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Although American children’s animated series, Steven Universe, is often praised for its diverse and queer representation, people often overlook that the show also portrays toxic relationships. This portrayal moves the narrative along and frames the characters as learning and growing from their traumas. In this study, I have evaluated the portrayal of the toxic and abusive relationship of Lapis Lazuli (Lapis) and Jasper in Steven Universe using feminist rhetorical criticism. Informed by rhetorical theories of gender, hierarchies, and power dynamics, my analysis shows there is an issue of consent displayed between the characters, as well as blatant physical and verbal abuse. Additionally, other characters’ comments about the relationship provide explicit acknowledgment that the relationship is harmful and abusive. Power dynamics are also apparent in the simultaneous framing of a relationship between two females and the distinctive presentation of Lapis as feminine and Jasper as masculine, which mirrors but also complicates gender roles. The results indicate that the depiction of abuse through Lapis and Jasper is nuanced and accurate, enabling Steven Universe audiences, likely children and young adults, to recognize toxic relationships that are often missing from children’s media. As children are the primary audience of this show, it is implicated that Lapis and Jasper’s portrayal acts as a lesson for younger generations, introducing them to toxic relationships early on as a way of educating them on what to identify as unhealthy and presenting them in a way that challenges traditional gender roles and power dynamics between men and women.
Toxic relationships; Steven Universe; Power dyanmics; Behavior; Lapis Lazui
Jovillar, Julianna and Bloomfield, Emma Ph.D., "Out of Anger and Deception: A Feminist Rhetorical Criticism of Toxic Relationships in Steven Universe" (2021). Undergraduate Research Symposium Podium Presentations. 22.
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