You’d hope that fans of Steven Universe—which might be the most progressive kids’ show ever created, up to and including starring a character who’s the living embodiment of a healthy romantic relationship between two women—would be able to take the show’s lessons of empathy to heart. But then again, this is the internet, where hope is a wet, dismal fart, and empathy goes to die. And so, it’s not surprising—depressing, certainly, but not surprising—to hear that Steven Universe writer and storyboard artist Lauren Zuke has deleted her Twitter account this week, after being harassed by fans apparently angry at the show’s handling (or non-handling) of one of its many relationships, and Zuke’s perceived feelings on the pair.
The conflict—going off this io9 piece about Zuke’s social media departure, and a Reddit thread detailing some of the possible motivations for it—centers on the characters of Lapis and Peridot, two members of the show’s cadre of magical rock women, the Crystal Gems. Some time ago, Zuke retweeted some fan art of the two characters, apparently in support of the two of them becoming romantically paired. Then, earlier this year, she co-wrote and storyboarded “Barn Mates,” an entire episode centering on the two. A few months later, the show revisited the relationship with “Beta,” and that seems to be when the reaction to the pairing got particularly bad.
The online backlash was apparently quick, powerful, and seemingly coming from two different directions: ’shippers, irritated and outraged by what they saw as Zuke pushing the agenda of her preferred pairing, and others who accused the Cartoon Network show of engaging in “queer baiting.” Among other definitions, the term refers to TV and film producers introducing perceived sexual tension between two same-sex characters with no intent of ever bringing the relationship to fruition, and is decried by critics as a manipulative use of sexuality in order to draw in viewers and attention.
The criticism and attackers were apparently strong and frequent enough that Zuke decided to shut down her social media presence, and close herself off to “thousands of people who think because I work on a TV show that I owe them myself all the time.” Her account has since been deleted, but a screenshot of her last tweets is currently making the rounds online.