Paige Paz, a 19-year-old artist from Arizona who often goes by "Zamii," posted tearful video after dealing with an outpouring of online harassment from the Steven Universe fandom. In the video she explains that she's now in the hospital getting taken care of, but that she doesn't know when things will be back to "normal."
Days before, Paz, a fan of the Cartoon herself, seemingly disappeared from the internet after a number of SU fans targeted work on her Tumblr page that they considered to be problematic.
"I’m going to sleep forever," Paz wrote. "I’m sorry everyone I’m just super tired. This will be the last you’ll hear from me. I’m going to be at peace now. I’m sorry."
The series of events leading up to Paz's cryptic message and video post is complicated and difficult to understand without grasping just how intense the Steven Universe fandom can be.
The fans that have sprung up around the Cartoon Network show are known for being broad, intensely dedicated to the cartoon and, generally speaking, fairly inclusive.
The show follows the adventures of a young boy being raised by his father and three alien, mother figures as they fight to save the world. SU's drawn praise for being one of the first children's shows to feature complex, queer relationships in a way that's accessible to a large audience.
It isn't just a show for kids, it's a testament to what a modern family can look like.
Part of what's made Steven Universe so popular is the diversity of (predominantly) female characters featured in the show. Though many of its characters aren't traditionally human, they can easily be read as a broad spectrum of races—a rarity in most kids' programming.
Many of the characters are also drawn with body types that you aren't likely to see on primetime television. This stylistic choice was what many people took issue with in regard to Paz's art.
Rose Quartz, the character pictured above, quickly became one of the fandom's most beloved characters for her role in the show's plot and what the character represented in terms of body ideals.
As one of the few full-figured women currently being featured and celebrated on network television, Rose Quartz is as rare as she is valued by her fans. Many fans thought that Paz's art, featured to the right, went out of its way to make Rose skinnier. This was interpreted as a form of implicit fat-shaming.
As the fandom turned its focus onto Paz, its criticism became increasingly vitriolic and overtly hostile. What began as an issue with fan art quickly blossomed into a wave of attacks on Paz's character.
At the height of the backlash there seemed to be at least 42 different blogs and online groups solely dedicated to going after Paz including: "zamiiisgarbage," "zamiishitposts," and "zamii070confessions."
A large number of the disposable Tumblr blogs have been deactivated, but archived screenshots of some of the things written are still accessible. Most commonly, Paz was accused of white-washing Steven Universe characters who were implicitly coded as being people of color.
A sizable chunk of the critiques being leveled at Paz are grounded in the very legitimate fear that creative works featuring people of color, queer people, and women are often overlooked and undervalued. That being said, the vast majority of Paz's detractors came at the artist with a misguided fervor that ultimately led the artist to temporarily leave the internet.
What the people speaking out against Paz want other than to harass her is unclear. While they claim that they're merely trying to draw attention to the problematic work of a single audience, it's difficult not to view many of their claims and arguments as little more than old-fashioned online bullying.
Currently the Steven Universe fandom, which is wildly active on Tumblr is somewhat split. There are those who consider Paz's art to be borderline offensive and others who think that people are overreacting in a way that isn't exactly surprising.
"It’s amazing that people’s defense for constantly harassing a fanartist is telling people what they drew like it matters," Tumblr user Stephan K wrote in a blog post. "It doesn’t matter what you think is fatphobic or racist, that doesn’t call for abuse."
"You can say “hey, that made me uncomfortable” in a way that’s reasonable or, better yet, just don’t follow them. Abuse en masse is not the correct response. That’s the response of a bunch of over-reactionary assholes."
Paz's Tumblr blog has been inactive for a few days now, but she shared a post to Instagram assuring everyone that while she wasn't in the best place, she was getting better.
"Tomorrow I have to go back to a new hospital so they can monitor me for safety so I won't do anything dumb again," she wrote. "But for right now I'm resting with olive. It's been a long week."
Obviously, what seems to have happened to Paz was awful and completely uncalled for, but as Comics Alliance editor-in-chief Andrew Wheeler articulated, it's not as simple as pointing the finger at the fandom.
"The Steven Universe fandom meltdown shows how valid critical discourse is undermined by dyspeptic mob fury," Wheeler lamented.
UPDATE: Today, Paz reappeared online posting the number to a suicide prevention line and a 17-minute long video explaining the events in her life from the past few days.
“I don’t want to be remembered as the girl who tried to kill herself because of bullying from a fandom," she says. "People say that people who commit suicide are weak and [if I've learned anything form this] it's that they're not weak at all."