“There’s always been a god-shaped hole in man’s head. Trees were the first to fill it. Mr. Wood was the trees. Mr. Wood was the forest. Well, he was a very old god who saw something very new - he saw a god-fearing society turn towards complete industrialization. So what did he do? He sacrificed his trees. He sacrificed his forest. And he became something else.”
Fish and chips! Er... I mean: Humans, Gems, and their roles.
By now it’s been shown several times that Homeworld Gems are trapped within their own caste system; they are expected to fulfil a role dictated by their type, and those defy such rules are “purged”. This is presented as a huge problem for those like the Crystal Gems and the Off-colours, who want to be different and pursue another way of life, but also for even the Diamonds themselves, who are struggling to conform to their roles as leaders because of their grief. This got me thinking.
So, I may laugh at this picture of Papa Fryman all too frequently, but it reminds me of the line that accompanies it:
“Being part of the Fryman family means you gotta sell fries… and be my son, which you are. So, you’re already halfway there.”
Note how he states Peedee’s role before being his son - and then how being his son already qualifies him for that role. I feel like as an early episode, Frybo is often overlooked. Not only does it introduce the Gem shards, how they are semi-conscious, and how they can “power” things, but this particular quote makes me think of how Gems fulfil a particular role according to their type. Y’know: an Agate terrifies, a Lapis terraforms. Pearls are servants, Peridots are technicians. But this line of Papa Fryman’s makes specific reference to humans of a particular family, and how he expects his sons to not only contribute to the family business but to also be happy about it. Clearly, this is not the case, as first mentioned by Peedee in the same episode:
“You pick up a job to buy a house, or raise kids, or to… impress your dad. You work away your life, and what does it get you?”
Peedee is around Steven’s age, and his worldview is very different from Steven’s fun-loving personality, at least at this point of the show! It shows how much of a pragmatist Peedee is but also that he is already rather world-weary because of it, possibly even depressed. As the series progresses, Peedee’s relationship with his dad improves and he seemingly wants to work hard in the family business, but this line keeps making me think that he’s only doing it out of loyalty to his family. Peedee confides to Steven that his suggestion to alphabetise the condiments was not taken well, which suggests Papa Fryman still runs a strict uh, shop. And this is elaborated on in episodes with his older brother Ronaldo, who repeatedly shows very little interest in the family business(!) This is something which draws a lot of ire from their dad, to the point where Papa Fryman says his eldest son can’t take care of himself!
It would seem from Future Boy Zoltron that their family dynamic is changing, but the question the boys asked “Zoltron” is not shown. I can’t help but think the Frybros worry that their father sees them more as employees rather than sons - his expectations of them are clearly tied to the business, and he doesn’t seem to be aware of his sons’ wishes. This was also the case with Sour Cream, who complains in Joy Ride:
“Ugh, my stepdad was all on my case. I’m just like, I don’t want to be a fisherman. Everyone knows you can’t rave in a raincoat, step-dad!”
Again this is a case of a human being compelled into a role because of their family - their “type”. Although Sour Cream is not related to Yellowtail by blood, they are still family and as the family’s figure of authority, Yellowtail has clear plans for Sour Cream to join his family business. We know that Sour Cream has another career path in mind, and this disappoints his Yellowdad! Separately, Vidalia tells Amethyst about how she is more supportive of Sour Cream’s self-expression, and that Yellowtail and SC not seeing eye-to-eye was a recurring problem.
Although it took a difficult set of circumstances with Sour Cream’s biodad, it was Yellowtail who came through for him in the end. It would appear now that Sour Cream has his family’s full support to do what he wants with his life. This would be entirely in keeping with Steven’s and the Crystal Gems’ ethos: that a person or a Gem is free to choose their own course in life, regardless of their background or type. The Yellow Onions and the Frymans are only the families whose stories deal specifically with expectations within the family unit, but other human characters also struggle with communication between family members. Unspoken expectations or perhaps second-guessing each other, and their true situations or feelings are at the root of these problems.
Sadie’s mother is overbearing but clearly wants the best for her, Buck has a very open, supportive dad who can also be quite patronising. Lars‘ relationship with his parents seems to be quite tumultuous. These are all difficult problems as teenagers become young adults; they begin to know themselves, their hopes and their dreams better and sometimes, these can conflict with the views of their parent(s). Parents might feel they know better, and have trouble adjusting to new boundaries as their role becomes less of a protector or an authority figure, and more of an equal.
All of this reminds me of Rose’s words on how every Gem knows who they are and what their role is from the minute they emerge, and that’s all they will ever be. Rose was enamoured with humans because the of their “power” to grow and change - as all these people show. But equally through characters like the Crystal Gems, we’ve been shown that this is not the case. Humans and Gems are not so different, and Gems have their own capacity to grow and change, too. They can learn new things, adapt to new circumstances, and they can forge their own paths, to become their own Gems! I wonder if Rose ever realised that?