't have to be built
to support that kind of thing?
And does that change how we can think about actual democracy,
you know, with governments and stuff?
mg7757 makes the very good point that while there
are influential people on Reddit,
there is no character like Sheldon Adelson
in online voting systems.
That that is a particular thing in-- especially
American democracy, you know, the political influencer
with nearly infinite amounts of money,
they're able to dictate the way things work out.
That just doesn't exist on YickYac or Reddit.
Probably for the best.
T. Dalton Combs-- I like people and then just whatever
the thing is-- music, video, essay, photo.
Just think, yeah, lumping things together into those words--
I don't know-- makes me uncomfortable for some reason.
This week's episode was brought to you
by the hard work of these crystal gems.
We have a Facebook and IRC and a subreddit link
in the Doobly Doo.
And the tweet of the week comes from Meags,
who points us towards a "Paris Review"
article about the way Nintendo tells and doesn't tell stories.
There are some things in here that I really
like, some things in here I'm still sort of out to lunch on,
but it's a good read-- good food for thought.
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How Does Steven Universe Expand Our Ideas of Family? | Idea Channel | PBS Digital Studios

2087 Folder Collection
Mary Lai published on September 25, 2015
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