these days I dream mostly about atomic bombs and solar flares, with maybe the odd radioactive meltdown thrown in for good measure (don’t want Chernobyl to feel left out), and so I’ve gotten pretty used to that hot white flare and the instantaneous incineration which follows, after all I’ve got a decent imagination and I bet I’ve died a hundred times in this particular apocalypse, so many times in fact that it’s gotten so I’m not even that scared anymore, really, I see the light on the horizon and I’m just like Oh, okay, here we go again, and then in more or less the same second I’m decimated, annihilated, exterminated, all those good long verbs you hope can’t ever be applied to your physical form, but it turns out they don’t actually hurt too much so that’s some good news, yeah? and uh, anyway, I didn’t really have a point to this except maybe that dreaming constantly about the end of the world isn’t so bad if it means I’ll be emotionally prepared when the real one comes, like Hey buddy, took you long enough!, and I swear I mean that in a positive, hopeful kind of way but damn, it doesn’t really sound so good when I say it out loud, does it?
Familiar, Why Is This So Familiar? – Steven Universe and Monstrous Motherhood
[This post contains Steven Universe spoilers from the current Diamond Days arc.]
Y’all, I fucking love Steven Universe (SU). It speaks to so many facets of my being, especially as a mentally ill queer person, and I often find myself identifying with different characters and plot arcs. I see myself in Peridot when she doesn’t understand social cues or causes offense by accident; in Amethyst when she feels inferior to those around her, even the people she loves; in Garnet when she fears to make a single tiny mistake, lest its consequences be on her shoulders. I’ve been too intense, like Bismuth, and too anxious or controlling, like Pearl. Like Pink Diamond, sometimes I just want to run away from the person I am – and like Steven, sometimes I just want to understand the person I’m meant to become.
SU always cuts to my core. That’s what good fiction should do, especially fiction which purposefully prioritizes themes of healing, acceptance, and love. Yet to have those themes, and to lend them the weight needed to have true impact on your audience, you first need your characters to face trauma, ostracism, and cruelty. Thus enter the Great Diamond Authority.
Unbelievably powerful, these gem matriarchs rule the universe with elegance and hauteur, a trinity of terror who allow no deviance from the norm. For several seasons the diamonds play the role of invisible villains as the show builds an elaborate framework for the inevitable confrontation, and it’s only now, in the Diamond Days arc of season five, that we’re learning just how complex the diamonds really are. And the more we learn, the more we understand the crimes of which they’re capable.
We know now that White Diamond, Yellow Diamond, and Blue Diamond acted as mothers to the younger and far more impetuous Pink Diamond. They intended to raise her in their image, another perfect diamond to rule over gem society – yet how often does that work? Children aren’t carbon copies (excuse the pun) of their parents, and when expectations and reality clash it is often the child who bears the brunt of the pain. The diamonds expect Pink to think, feel, and behave in a very limited framework based on their concepts of what a diamond should be, and when she cannot or will not they retaliate. In trying to do what they believe is right for Pink, they become abusive. Each diamond on her own displays certain characteristics of abusive parents, and I think it’s no coincidence that combined they represent the full complexity of an abuser.
Yellow Diamond is the mother who is always disappointed. She believes she just wants what’s best for you, but in doing so she will never be happy with what you achieve. Your GPA will never be high enough for her, your body skinny enough, your career prestigious enough. Yellow will always find flaws, even in the perfect form of a literal diamond. She prefers negative, combative emotions over positive or traditionally weak ones. Yellow is the mother who never says “I love you” or reciprocates displays of affection; she expects her tolerance of your presence to be a sufficient testament to her true feelings. Her mentality is unhealthy on its own, but directed at a child it causes lifelong feelings of inadequacy, emotional repression, and an anxiety that drives you to work yourself to death. Additionally, Yellow is also shown to spy on Pink Diamond to ensure she’s behaving correctly, a very common tactic of abusive parents – and one she seems to share with White Diamond as well.
White Diamond is the mother who demands perfection. This isn’t to say she acts like the perfect mother, though. Instead, she simply wills the world to be the way she desires and everything must fall in line with her vision. She wears a mask so convincing you question its existence; maybe she really is always smiling, always in control, always omniscient and omnipresent. This is supported by the fact that, at least at the time of me writing this, we don’t actually know that much about White. We know she is the true gem matriarch and has almost entirely withdrawn herself from society. Instead of seeming reclusive or cold, though, or perhaps even mentally unstable, she in fact seems completely calm and in control (albeit in a creepy way). Yet she speaks to her subjects through the broken Pink Pearl, who seems to be a constant reminder of what happens if you draw White’s ire. She is obviously not afraid of using force to keep her court in line.
Blue Diamond is the mother who can be friend or foe. Her mood changes without warning – one moment she’s weeping with joy or reminiscing about fond family memories, the next she’s sneering over something you’ve said or done, or perhaps threatening your deviance with punishment. Personally, I find Blue Diamond’s brand of abuse the most disturbing. The inability to predict how someone will respond emotionally causes constant anxiety, especially when those potential negative reactions might involve physical abuse. Blue is the ultimate manipulator, preying on your love and guilt to keep you returning to her no matter what she does. Of all of the diamonds, Blue is the one who seems the most redeemable… and therein lies her power. Every time she’s in a good mood you’re tricked into thinking she’s changed and you let your guard down, making yourself that much more vulnerable to her next attack.
Even the way the diamonds are slowly revealed to us follows this cyclical pattern of abuse. First we think they’re unfeeling dictators; then we realize they’re in mourning, which humanizes them. They attack Earth and we hate them again; then they seem to change as they realize Pink never died and she has “returned” to them as Steven. They even take him back to Homeworld where we think they’ll help him convince White to heal the corrupted gems… but instead their true natures are revealed once more the moment he steps out of line. Each time we think and hope the diamonds have changed, and each time we are disappointed; yet at the first sign of change we start the cycle over again. Hope can be a very dangerous thing in the hands of an abuser.
Since I’m writing this before the diamonds’ arc is complete, I don’t know their ultimate fate. I used to hope Blue and Yellow would be redeemed but now I’m not sure what I want. Everyone deserves a redemption arc, don’t they? One of SU’s biggest themes is redemption, after all, and other villains have become loyal friends of the Crystal Gems. If the diamonds can just recognize the error of their ways and seek to undo their crimes, shouldn’t they be given a second (or third or fourth or fifth) chance? Yet we’re not talking about ignorant children here, or gems acting on their superior’s orders; everything harmful or evil in SU can be traced back to the diamonds, even if some of what they’ve done was well intended. They are the reason gem society is so stratified and destructive. Do people who cause such pain for those under their care deserve redemption arcs too? I don’t know. I really don’t know. I suppose we’ll just have to wait and see.
These days I find myself longing for Mars. Not like a Bradbury character yearning for adventure, though, but more like someone skipping to the last page of a tense book to see what happens. Why? Because Mars is dead. Mars is a barren wasteland. Mars is red soil and orange rocks and not a single living thing, not even a drop of water, and that’s oddly comforting. Earth will be like that one day at the rate we’re going, so can’t I just pack up now and move to Mars where the end’s already come and gone? It’s the waiting that’s killing me, you know, it’s the anticipation. I know one day all the green places will be buried under cement and the oceans are gonna swallow us up in their acidic, plastic-laden waters, but when? When will the last bee perish from pesticide poisoning and throw our global food production into chaos? When will the last day pass during which we could ever breathe freely without face masks? When will the last polar bear go extinct, the last Amazonian tree be bulldozed, the last national park fall to the greed of big coal and oil? When? When? I just can’t take it anymore; roll the damn credits! I’m out. But at least there’s nothing on Mars we can fuck up very much, just rocks and dirt and dust as far as the eye can see in every direction. And I won’t have any memory of trees on Mars, so the view won’t bother me so. It’s better than waiting, at least, better than having to sit on the sidelines of the whole damn apocalypse. Take us to Mars, Ray. To Mars!
You collected outcasts with hearts of broken glass, promising to fill their cracks with gold, but you made a grave mistake with me. My heart is not a fragile piece of blown glass – it is a chunk of volcanic glass, deep black obsidian, and when it breaks each shard is sharper than a surgeon’s scalpel. I was never an outcast, you see. Outcasts yearn to be told their worth yet I inherently knew mine, for I had been born and tempered in the earth’s deep fires where no mere man may survive. I loved you, yes, and I believed in you, but I did not need you like the others and thus was the first to see through you when my rebellious edges drew your blood and then your anger. It’s no wonder you could never fix those broken hearts you hoarded; without one of your own, how could you know how the pieces fit together?
i could build a gruesome Stonehenge with all the teeth i’d pull more easily from my mouth than words; do you want to see?
Embracing Apocalyptic Fatalism, or: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
There’s no point in beating around the bush by crafting a poetic opening statement, so I’ll just say this as bluntly as possible: the world is fucked. We’re simultaneously dealing with climate change, mass extinction, deforestation, mass shootings, bigotry, war, political corruption, deadly diseases, genocide, poverty, famine, terrorism, potential nuclear annihilation, totalitarianism, and fascism, and those are just the things that came to my mind in like thirty seconds. Each of those topics has an overwhelming number of smaller but equally horrible subtopics which might come spilling out like maggots from a carcass if you poke the wrong spot with a stick.
…I’m not really selling you on this particular essay, am I. Okay, forget the roadkill analogy and just focus on the fact that we – “we” being almost any living creature on the planet with more than a single cell – are pretty fucked. The last few years have shed an especially harsh light on the course of humanity’s future as we’ve watched history repeat itself in ways we thought would never happen again. Genocide? Still happening. Putting people in concentration camps? Yep, that too. Racism, sexism, ableism, homophobia, Islamophobia, anti-semitism? Alive and doing very well for themselves. Actual, literal Nazis? Fuckin’ everywhere. What I’m saying is, here at the pinnacle of human achievement we’re still struggling with the toxic byproducts of a fanaticism that seems inherent to our very species. We destroy everything we touch.
So how do we cope with this? How do we go about our day knowing that at any moment there are people being killed for their beliefs, billions of animals trapped in factory farms, ancient Amazonian trees being bulldozed and burned? It’s really fucking hard, I know, and everyone copes differently. Some people find energy in being angry; some sink into depression; others dedicate every hour they possibly can to signing petitions and attending rallies. But if none of those options are working for you in the long term, good news! I’m here to tell you about my new life philosophy: apocalyptic fatalism!
What’s apocalyptic fatalism, you ask? It’s the belief that we as a species have gone past the point of no return, meaning we have little to no chance of stopping the issues listed above – especially, at least in my humble opinion, climate change and its associated Bad Shit. Apocalyptic fatalism means we’re fucked, and that we fucked over every other living thing too. It means accepting the world (as we know it, at least) may actually end in our lifetimes. It doesn’t purport to know the how of things, only that the when is much closer than we’d like to believe. We are in trouble now.
If you’ve never heard about apocalyptic fatalism, that’s because I made it up!
See, in the two years since Trump (*gag*) was elected, I’ve tried coping. Anger only works for me in short bursts, though, and the well of depression is already up to my chin. Part of me wants to hide in apathy, but I’m too empathetic to ignore all the living creatures suffering right now. So anger is fleeting, depression is dangerous, and apathy is a betrayal. What I have instead found long-term comfort in is… acceptance. Acceptance that humanity is a cancer on this planet, no matter how much good we do on an individual level. Acceptance that we might really have gone too far this time, and maybe now there’s no going back. Acceptance, in short, that we might have already started the apocalypse and on an individual level there’s not much we can do to stop it. Doesn’t that lift a weight off your shoulders? Think about it; our generation doesn’t have to save the world because it can’t be saved in the first place. We can only do damage control on the way down.
That’s horrible! you’re probably thinking. How can you give up like that? That makes you part of the problem! But that’s the bittersweet beauty of this philosophy: it’s not about giving up. You don’t have to stop being a force of good in the world just because you know your efforts won’t change everything for everyone. You can do good for good’s sake, make a difference on the micro scale instead of the macro, all you want. But when those little bits of good get overshadowed by all the horrible things you have literally no ability to stop, apocalyptic nihilism tells you it’s okay to let them go. If you have to buy a plastic water bottle one day, it’s okay; your one guilty purchase is nothing compared to what those in power are doing to the environment. If you buy something to lift your mood instead of donating that money to a charity in need, that doesn’t make you an inherently bad person contributing to the downfall of humanity. The world is ending – buy the damn book, eat the damn doughnut, use a damn plastic fork once a year. It’s okay. Your guilt and anxiety help no one.
Read that again. Your guilt and anxiety help no one. Apocalyptic fatalism frees you from the responsibility of saving the whole damn world, a burden millennials and Gen Y/Z have felt acutely since birth. We inherited a shitstorm and we know the generation before us doesn’t, for the most part, really care about the future. In fact, they seem determined to fuck it up as much as possible. We feel, therefore, that it’s up to us to save the oceans and the national parks and the atmosphere and human rights and freedom and science and… the list goes on and on. But you know what? We didn’t start this war and we can’t end it.It’s just too big. It’s just too entrenched. So do what you can for the world – but take care of yourself too. If the end is extremely fucking nigh, then every moment is unbelievably precious. Don’t waste them worrying.
i want to throw rocks at the scavengers, tell them go on, git, there ain’t nothin’ left here! so i can sun-bleach my dry old bones in peace, but instead i just wonder why they circle so, don’t they know they’re come too late to this ghost of a ghost town?