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VCRs, virtual communications, and lost records: Archivy themes in Steven Universe

In the past, I’ve written about Steven Universe, noting that the VHS player that Hades has in Lore Olympus reminded me of Rose’s video tape for Steven in Steven Universe, with the tape player staying intact even in the limited epilogue series, Steven Universe Future. That is only scratching the surface when it comes to archivy themes in the Steven Universe franchise.

Steven picks up the videotape his mom made for him in the season 1 episode, “Lion 3: Straight to Video.”

First and foremost are VCRs. Steven finds a videotape of his mother, Rose, speaking to him in “Lion 3: Straight to Video,” within the mane of his animal companion, Lion, placed there by Rose. It has scenes showing the beach, the Crystal Temple (where he lives), Rose explaining that she will become half of him when she is born and that when he is himself, it is her loving him, while saying he will be extraordinary as a human. The video ends with a scene of Rose, pregnant with Steven, sharing a kiss with his dad, Greg. This gives Steven’s friend, Sadie, the confidence to call her mother and tell her to keep making bagged lunches for her, realizing how much her mother loves her. That’s sweet.

This is not the only time VCRs and videotapes appear in this series, however. Many seasons later, in the episode “Lion 4: Alternate Ending,” he travels to Rose’s Landfill, an abandoned area in the desert, somewhere in Northern Africa, Steven finds a second tape, titled “Nora.” Intrigued, he watches the video over and over and thinks it has a secret message. As it turns out, it is just a second message which would have been played for a female child of Rose and Greg with the name of Nora. The videotape also resurfaces in the episode “Rose Buds,” part of Steven Universe Future. At one point in the episode, one of the Rose Quartzes accidentally plays the tape his mother gave him, causing him to shut off the TV quickly, and put them to bed. Apart from this, in the episode “We Need to Talk,” Greg plays an old videotape that shows him singing with Steven’s mom and their attempt at fusion after he sees Steven, and his friend Connie, fuse together.

This raises the question: how are these videotapes (called magnetic tapes) preserved anyway? Well, the American Institute for Conservation says that videotapes should be stored in a place that temperature does not change much, or that is not relativity humid, specifically an area that is dust-free and has humidity and temperature-controlled, at 68 degrees Fahrenheit and 20-30 relative humidity. They also say that videotapes should not be kept in an environment that is hot or wet or exposed to “direct sunlight,” with storage at hot temperatures leading the tape to breakdown, with storage at high humidity even causing possible fungal growth. Furthermore, the Institute recommends minimizing the handling of the tape whenever possible, avoiding contamination from any pollutants, to store tapes “like books on a library shelf, and not store them flat, as pressure from other tapes “can cause distortions.” The Presbyterian Historical Society recommends “migration to DVD” for items of value. In the case of the series, we never see Steven rewinding the tape to the beginning, and the times we see the videotape, they are stored poorly and always horizontally! Hilariously, the tape was probably better stored inside the controlled environment of Lion’s mane (the pocket dimension) than in Steven’s room. In some ways, you could say that Rose created a sort of archives/collection in Lion’s mane, so that’s cool. According to some sources, videotapes that are stored well can last 10-25 years! If we use the timeline, Steven was born sometime in the 21st century, at around 2000 according to the timeline put together by Channel Federator. [1] As such, the first season takes place in 2013, meaning the tape would have been inside the mane for 13 years! The only other time videotapes reappear in the series, apart from fleeting mentions in the epilogue series, is in the episode “The Big Show.”

There are many other records within the series. Apart from characters drawing about their past experience during the Gem war, like Centipeddle in “Monster Reunion,” Peridot constantly records her time on Earth on her “finger screens” but they are destroyed in “Catch and Release,” along with her limb enhancements. As such, she has to return to the Prime Kindergarten in the episode “When It Rains” to gather what records she can, while annoyed at the loss of her logs, that she had backed up before, [2] and finds information on the Gem fragments from reports, shown on a large screen:

That sounds like some archival records to me! Luckily for Peridot, in the episode “Too Short to Ride,” she gets a finger screen, learns about equivalents to YouTube and Twitter (cheep instead of tweet). I’d also like to point out Peridot’s hilarious names for things. A phone is a primitive vibration transmitter, a microwave is a primitive radiation concentrator, a TV is a primitive image cube, a screwdriver is a leverage optimizer, a hammer is a rhizomatic pulverizer, and a rollercoaster is a speed pattern transportation circuit. The same applies to parts of the body. A nose is a sense sponge, eyes are vision spheres, hands are touch stumps, and feet are gravity connectors. Hilariously, the butt is just called…the butt. Ha. Anyway, I thought I’d share that before moving on.

One primary source and record is the journal of Buddy Buddwick, the founder of Beach City, which Steven finds in the library and goes over it with his friend Connie in the episode “Buddy’s Book.” Apart from telling his story, this book, misfiled in the library (yet another stereotype sadly), not only gives Buddy’s story but it is a written record of Gem locations, some of which are shown on a visualization that Peridot brings up in “It Could’ve Been Great.” In that same episode, we see various records and files on the computer that Peridot goes through, which is a bit archivy you could say. Then, in the episode “Steven’s Dream,” Steven uses the journal so he can find “Pink Diamond’s Palanquin.” The book has been added to the local collections of the public library as Connie says that the book has to be returned to the library within a week. His mission does not go well, as Greg is captured and taken off Earth by one of the Diamond matriarchs, Blue Diamond, leading to a series of events that run through the main part of the show’s fourth season, including the rescue of Greg from the Human Zoo.

What happens in those episodes leads to Steven’s capture at the end of the same season, with archives coming up more in the next season of the series. In the second episode of this season, “The Trial,” the Blue Zircon uses archival files to make a case to defend Rose Quartz before the Diamond court of Blue and Yellow. In the same episode, Blue Pearl is the court drawer, Yellow Pearl is the court stenographer, and Lars is used by prosecuting Zircon (Yellow Zircon) as “evidence,” Eyeball gives eyewitness testimony that Steven is the same as Rose Quartz (not true). Later, using the fact that Steven doesn’t know what happened, the Zircon defending him makes an impassioned case that the shattering of Pink Diamond doesn’t make sense. This does not please the Diamonds; the Zircons are both poofed while Lars and Steven escape into the depths of Homeworld. I wish they had used the word “archival” in this episode, but instead, Blue Zircon talks about going through files and makes a convincing case about the “shattering” of Rose!

Blue Zircon exasperated in “The Trial”

There are some other records I’d like to mention before closing this post. For one, Stevonnie (Connie/Steven fusion), after crashing on an unnamed jungle planet in the episode “Lars of the Stars,” in the episode the follows (“Jungle Moon“), Stevonnie accesses an old computer system, goes through files and is able to contact Lars’s ship, using a code from her “Diamond dream.” Additionally, the inside of Pearl’s gem, as shown in the episode “A Single Pale Rose,” is an internal archives of sorts, with repressed memories, and is organized on the surface alphabetically. It was so compelling that I even wrote a fan fiction about it where Catra and Adora travel inside the gem, which I called her “memoryscape,” which sounds a little like the one shown in Lore Olympus but affected by my own experience:

“With a flash of white light, Adora and Catra opened their eyes. A room filled with drawers upon drawers of file cabinets, and computer monitors, allowing for easy searching of memories in front of them. While digital technology seemed to be the standard of repositories, Pearl liked the feel of card catalogs. Steven had not visited this room when he entered Pearl’s gemstone. The pathway through Pearl’s memories was different then. After that experience, Pearl used her Gem abilities to direct the Pearls inside to reorganize it and create a Memory Core for safekeeping. These efforts would all be for naught if Pearl’s gemstone cracked, as it would be game over for the memories, items, and anyone inside.”

There are also Pink’s artifacts and such in Homeworld in the episode “Familiar,” but that can hardly be called an archive. Even so, there are so, so many preservation questions when it comes to records in this series. It seems that some records are destroyed or lost in time. When structures are destroyed, like in the episode “Cheeseburger Backpack,” undoubtedly any possible records are gone, without the possibility of retrieval. The same can be said about the message from Lapis which Steven receives in “The Message,” or the message Peridot sends from the communication hub in “Cry for Help.” We know that any recordings that Peridot made on her tape recorder [3] have been lost, as Lapis destroyed it in “Barn Mates” and it becomes a meep morp (a form of art) by the time of “Beta.” Additionally, in “Back to the Moon,” they can’t contact Homeworld because the panel and technology in “It Could’ve Been Great” were smashed. No one knows what happens to the records and stuff in the control panel shown in ‘Friend Ship,” the paintings Vidalia made of Amethyst (presumably still in her garage), or the documentary Renaldo made, titled “Rising Tides, Crashing Skies” about the Crystal Gems. Then, there are the captain’s logs that Lars does in “Your Mother and Mine” and “Letter to Lars.” Where are they being saved?

Despite questions about how this information is being stored, in an interesting connection, the people that Steven told Peridot about in “Marble Madness” are the ones that Aquamarine is looking for in the episodes “Are You My Dad?” and “I Am My Mom.” That means it took the message about a year to get to Homeworld, as season 1 takes place in 2013 and season 4 takes place in 2014. The movie takes place around 2016 and the epilogue around 2017. I think that’s about it for this post, but I’ve covered much more than I expected I would have originally. Until next week when I’ll write about another exciting topic!


Notes

[1] See 13:20 in this video.

[2] She tells Steven, in the episode: “No! I don’t want to talk to them! You’re the only one I need! *walks up to Steven* I can show you now, but I have nothing! My arm attachments, my fingers, my screen, my log, it’s all gone! But all of my logs up to date 6-5-2 still exist, backed up in Facet Five of the Prime Kindergarten!”

[3] Peridot is shown making recordings on the tape recorder on “Back to the Barn,” “Too Far,” “The Answer” (implied), “It Could’ve Been Great” (implied), “Log Date 7 15 2,” and and “Barn Mates.”

By histhermann

Marylander with MLIS who loves archives, libraries, genealogy, reviewing pop culture, and writing fictional stories. UMD '19 & SMCM '16 grad. I've been running various WordPress blogs for a while now, about genealogy, libraries, archives, and more.

2 replies on “VCRs, virtual communications, and lost records: Archivy themes in Steven Universe”

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