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  • Here's an idea. "Steven Universe"

  • demonstrates that there is no universal concept of family.

  • [MUSIC PLAYING]

  • "Steven Universe" is an animated Cartoon Network series

  • created by former "Adventure Time" storyboard artist Rebecca

  • Sugar.

  • And you should watch it.

  • It is great.

  • Also, can we just literally pause here

  • for a moment to acknowledge that Adventure Time is

  • kind of like SNL in the '70s just churning out talent.

  • The main character, Steven Universe,

  • lives in Beach City with three aliens called

  • the Crystal Gems-- Garnet, Amethyst, and Pearl.

  • Steven is the child of a gem, the late Rose Quartz,

  • and a human, Greg Universe, who lives in his sweet van

  • next to the car wash he works at.

  • Steven and the Crystal Gems protect earth

  • from extra dimensional threat, and, of course, always

  • find a way to save the day.

  • But really the focus of the show is the characters, their home,

  • and their relationships, which feel

  • real and intricate and ambiguous.

  • Especially at the start of the show,

  • the writing doesn't go to great lengths

  • to make much about each character explicit.

  • It even sort of pokes fun of itself

  • in the first season when Mayor Dewey asks--

  • Are any of your sisters home?

  • My sisters?

  • Is there anyone else I can talk to about this?

  • Regardless, or maybe because of that ambiguity,

  • I think Steven Universe gets the idea of family really right.

  • The easiest Western concept of family

  • is that it is a group of people that one has a blood

  • and/or legal relationship with.

  • Hey, adopted brother.

  • Slightly more complicated is the idea

  • that a family is a network of supportive individuals.

  • Maybe your coworkers or friends or collaborators or even

  • your customers are a family.

  • You'll be treated like family.

  • You treat your customers like family.

  • And we work together like a family.

  • Treat 'em like family.

  • You're not just a guest, you're part of our family.

  • In other words, family is a group

  • of people who care about one another with the implication

  • that you should care about people you have a blood

  • relationship with.

  • But, I mean, come on, it's so much more complicated

  • than that, right?

  • Families are almost, by definition, hierarchical

  • and highly regulated.

  • In the states, at least, that hierarchy

  • is based on the nuclear family and reinforced

  • by laws, tax codes, and institutions, none of which,

  • I think it's worth saying, can really make you love someone.

  • Relatedly, families traffic to varying degrees

  • in discipline and structure.

  • A family is a group of people that encourages the behavior of

  • and produces knowledge for one another.

  • That behavior and knowledge is frequently

  • based on social values, which makes

  • the family an important political institution as well.

  • Families also have a strong connection

  • to history, both learning to cherish it

  • and not wanting, under any circumstances, to repeat it.

  • In other words, family is a cultural process

  • that exists in tension with it's biological factors.

  • A family is something we do just as much

  • as it's something we are.

  • And I think Steven Universe does family really well.

  • For instance, in the Universe family unit blood relations,

  • like the one between Steven and Greg, are celebrated

  • but they're not hegemonic.

  • They form the basis for relationships,

  • but they are not their entirety.

  • Steven's guardians can and do teach him

  • about himself and the world, how he fits into its history,

  • but they don't force that history onto him.

  • They have expectations of him.

  • They support and encourage him, but they also

  • worry, underestimate, overprotect, and enable him.

  • But in return, he challenges and surprises them,

  • teaches them about his world as much as they do the same.

  • Everyone, mostly, doesn't assert more authority over the others

  • than they have.

  • They are eventually honest about their problems.

  • And they keep secrets because they are unsure

  • or want to reveal themselves responsibly,

  • not because they are deceitful.

  • This is made all the more meaningful,

  • I think, because Steven's family is highly functional,

  • though it is highly nontraditional.

  • I mean, besides the fact he lives with literal aliens.

  • Its structure is not externally or institutionally determined.

  • I can't imagine what their tax returns

  • look like, but determined based on their situation.

  • He's got three adoptive mother figures,

  • one of whom is more like a big sister,

  • another of whom has romantic feelings for his late mother,

  • and a third who, depending upon how you read it,

  • represents either a loving relationship between two other

  • female characters or the possibility that someone with

  • dissociative identity disorder cannot only reconcile

  • their, in this case, obviously loving personalities,

  • but also be a total badass because of them.

  • Garnet is the best.

  • Steven's dad doesn't cohabit, but that doesn't

  • make him any less his dad.

  • And as is often the case with nontraditional families,

  • it sometimes feels like there is a whole world against them,

  • which, in this case, I guess makes

  • sense, because there actually is.

  • That the Gems and Universes can so

  • powerfully evoke functional family,

  • though they exhibit few or none of the biological,

  • institutional, or structural characteristics

  • the West tends to require of functional families,

  • shows that maybe there isn't a perfect universal concept that

  • defines such a thing.

  • And I mean, spoiler alert, there isn't.

  • Different cultures structure family differently, sometimes

  • drastically so, and expect different things

  • based on those structures.

  • There is way too much to cover here.

  • We'll put some links in the Doobly Doo.

  • But I hope it suffices it to say that there

  • are many kinship systems throughout the world's

  • communities.

  • And though they are all very different,

  • they all equally define family.

  • In this way, it might be fair to say

  • that there is a kind of family resemblance for families.

  • Not like, whoa, you really look like your sister family

  • resemblance, but Ludwig Wittgenstein's idea of family

  • resemblances, that there are sets

  • of things with similarities-- affinities,

  • he called them-- that don't really

  • sit within a clear, rigid boundary.

  • He wrote about family resemblances between languages,

  • games, and numbers.

  • We know when a certain thing is an example of each,

  • but to clearly and accurately describe

  • what makes all games, all languages, or all numbers

  • alike would be impossible.

  • Can we make a similar case for families?

  • Maybe.

  • Can we test that network's boundaries?

  • Where does it get fuzzy?

  • When are we definitely outside of it?

  • For me, coworkers, collaborators, and customers

  • remain outside that network.

  • Of course, your experience may vary.

  • But weirdly, certain fandoms, not all of them,

  • but certain ones, might sit at an edge.

  • Punk rock, I think, belongs here.

  • I've never felt more whatever family

  • is for a group of strangers than when

  • I was in my punk rock days.

  • That is, of course, until I started making Idea Channel

  • and began meeting all of you guys.

  • Also, in before, punk rock is not a fandom.

  • And I mean, hey, what about the "Steven Universe" fandom?

  • We can see how "Steven Universe" is in a family of shows.

  • I might claim that that has created a family of fandoms.

  • Does the "Steven Universe" fandom conduct itself

  • in a family-like manner?

  • Again, your experience may vary.

  • But as the show has grown in popularity,

  • especially over the last couple months,

  • it seems like the people making it and its fans have had

  • to deal with the kinds of things growing and popular fandoms--

  • deal with-- collective identity, hierarchy,

  • new members' relationship to the past, and, in my opinion,

  • the mostly fair and reasonable expectations of its

  • "guardians."

  • Of course, not all families struggle with these things.

  • And all entities struggling with these things are not families.

  • But I think the resemblance is strong, at least as strong

  • as it is between Garnet, Amethyst, and Pearl and Steven.

  • And

  • What do you guys think?

  • What does "Steven Universe" demonstrate

  • about the idea of family?

  • And when do non-family things, like fandoms,

  • become family-like?

  • What's the edge of that network?

  • Let us know in the comments.

  • And if you want to join Idea Channel's

  • massively nontraditional family, please subscribe.

  • So when an Idea Channel video has a significant number

  • of upvotes, should I feel bad because it

  • means I haven't presented a sufficiently

  • controversial idea?

  • Let's see what you guys had to say about Reddit and democracy.

  • Before we get to comments, two quick things.

  • You can still send us records for the record wall

  • until April 28.

  • This week we received some records

  • from Jason, who sent us the "BioShock Infinite Soundtrack,"

  • and from [INAUDIBLE], "The Super Bowl Shuffle," which

  • I am very excited about.

  • So if you want to send us stuff, details

  • in the Doobly Doo, including some restrictions, which do

  • apply.

  • We're keeping the things you send us forever.

  • And second, I was on of my friend Davis

  • and David's podcast, "The Electric Cybercast II--

  • Online," talking about Zork and text adventure games.

  • I made them play Zork, which was maybe, as it turns out,

  • not a nice thing to do to your friend.

  • So if you want to listen to that,

  • we'll put a link in the Doobly Doo.

  • OK.

  • On to comments.

  • Mica says there might be a deeper

  • level to this discussion, specifically

  • the divorce between the operations

  • of governmental democracy and the practical needs of people

  • who are affected by it, and asks this question of,

  • you know, if the operation of government

  • exists too much in the realm of ideas, maybe

  • in the same way that the internet and Reddit does,

  • that, you know, you're responding to ideas

  • and not practicalities.

  • And I think that this-- I think that this

  • holds some water, in that there's always a threat.

  • And I think that this is something

  • that, like, I fall victim to-- of getting

  • stuck in your own politics and not stepping back and trying

  • to think about how it relates to actual people

  • in the actual world.

  • Yeah.

  • It was a great comment.

  • On the subreddit, Axylon talked about their experience

  • with heavily moderated subreddits and the relationship

  • that that kind of moderation has to the idea of oligarchy

  • And a really, really great conversation followed that.

  • So I would suggest checking it out.

  • And it reminded me of another great conversation

  • that followed a comment Christopher Willis left

  • on YouTube about Athenian democracy, which sort of has

  • this aspect of randomness.

  • And that's a thing that Jacques Ranciere talked about,

  • actually, a bit in "Hatred of Democracy,"