Steven’s “art” becomes a victim of irony.
Of all the episodes where the sequence is in dispute, this is the only one that I think really does make more sense in Season 1. It’s still not a great episode, but at least if this comes before “Joy Ride” it works as character development for Buck (as opposed to him just suddenly being a jerk).
So Greg decided to start offering guitar lessons, and Steven was designated the head of PR for that venture, so he draws up a flyer and starts posting it around town.
Buck: This would make a rad shirt, man.
Buck: Yeah. Let’s make your flyer into t-shirts.
Steven: Oh man, my dad would love that!
Buck borrows his dad’s screenprinting equipment to make the t-shirts, because apparently the only people who need to make their own t-shirts are government officials constantly running for re-election.
Steven: Now everyone’s gonna want lessons from Dad!
Buck: This is bigger than your dad, Steven. It’s Art, and it’s gonna flood the public consciousness.
You know, Steven, for the head of the PR department, you don’t know very much about advertising – you don’t go into it expecting everyone who sees a flyer to buy your product/service, certainly not for something as relatively niche as guitar lessons.
But they do their best to make a splash by sniping pedestrians with the t-shirt cannon (which is, to be fair, an excellent marketing strategy).
Sour Cream: This is the coolest thing I’ve ever been hit in the head with!
But as they continue to generate “buzz” with the shirts, it gradually becomes apparent that Buck and Steven have very different intentions and goals.
Buck: Looks like our shirt has a really good buzz going.
Steven: Yeah, but I think they think it’s a joke.
Buck: The only thing that’s important is that they’re talking about it. That’s how real art works.
I mean, if they were both in it “for the art”, sure, but Steven actually DOES have an ulterior motive of, you know, advertising guitar lessons, so he kinda has a right to be concerned about what message people are getting from it.
Jenny: Yoo-hoo! Guitar Dad! I just wanted to say I think you’re wonderful and hilarious!
Greg: Uh…thank you? Huh. That’s kinda strange.
Steven: What is?
Greg: Lots of people have stopped by, but no one’s taken a lesson yet.
Again, this isn’t an inherently bad thing in terms of advertising, but it’s pretty clear people are thinking of the shirts more as a meme than anything else.
Steven: The shirts aren’t working, Buck!
Buck: Yeah they are. People love ’em.
Steven: But nobody wants guitar lessons from my dad!
Buck: That’s not the point. […] The point is, it’s an amazing shirt.
Steven: Aw, my drawing’s not that good…
Buck: Yeah, no. It’s terrible.
Buck: That’s what’s so great about it. Your work is so naive. You really love your dad. It’s funny.
Steven: I…I don’t want to make these shirts anymore.
Buck: Too bad, Steven. It’s so current you can’t stop it. I’m a tastemaker, and I’m gonna keep making tastes. Forever.
There is nothing more soul-crushing to an aspiring young artist than people laughing at their work. It’s one thing when you try to offer constructive criticism, but when you’ve been encouraging them and generally popularizing something, you owe it to them to at least be honest about why you enjoy it up front. What’s even worse is that this wasn’t just some pet project for Steven – he was legitimately trying to help his dad, and here Buck is calling that impulse stupid. I know it’s supposed to be connected to how Buck once similarly tried to help his own dad as a kid, but it’s still an awful thing to do.
So Steven naturally goes to the Crystal Gems for help…but unfortunately, dealing with IP disputes between humans is a little out of their depth.
Garnet: Let your problem be known. Then, you can work towards an understanding.
Steven: Oh, I’ll make them understand. I’ll make them all understand…
Amethyst: Eh, he’ll be fine.
So he takes the logical and rational step of…making t-shirts of Buck’s embarrassing childhood ad for his dad’s campaign. Because doing the exact same thing to the people that hurt you is a great way to build understanding and empathy, and it totally never results in cycles of revenge!
But of course everything works out exactly as Steven planned, and there aren’t even any hard feelings! Because Buck knows that he deserved being humiliated!
Buck: Yo Steven. Just wanted to say, uh, I’m sorry about what I did, and, uh…
Steven: It’s okay, Buck. You don’t have to say anything more than that.
Buck: You’re a cool cat, Steven Universe. Hey, Mr. U.
Greg: You want a picture with me or some junk?
Buck: No way, man. I want a lesson. From Guitar Dad.
Until next time…