(spoilers for “It Could Have Been Great” and “Message Received”)
There’s a whole lot you could say about the recent episodes of Steven Universe, and one of the things that stood out to me is the really obvious way Peridot’s description of the Homeworld leaders parodies the reverential discourse of “logic” and “reason” and “objectivity,” especially in combination with a fixation on “progress.” The fact that this discourse is utilized by an apologist in promotion of space colonialism isn’t hard to miss, either.
It’s really not subtle.
And you know what? I don’t need or want it to be subtle. I love it, despite what little of it there is. It’s a gratifyingly blunt jab at scientism peddlers and even “fans” of the show who engage in this sort of thing.
I think taking on these ideas is kind of rare, but it’s not unheard of, and I appreciate that the show handles the silly “emotion vs. reason” binary in two unique ways:
1) Although Steven’s characterization involves a lot of caring, sappy, sentimental, and excitable behavior, and although Peridot criticizes him for being too driven by his “emotions,” the conflict between them is ultimately not over whether “emotion” or “logic” is better, but about whether to value life on Earth more than colonialist Homeworld uses for the planet. And in some ways, the conflict is presented through that emotion vs. reason lens — especially from Peridot’s perspective — but the Crystal Gems’ counterarguments don’t involve criticizing her back for being too “logical” or not being in touch with the right “feelings.” In fact, Peridot clearly has a lot of feelings already. When the Crystal Gems argue with her about Homeworld plans for the Earth, they state their perspective as a matter of values. Because, in Pearl’s words, “Rose Quartz believed that all life is precious and worth protecting.” There’s plenty of feelings and logic on both sides, and measures of each aren’t what accounts for the difference.
2) And here’s something extra special: when Peridot finally starts questioning her leader, she doesn’t just do so on the basis of a new respect for mere “feelings” or because she’s become more “emotional” or any of the typical ways that “logic”-revering characters are usually converted to a new ideology.
Granted, it is implied that she has formed some attachments that affect what information she chooses to include (and conceal) in her report, as a rather rash decision. But that’s not the climax of the scene, and it’s not where matters escalate.
The real highlight is when Peridot, a low ranking gem, begins to argue with one of the Homeworld matriarchs, trying to convince her to reconsider her plans. Yellow Diamond doesn’t take well to this, and she eventually spits, “Are you questioning my authority?” Peridot is flustered, and she replies, “I’m questioning your objectivity,” and then addresses her with an honorific and a respectful gesture as if to make up for the insult.
There’s so much going in in those few seconds, because a) as Peridot explained herself earlier, Yellow Diamond’s authority is in part based on her (presumed) objectivity, and it’s the reason why Peridot thinks she’s qualified to lead in the first place, so that questioning her authority and questioning her objectivity might as well be the same thing, and b) Peridot’s struggles to be respectful during this line (even if only out of fear) indicates she is still trying to be loyal to Yellow Diamond and to Homeworld, while in the process of recognizing a disconnect between what she has been taught and what she has concluded from her own observations.
But, when pressed on the issue, she eventually stops being respectful and acts even more insubordinate — not just because she’s getting frustrated, but because she thinks Yellow Diamond is making a bad decision (acting on more of a grudge than on thorough cost-benefit analysis) and because Yellow Diamond has been dismissive of her experience and knowledge of the planet Earth.
In other words, she eventually gets fed up with Yellow Diamond because she thinks Yellow Diamond is being illogical.
And I adore the narrative implications of that.