Steven Universe is a popular children’s cartoon on Cartoon Network created by Rebecca Sugar that focuses on Steven Quartz Universe, a half-human half-alien child and his adventures with his friends, family, and his three alien caretakers, The Crystal Gems. The New York Times called it “TV’s most empathetic cartoon” and the show has gained a massive following in the short time it has been airing. The show is made for children but has accumulated a large following of adult viewers as well. In a recent LA Times article by Tracy Brown, Rebecca Sugar states, (in a response to a question regarding the parallel views of the main character and the audience): “…we were talking to kids who were growing up as we were writing the show and, I think, also guiding people through sort of what it takes to go deeper and understand someone.” The show is known for its emotional depth and references to real-world issues that we face in everyday life.
In the episode entitled “Mindful Education”, one of the main characters, Connie, begins to feel emotionally overwhelmed by some of the traumatic experiences she has faced throughout her time knowing Steven. Garnet, one of Steven’s parental figures, sits them both down for a lesson on Mindfulness, a common tool in the recovery process of PTSD, and a crucial exercise for emotional management, something that is important for developing children to learn and master. Many can relate to the struggles of emotional and psychological pain, and Rebecca Sugar presents Mindfulness as a method for understanding and overcoming it. This exercise is demonstrated in the form of a song; “Here Comes a Thought”, sung by the characters “Garnet”, who is voiced by the British singer and songwriter, Estelle, and “Stevonnie”, voiced by Amanda Joy “AJ” Mitchalka. The song’s focal point is addressing the emotional disturbances in both Connie and Steven, which resulted in Connie acting out violently and Steven swallowing his emotions in regards to his deceased mother. The purpose of this song is to show the audience that self-care, self-love, and Mindfulness tools lead to better emotional-management.
The show demonstrates incredible passion and deep thought, whilst simultaneously teaching good morals and values. The topics and issues addressed in the show, although viewed by some as controversial, are some of the most important issues and lessons for children and adult viewers to consider. Throughout the series, the show promotes positive, wholesome ideas as well as solutions to very difficult problems we may face throughout our lives. One of the main focuses of Steven Universe is the battle of “good vs. evil”. There are many villains in the show, however, their approach on the subject of “evil” is not as traditional as many other approaches within children’s media. Steven Universe is rarely so black and white. The narrative of the show suggests that “good vs. evil” is simply a struggle over morality and many characters have been shown in situations of doubt, uncertainty, and even redemption. Characters in the show previously seen as irredeemable have often seen the error of their ways, as a result of the unrelenting kindness and compassion of the main character, Steven.
In the clip of “Mindful Education”, Garnet shows the fusion of Steven and Connie (Stevonnie) that difficult emotions can cause us to act out inappropriately, or in Connie’s case, violently. “Here comes a thought that might alarm me; what someone said and how it harmed me; something I did that failed to be charming…” Here, Connie sings and admits she attacked a boy at school as a result of trauma from the terrifying events of a previous episode. She recognizes that her behavior was inappropriate, however, she also experiences overwhelming guilt and fear in the process. In Steven’s case, he is suppressing his emotions about his mother in this episode. In the time that Connie uses this Mindfulness exercise, Steven is still attempting to stifle his own guilt and fear. However, Garnet explains that although we may act out as a result of our pain, we are still able to take the time to manage our emotions and correct our behavior through mindful meditation and self-love.
Mindfulness is a highly-successful treatment method of PTSD or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Mindfulness is a key component to the treatment of PTSD. It is also known for the treatment of Depression, Anxiety, ADHD, and many other behavioral disorders. Mindfulness practice has two key parts: “paying attention to and being aware of the present moment and accepting or being willing to experience your thoughts and feelings without judging them”. This emotional tool is one of the main components of behavioral therapy, which has been wildly successful in the treatment of behavioral disorders and trauma. In the song “Here Comes a Thought”, the characters Connie and Steven must also deal with trauma and grief with the help of a Mindfulness exercise, provided by Garnet. Showing the effectiveness of Mindfulness in the two characters informs and enforces the idea that the practice of Mindfulness can help overcome tricky emotions. There are many other lessons and tools folded within the subtext of the series, however, the lesson of Mindfulness could prove to be very positive for its viewers, especially children.
For example, a recent study was conducted in Richmond, CA on the effectiveness of Mindfulness activities in Elementary school children. The study was conducted over a 12-week period and consisted of 17 teachers and 409 students, ages K-5th grade. In the study, a short curriculum of Mindfulness was introduced in small, few-minute sessions, once a week. The results showed that students marginally improved in focus, self-discipline, participation, and kindness and respect for others. In “Here Comes a Thought”, the context of this song strongly implies Mindfulness as the main tool Connie and Steven must use to overcome these emotions of guilt, fear, and hopelessness. “Take a moment, remind yourself to take a moment and find yourself.” In this line, Garnet is implying that Connie and Steven should take a moment to breathe and look at the situation objectively. Garnet is the fusion of Ruby and Sapphire, who are both featured in this video. Ruby is shown taking a deep breath to calm herself before saving Sapphire from the swirling hordes of butterflies, demonstrating the ability to slow down from racing thoughts so as to manage one’s emotions whilst also maintaining a logical outlook on the situation. In a moment of high stress, fear, or anger; instead of reacting immediately, one might take a moment to themselves to consider the situation logically before reacting. Reeling in these negative emotions and allowing oneself to experience and analyze them without judgment can help train the mind out of the unhealthy or risky behavior. Mindfulness is most effective when it is centered around the idea of self-care and self-love.
It is common for those who have struggled with emotional issues to have gloomy thoughts, but it is vital to managing them if they happen to suffer from a behavioral disorder such as Depression, Anxiety, or PTSD. In the song, the two gems that make up Garnet; Ruby and Sapphire are shown being surrounded by glowing butterflies, which represent “little things”, or all of the little worries and problems many people face. “You’re losing sight, you’re losing touch; all these little things seem to matter so much that they confuse you, that I might lose you…” Garnet is explaining the common phenomenon of racing thoughts, which oftentimes stem from high stress, as well as Anxiety, Depression, PTSD, and many other personality disorders and mental illnesses. Garnet herself has overcome many emotional struggles, including fear, doubt, and grief. It is important to the plot of the series that each of the characters is shown with their own struggles and their ability to overcome them. As the audience begins to relate to a character, they also begin to watch them grow; thus illuminating the possibility of growth within themselves.
A common theme in the series is a theme of radical kindness. Kindness to others as well as to one’s self is arguably one of the most moving and significant aspects of the entire show. Garnet uses a gentle tone of calming, loving serenity. Notice that Garnet never scolds Stevonnie, only gives advice on how to make amends with themselves for their actions, emotions, and pain. Her intent is not to harm or discourage Connie and Steven, but to encourage and enlighten them. The imagery, tone, and intent of this song all convey a sense of self-parenting and self-love. Some may believe self-love to be a vain, narcissistic tendency, however, self-love is actually a critical step for those who battle with self-worth and self-hate. “It’s okay, you’ve got nothing to fear, I’m here…” Although this may seem as though another individual is stating this, it is implied that the “I’m here” actually comes from one’s self. This self-love is crucial to emotional recovery and is an important builder of self-esteem. Developing children typically receive love from their parents or guardians growing up, however, once a child begins to approach adulthood, they must learn to be the source of their own self-esteem. The series heavily implies self-discovery and identity, with Steven’s adventures not only in action-based settings with aliens from outer space but the journey of self-discovery in a domestic setting of Beach City. Many episodes strongly encourage the audience through metaphors and analogies in the show that essential parts of life are self-reflection and self-acceptance. In the lyric “Take a moment to think of just flexibility, love, and trust.”, this implies a security in this self-love; that you will always be there for you, and you can have trust in that, as well as trust in yourself.
While Steven Universe focuses on many difficult issues such as abusive relationships, prejudice, jealousy, grief, and doubt, it is clear that this episode and the rest of the show demonstrate an important consideration for morals and values. While Connie is aware of her own feelings and triggers, she is also aware that her actions were wrong. Many adults in Steven and Connie’s lives try to install into them good morals. Garnet teaches Stevonnie ways of managing the triggers and emotions they face through Mindful Meditation, which can allow growth and relief from intrusive thoughts and knee-jerk reactions, which can be very chaotic for the people around them. Without Garnet’s guidance, it is possible that Connie and Steven would have remained frozen in this emotional state. Luckily, Garnet’s lesson of Mindful Meditation helped allow Steven and Connie to look at the issue objectively, see their errors, and comfort themselves; resulting in a formative step of growth for both characters. This character development is meaningful and important for young viewers because it demonstrates the ability of two very human characters to overcome their emotions and grow stronger from them. This emotional self-management, however, would not be possible without the secret powerful ingredient; self-love.
According to the National Institutes of Health in an article by Joseph A Bailey, self-esteem is a significant contributor to the accomplishments and shortcomings of life. Building healthy self-esteem consists of self-analysis and discovery, which can likely lead to defining a purpose for one’s self and gaining self-confidence. Bailey suggests that building self-esteem provides emotional security and solidity in one’s self-worth in terms of character. Self-confidence and esteem are crucial to achieving success in life, as well as overcoming insecurities to accept and prevent failures. It is true that one must love themselves in order to have the strength and confidence to continue their life in the pursuit of happiness.
In conclusion, the episode and the song both translate to a solid central thesis: that with Mindfulness, emotional management, and self-love, one can begin to overcome their pain and grow from it into the person they aspire to be. If we can begin to return to our roots and practice self-control and compassion, it will produce a much more generous and fruitful society than the bleak reality we face today. If more youth can be exposed to such values of self-esteem, objectivity, and kindness, we may begin to see a more peaceful world. Although we are, in part, defined by our experiences, it is not our tragedies that makes us special, but how we overcome them. While we may be strong in withstanding our traumas, it is our remaining softness which demonstrates true bravery.
Bailey, Joseph A. Journal of the National Medical Association. U.S. National Institutes of Health’s National Library of Medicine. The Foundation of Self-Esteem. (Vol. 95 No. 5). (May 2003). (p.390).
This article explains the benefits and steps of establishing self-esteem and its overall concept. The article explains many various points surrounding the topic of self-esteem and its effectiveness in building self-confidence and success. This article was used to demonstrate the necessity for self-esteem in everyday life. This source is credible because it is backed by various studies, research, and the National Institutes of Health.
Black, S. David. Fernando, Randima. Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology. Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior. Department of Health and Human Services. U.S. National Institutes of Health’s National Library of Medicine. Mindfulness Training and Classroom Behavior Among Lower-Income and Ethnic Minority Elementary School Children. (2014 October 23).
This study was conducted to discover if Mindfulness techniques improved performance in Elementary school students. The article explains the methods and outcomes of this study yielded impressive cognitive and behavioral changes in the tested children. This article was used to show the effectiveness of Mindfulness strategies used with children. It is a credible source because it contains accurate data and references, and was published through the U.S. National Library of Medicine and the National Institute of Health.
Sugar, Rebecca. YouTube. “Here Comes a Thought”|Steven Universe|Cartoon Network. Episode 4, Season 4: “Mindful Education”. (Published on August 25, 2015).
This video is the complete scene that includes the song “Here Comes a Thought”. It is from the episode of Steven Universe, “Mindful Education”. This video was the central focus of my Rhetorical Analysis Essay. The video is used to support the thesis and main points with excerpts and examples from the text.
Thrum, Eric. Rolling Stone. ‘Steven Universe’: How Rebecca Sugar Turned TV’s Most Empathetic Cartoon Into an Empire. (June 7, 2017). <https://www.rollingstone.com/culture/rebecca-sugars-steven-universe-is-a-cartoon-empire-w485887>.
This article is used to show the amount of praise Steven Universe has received. The article includes an interview with Rebecca Sugar, the creator of the show. It includes details from the show, as well as an in-depth discussion with Sugar on the different aspects and unique qualities of the series. The article supports the argument in the essay because it discusses the emotional depth of the show, as well as its underlying tones of mutual kindness. The New York Times is a credible source of criticism of media and this article was used to highlight the report Steven Universe has gained in the entertainment industry.
U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs. PTSD: National Center for PTSD. Mindfulness Practice in the Treatment of Traumatic Stress. (Last updated August 14, 2015).
This article is an in-depth explanation of Mindfulness as a technique for the treatment of PTSD. Its purpose is to briefly explain how Mindfulness works and its effectiveness in therapy settings and procedures. This article was used to explain and validate the practice of Mindfulness. It discusses the uses and effectiveness in the treatment of PTSD, which supports my argument on the importance of Mindfulness.