#2193

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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

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#1976

Depression in the Time of Hannibal: On Queerness and the End of the World (I Guess)

These days I’m either apathetic resignation or heart-crushing sorrow, wondering how old I’ll be when we finally destroy the world and what will get me in the end – the megaquake, the atomic bomb, the weaponized smallpox, the white guy with a gun and a grudge. To protect myself, I practice accepting the inevitable – the mass extinctions, the strip mining and poisoned oceans, the death of democracy and the third world war just around the corner. It’s easier than caring, I find, and gets me at least to minimal functionality day by day.

I don’t have a lot of faith left in humanity, is what I’m saying. I’m a realist, and I really think we’ve gone past the point of no return for our species, and possibly for our world as a whole. I’m trying to not think about all the awful things we’ve created because then it feels like our whole existence, past and present and future, is pointless. If I can cling to the few good things we’ve done, the future seems less bleak. At least we managed to not fuck this particular thing up, I think. At least we invented this and that before we killed every living creature on the planet.

If you suspected that the last two paragraphs were simply an elaborate means of getting to my true topic, NBC’s Hannibal, then you were right. And you know me too well.

If you suspected none of this, and possibly thought I was going to write something insightful and timely, then wait! Don’t click away just yet. I’m semi-serious here.

You see, Hannibal is one of those things I look at and think, Maybe we’re not a totally worthless species. If a team of us could create something so dark, so beautiful, so heartbreaking and poignant and atmospheric, I guess I have to give credit where credit’s due. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still in utter despair. But I’m in utter despair while watching Hannibal fanvids on Youtube, which is honestly better than any therapy or medication. I dare you to watch this video and not feel a little better about the world.

Cause here’s the thing – can we talk about Hannibal? Is that okay? Cause, okay, here goes…

[SPOILER ALERT]

Hannibal is motherfucking perfect. Its three seasons contain a single gut-wrenching story arc that makes you question what you think you know and believe about love, right and wrong, queerness, fate, and beauty. This isn’t just a show that makes you root for the bad guy – it forces you to confront the very concept of love and the myriad ways it manifests, both in good ways and bad, and decide for yourself where you draw the line. It makes you admit that beauty is truly subjective and question whether, and when, a person’s honest perceptions and love language can be labeled as deviant.

Cause here’s the thing, friends. Here’s the thing: we have never, and may never again, see a relationship like Hannibal and Will’s on network TV. It’s honestly astonishing that NBC even aired the third season, given how it’s still revolutionary to show a gay kiss. See, what’s so different about the relationship/connection between Hannibal and Will is that it defies not only labels but also any recognizable relationship structure taught by society. Contextually, we’re lead to assume both Hannibal and Will are straight. Yet by the end of the second season, we see that Hannibal has been working toward a life in which he, Will, and Abigail are some sort of (admittedly dysfunctional) family. He wants this future so badly that when he is betrayed by Will, he takes Abigail away as punishment and leaves Will alive with the burden of his choices. Hannibal’s response, while admittedly drastic, is the response of someone who has had their heart broken. This isn’t the fallout from a bad friendship – if it was, Hannibal would probably have killed Will and moved on. His actions show their relationship is much more complicated.

Will Graham: Is Hannibal in love with me?
Bedelia Du Maurier: Could he daily feel a stab of hunger for you, and find nourishment at the very sight of you? Yes. But do you ache for him?

 

By the end of the third season, Will has come to understand the life Hannibal wanted for them – and to desire it himself, even as he knows it’s impossible. In this season these two men, who have been both friends and enemies, consciously and purposefully become something more. We never know what that something is, though, because that’s the point – their connection defies labels. Hannibal and Will love, or are in love with, each other in a way we simply don’t see in most media. Are they friends? Frienemies? Lovers? Romantic partners? Queerplatonic partners? Partners in crime? Can they be more than one of these options? We just don’t know. We are left to decide that on our own.

Hannibal takes three seasons to tell us the story of two people in love. That this story is nothing like we’ve ever quite seen, that this love is so impossible to label even as our characters embrace its existence, is what makes this show so captivating. You just don’t see this kind of storytelling on television. Hell, you can hardly find it anywhere besides obscure indie literature and, well, my blog. This just isn’t a story major media would ever take a chance on. That Bryan Fuller was able to so explicitly confirm Hannibal and Will’s relationship is probably in great part thanks to Hannibal’s mid-season cancellation. Season 3 pulls no punches and reveals all subtext because the team wasn’t constrained by the need to earn a fourth season. The last half of season 3 is everything the show is and could be, and its greatest triumph is this captivating relationship and the fact that it is glorified in the final episode, not vilified.

I’ve never understood how the queer community seemed to totally miss Hannibal, despite its two canon queer relationships. When we talk about queer representation and the need for it to go beyond the L and G, beyond monogamy and labels and boxes, this is what we’re talking about. Attraction and love both exist on vast spectrums; to insinuate that romantic love and sexual attraction always fit the same two or three models is both incorrect and, frankly, boring storytelling. Hannibal shows us that love is strange and unpredictable and cannot be constrained by gender, sex, or any other label society tries to impose. And that’s fucking awesome. Like, seriously, why aren’t more people freaking out about this? This show was on NBC, for fuck’s sake! It had a minimum of four queer characters and a lesbian couple that didn’t die!

So, to summarize:
Hannibal is queer as shit and you need to watch it.
Its existence is keeping me from sliding into utter depression.
The world can end now because nothing humanity creates will ever be better than this motherfucking show.

#1975

I dreamed a happier ending for Hannibal and Will. They had survived the fall – or perhaps never fell at all, a phone call can change so much – and were living in the remote depths of a pristine national forest. Their home was an old-fashioned lodge with enough rugged simplicity for Will and a modern enough kitchen for Hannibal. No one found them – or perhaps some did, but never made it out again to spill their secrets – and so they lived in peace. Hannibal continued expanding his culinary repertoire; Will spent long hours hiking through the forest. Hannibal would call Will William, Will would tell Hannibal he hated when he did that, and Hannibal would smile and reply, “I know”. They were, dare I say, happy in their own way for a time. Then one day Will didn’t return when he was supposed to, so Hannibal set out to locate and chastise him. He found Will on a rocky ridge overlooking the timbered valley and their home on the opposite slope. He had not been dead long, yet long enough that Hannibal knew he had arrived too late. He suspected a heart attack, the irony of which did not escape him, but would confirm it for his own sake. Lifting Will and holding him in his arms like one would a sleeping child, Hannibal carried him back to their home.

#1831

What was it like, in that last moment, after all those years of waiting, to finally hold him in your arms? So many paths, so many choices, so many what-ifs and coin flips drew you both inexorably to that edge – was the beauty of it almost unbearable? Was it worth all the effort and risk? Was it worth the betrayal on both sides? They will always debate what actually drove you, whether it was love or madness or boredom, but I know the truth. I know love takes many forms, and not all of them fit for the light. 

#1807

In my dreams you take the form of the wolf and stag, they who fell from that high clifftop, locked in the blood-dance of love and death. Do you simply take pleasure in wearing those skins (they must feel so familiar), or are you trying to tell me something about the nature of hunting and fishing, of devouring that which you love so it may remain caged behind your ribs? Are you trying to tell me the teacup is irreparably shattered, or that once the story swings full circle the shards will mend themselves again? There’s something here, nestled in the rocks of the riverbed; there’s something I must find, resting amid the slick blood and fine china. What are you trying to tell me? They fell – but the story isn’t over. The story’s never over, is it?