Greg: Help I can’t relate to my robot son.
Steven: My mind is the internet. I know every continuity mistake made on television.
The Message, Steven Universe
This piece of conversation caught my attention while watching Steven Universe with my children. It struck me as an attempt to poke fun at people on the autism spectrum. When I made a comment about it on Twitter, a Steven Universe fan jumped onto my mentions to argue. This person was angry with people like me reading things into the show that the creators never intended.
My reply was simple: The creators probably intended it to be an innocuous joke about people on the spectrum, just like I suggested.
It isn’t like they haven’t had other episodes that touch on disability. I attempted to break down my perceptions of Monster Reunion for this person. Until I referred them to Steven Universe Review 3 x 14: Monster Reunion, they refused to accept anything I had to say as anything more than baseless opinions.
I have a bone to pick about the way this person behaved. Marginalized people are often expected to defend their experiential learning and perceptions (people of various faiths, LGBTQIA, PW Disabilities, POC etc).
When they express an opinion on Social Media, they are suddenly expected to provide a dissertation in support of their point of view. Fatigue becomes a factor when dealing with such people. Sometimes an issue being discussed is so important, the marginalized person is willing to expend energy attempting to clarify. Sometimes they are too tired, or otherwise not inclined. If they tell the person to look it up on Google, they’re generally accused of attacking them.
This person who jumped onto MY MENTIONS demanded I provide PROOF of my opinion. Breaking down my observations of Monster Reunion wasn’t good enough. PROOF could only be provided in the form of reference articles that showed OTHER people shared my point of view.
The most frustrating part of the whole thing was that the person said my point of view was tainted by personal experience with autism. On the other hand, their opinion that I was jumping to unsubstantiated conclusions was valid because their brother was on the spectrum.
Assertions like this aren’t new for me. They are supported in the writing of autism experts like Simon Baron-Cohen, who says you can’t trust the self-assessment of people with autism. He recommends you ask non-autistic people in their lives if they see the person the same way.
Most of the people I encounter with this attitude have probably never read anything by Simon Baron-Cohen. It begs the question: Where are they getting the idea their opinions about autism are more valid than those of autistic people?
Simple answer: We have Autism Speaks to thank for that.
Slightly more inclusive answer: We have the entirety of history/research surrounding autism to blame.
Before I started to read Neurotribes by Steve Silberman, I was prepared to give Autism Speaks all the blame for teaching the world they are allowed to speak for autistic people. As I plow through the painful pages of Silberman’s book, I can see there’s a long history of mistreating autistic people. Treating us as irrelevant is actually an improvement from being labelled as inhuman.
I suppose I should let you in on the points I was making about the way Steven Universe tackled issues of disability in Monster Reunion. If you want more detail, follow the link to the review I referenced.
In the episode, there is a corrupted gem. The other Crystal Gems tell Steven such gems are beyond help because they are torn in the mind, instead of the body. Steven refuses to accept this. He attempts to heal the corrupted gem. His efforts allow the gem to communicate through drawing. She draws a picture that reveals she is desperate to get back to her crew.
Her drawings might have revealed more than Steven realized. She drew a picture that looked like a scene from the war. The corrupted gem and her crew were taking orders from what appeared to be Pink Diamond, except the picture looked like Steven. Since gems consistently can’t tell the difference between Steven and his mother (Rose Quartz), it makes me think this corrupted gem was trying to tell Steven that his mother had been Pink Diamond (and therefore part of himself continues to be).
What is troubling about Monster Reunion is the attitude of the other Crystal Gems. They treat the corrupted gem as beyond hope and void of value until Steven gives her the ability to communicate. This is the experience of many people with disabilities that affect their ability to communicate, including people with autism.
I’ve had people with disabilities tell me it was a little less painful to watch their experiences portrayed through a cartoon fantasy. They also found it gratifying to see the creators of Steven Universe present their point of view to an audience who might not otherwise think about it. Once I got over the initial shock, I found myself agreeing with them. When I had a stranger on Twitter demand I explain and defend the way I saw the episode, this gratification was somewhat dulled.