ORIGINAL AIR DATE: Apr. 16th, 2015
SYNOPSIS: Steven allows Buck Dewey to make T-Shirts off of his poster, unaware of the mockery behind his intent.
Steven finishes a drawing meant to advertise his father’s guitar lessons. The doodle is a bit crude, but what do you expect from a twelve-year-old? The important thing is, it’s made with love. He hangs up a sign at the Big Donut, catching the eye of Buck Dewey. Steven tapes one of the posters to Buck’s shirt to drum up interest. It certainly worked, Buck is both amused and intrigued enough to print the design into a shirt. Steven thinks this will help his father and enthusiastically agrees. Buck has a slightly different plan in mind, but he has to ask the one person who has access to the kind of machine that can print out quantities of the stuff: his father, Mayor Bill Dewey.
Bill is constantly making signs for his campaign and his entire life functions around his job, something Buck has distant himself from, likely seeing his old man as a sellout. It doesn’t help that Bill doesn’t get his son. He thinks Buck wants to help him with his campaign when approached, seemingly unconcerned with his son’s artistic endeavors, though he at least notices what his son does.
Steven spots an old drawing Buck did as a kid of him and his father with a logo asking people to vote for him. Bill is nearly in tears, but Buck sees it as an embarrassment and pushes him out of the factory so he and Steven can get to work.
With the shirts complete, Buck and Steven head to the rooftop of Funland Arcade to hand them out via T-shirt cannon. While Steven sees this as a firm opportunity to help his father, Buck views it as an artistic statement. Word gets out and “Guitar Dad” is a hit; they think it’s hilarious! People don’t see it as an advertisement because they think the shirts are a joke. This satisfies Buck because true art is about spreading the message. Steven is hesitant on what Buck is doing, but doesn’t make a big fuss about it just yet.
He visits his father at the car wash to witness Sour Cream taking a picture of Greg. Lots of people came to see Greg, but none actually stayed to learn how to play the guitar. Greg has been reduced to a sideshow attraction, someone to point and laugh based on an amateur, but earnest drawing that no one is getting the context behind. It’s especially heartbreaking because Greg doesn’t know why he’s getting the attention with none of the results. This is not what Steven wanted, so he runs back to Buck to express his discomfort. Buck thinks Steven’s relationship with his father is naive, so he’s not going to stop printing those shirts.
Steven begs the Crystal Gems to help reclaim all the shirts, but it’s not the kind of work that demands their attention. Garnet advises Steven to let his problems be known so they can work out an understanding. Steven takes that and twists it into his own logic: the boy has an idea. Ever the dramatic kid that he is, Steven whips up some cool shades, takes Buck’s T-shirt cannon, and launches his own line of shirts during Mayor Dewey’s Bench Commemoration (of which Buck is forced to attend.) The T-Shirt design? Buck’s childhood drawing. Everyone thinks it’s funny, but Bill is touched, thinking his son made it as an act of support. Buck sheds but a single tear.
The next day, Buck approaches Steven and Greg and apologize for overstepping on Steven’s work. Wearing the “Guitar Dad” shirt, Buck sincerely asks Greg for guitar lessons.
As someone who posts art daily on various social media, the fear of having it stolen, edited, sold, and deconstructed from its original intent is a constant fear. It sucks to see your pilfered art sold on merchandises when you’re a struggling artist who relies on commissions for money. It hurts when your original message is downplayed or subverted, especially if it riots an angry (online) mob that taints your reputation all because some anonymous jerk took what you owned and severely altered it without your permission. “Shirt Club’s” analogous take using Steven’s well-meaning gesture versus Buck’s thirst for true art is a bit loose in its delivery and I’m not certain the metaphor works it well, but kudos for tackling a weighty subject in just eleven-minutes, notably on a subject that has mixed reception and naysayers from those who don’t see this as a serious issue.
What “Shirt Club” does best is the dynamic complexities between family members. Buck’s actions is as much teenage rebellion as it is a passionate drive. Buck’s aloof behavior doesn’t hide that he and his father haven’t had a good relationship in a while. His father, the buffoonish mayor of Beach City, is more concerned on the votes of other people than his son’s hobbies. Steven Universe embraces its emotions tightly, revealing Bill Dewey not as some callous cartoon mayor, but someone who is equally into his job as Buck is with his art. Bill loves his son and this is driven clear by the old picture Little Buck drew for him; he still kept it and in the one place he’s likely frequented for years making his campaign signs and logos. It’s a reminder of what they had and of what he still wants. When Bill thinks Buck made him a T-Shirt using that exact artwork, he is driven to tears. His son has shared his interests with him, even if Buck didn’t really do it. But it’s enough, Buck is equally affected and he finally recognizes Steven and Greg’s honest love for each other isn’t naive. Maybe one day, the two Deweys will rekindle their relationship.