Cartoon exhibits tolerance toward many

By: Sierra Steen

If you were to turn on a television at any given time in the day and flip to either Disney, Nickelodeon or Cartoon Network, it is almost guaranteed that a cartoon will be on. Today’s cartoons are typically aimed at a young audience, filled with colorful and weird characters doing mischievous things in order to capture viewer’s attention.

While Nickelodeon is gearing more towards these silly cartoons with no real meaning, more to pass the time than to really enjoy, Cartoon Network has produced a few shows that have not only a great story line but great representation as well.

Representation is important as children grow up. Up until about a few years ago, many children didn’t have a figure to look up to. Superheroes were mostly men, cartoons dared not show any relationships that weren’t heterosexual, and many of the popular shows were heavily staffed with white actors. Of course, there were a few shows such as The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air that went against these “norms” in the entertainment industry, but that doesn’t change the fact that most of the shows back then fell victim to traditional societal standards.

These days, fortunately, representation of various minorities is becoming more and more prevalent in television. Most importantly, cartoons are including more and more characters with varying races, sexual orientation and genders that children can look up to and view as normal.

Cartoon Network is doing an outstanding job of pushing boundaries to show representation. One of the best shows on the network for this is Steven Universe, created by Rebecca Sugar. Some of the people trying to censor what the show wants to portray to the audience claim that the representation is only theories conjured up by fans, but Sugar knows exactly what she is doing.

The show has representation of gender, race, varying body types and sexuality, the latter of which being a huge deal as many cartoons have never even hinted at anything besides heterosexual relationships existing.

Out of the main characters, more than half of them are women. The Crystal Gems, the main heroes of the show, are all portrayed as women (I say “portrayed” as they are aliens and possibly don’t even fall under any sort of gender construct). In fact, all of the gems (the name of the race of aliens) in the show are portrayed as women, and strong women at that. Every female character in the show, including humans Connie and Sadie, are shown as brave and strong, and all have important character arcs that shape them as the women they are. This is so important as it shows girls that they are capable of being their own heroes, and it shows boys that women can be strong and capable of doing anything that a man can do.

Garnet, one of the main Crystal Gems, is perhaps the most vital character in the show when it comes to representation. She is a black woman who is one of the strongest characters in the world they live in, which is inspiring as it is, but there is another important key factor about her. There is a method used by gems called fusion, which is exactly what it sounds like –– two gems fusing together as one. This can be interpreted in some sense as a relationship, whether platonic or romantic. Garnet (spoiler alert) is a fusion between two gems, Ruby and Sapphire, who are both girls and who are obviously more than just friends. They hug and kiss and protect each other, and Garnet in one episode sings about how she is made out of the love between the two gems. Having a lesbian relationship on the show is extremely important and amazing, especially considering some of Cartoon Network’s staff attempts to censor it. To normalize a homosexual or otherwise relationship on a cartoon that millions of children watch is outstanding, especially in an era that is attempting to grow out of past prejudice against same sex relationships.

Along with Garnet being black, there are also other races represented. There is the Pizza family who are all black, and there are the Maheswaran’s (one of the main characters, Connie, is part of this family) who are Indian. Other characters are more up to fan interpretation, such as Lars being possibly part black and/or part Asian. Children watching will see representation of their race, which is a big part of understanding themselves and realizing their importance in the world.

Another important aspect that Steven Universe shows is varying body types. The main character, Steven, is chubby. He likes to eat a lot, and he feels absolutely no shame in his body. Amethyst, one of the three main Crystal Gems, is also chubby, and she is absolutely powerful and wonderful and loves herself just as she is. Many times in popular media, fat characters are ridiculed, hate their bodies or are shown more as sidekicks rather than heroes. Fat is not an insult, as many people are raised to believe. It’s simply a body type, just the same as skinny, muscular and everything in between. Steven and Amethyst are two of the big heroes on the show, and the fact that they are shown embracing their bodies and being powerful heroes shows young children, fat or not, that heavier people are very capable of doing amazing things. Every character on the show has a different body type, so no two characters are alike in the way their bodies are set up, just as it is in the real world. Seeing various body types in a children’s show helps children see that everyone is different and that your body is valid and beautiful just as it is.

Steven Universe isn’t the only show that is starting to show more representation — for example, the show Clarence stars a chubby kid who has a friend with lesbian mothers.

Even if it’s subtle, representation matters so much, both to kids growing up watching television and to those already grown up who are now tuning in. Empowering women, various races, religions and sexualities tells the audience that everyone is important and beautiful in their own ways and that they matter. Even amongst silly shows that are simply meant to entertain without any actual meaning, shows like Steven Universe are finally stepping up and producing content full of representation.

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