Note from Management: If you notice the time I just got in, got sat down, for the first real amount of time today. Classes, meetings, and life have kept me very busy. I had another “mind” post for today, but I was kept busy. The only thing of significance I achieved today was this paper. No, I don’t expect you to read it.
The Cultural Significance of Spongebob Squarepants
I love Spongebob Squarepants. My children love Spongebob Squarepants. Most children when asked, love Spongebob. Most adults when asked, either love or hate Spongebob. There is no middle ground in how adults feel about Spongebob.
“He is not allowed in my house!”-Kristy
“I love how the show has stuff for adults.”-Mark
“That Squidward looks like a giant penis offends me!”-Sarah
“What?”-Everyone who heard the above comment.
Spongebob is a cultural phenomenon that has in 14 years expanded well beyond the show’s meager beginnings on Nickelodeon. Premiering May 1999, Spongebob is now wrapping up their 10th season with an 11th season guaranteed. With over 100 15-minute episodes, two full length feature movies, and three half-hour specials, Spongebob Squarepants has been on television longer than many other “mainstream” shows. Combine all of the programing with the twice daily, two to three hour block rotation and Spongebob is watched more often by children than the nightly news is watched by adults and this is just in the United States. Spongebob Squarepants has been translated for and is seen in over 15 different countries. (Wikipedia. (n.d.) Spongebob Squarepants. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spongebob)
I should back up a bit. What or who is Spongebob Squarepants? After all there are people who do not know or refuse to know. Spongebob Squarepants is an animated television show on the Nickelodeon channel. Each half-hour show consists of two fifteen-minute long episodes. Unlike most television shows there is almost no continuity between any of the episodes beyond the characters and the occasional reference to a past event. Bikini Bottom, the fictional home of Spongebob, has been destroyed numerous times with no effect on the rest of the show. The next episode Bikini Bottom is always.
The main character of the show is Spongebob Squarepants. Spongebob is a square yellow sponge who wears brown square pants, and lives in a pineapple. Simple enough. He talks in a loud voice, whines, cries, and openly displays emotions without regard to the reactions of the world around him. Spongebob is not an educated sponge, unless you take into account his prodigious knowledge about the Krusty Krab and Kraby Patties. Or the single episode where he learned all that there was to know about boating. Or that one episode where he had his brain wiped clean to know all that there was to know about being the best server ever. Actually, just focus on the Krusty Krab where Spongebob works. He loves his job. He is rarely late to work, always stays late, never complains, and works harder than the other employee Squidward. Spongebob treats the customers with respect, and above all loves to cook Kraby Patties.
Spongebob’s best friend is Patrick Star. Patrick is a pink starfish who wears green Hawaiian style shorts and lives under a rock, his home. Saying that Patrick is not smart is a generous statement. His one consistent and considerable talent is not thinking. Well that and going jelly fishing with Spongebob. Jelly fishing is when Patrick and Spongebob chase jellyfish in Jellyfish Fields with nets. After catching the jellyfish they release the jellyfish unharmed. As not smart as Patrick appears to be, he is a voice of wisdom on the show. Often saying at the right moment the right words for the situation be those words inspirational, observational, or just funny.
“Yay! I love being purple.”-Patrick Star, Spongebob Movie
Squidward lives in-between Spongebob and Patrick in a giant Easter Island head. Squidward is a squid, although if you count his limbs he is closer to an octopus. He has a bulbous nose, a superior attitude, in his eyes he is cultured when compared to everyone else, works at the Krusty Krab, and in his own words “hates Spongebob.” Squidward believes that he is the only cultured individual in Bikini Bottom. Unless you count his rival Squilliam Fancyson. Squidward paints, plays the clarinet, dances “correctly”, and watches Fancy and Fit until the show was canceled. To say that Squidward works is an injustice to the word work, he stands at the register, looks down his nose at all of the customers, does less than what is required, and when he can Squidward sleeps or reads cultured magazines on the job.
Mister Krabs is the owner of the Krusty Krab. Mister. Krabs is a red crab who lives in a giant anchor with his daughter Pearl, who happens to be a whale. Yes, a whale. Mister Krabs cares about one thing money. If a penny falls on the floor he will and has wrestled anyone, no matter their size or species, for the penny. He loves money so much that he signed away his soul to the Flying Dutchman and gave away Spongebob for 69 cents. During one episode he was granted his wish that his money could talk to him. Frequently Spongebob will bust into his office for an emergency only to find Mister Krabs having a candle lit dinner with a stack of money, taking a bath in a pool of money, or having to look for Mister Krabs around a giant pile of money on his desk. After money Mister Krabs cares about the secret recipe for the Kraby Patty that he co-created with Plankton, his rival and nemesis. The only reason he cares about the secret recipe is because without the Kraby Patty he would have no money.
Sandy Cheeks is the resident scientist and lone female character with any significant airtime. Sandy is a squirrel from Texas, who wears a diving suit with a giant fish bowl over her head. She is extremely smart, an accomplished scientist, rodeo rider, and karate expert. Sandy is closest to Spongebob, providing a feminine and educated voice to the show. Sandy does not tolerate any bashing of Texas or women. Even being known for “feeling” when Spongebob insulted women when she was far away only to drive her point home at the end of the episode.
Gary is a snail and Spongebob’s pet. Gary makes cat noises, and when compared to Spongebob is smarter, worldlier, and wiser. Gary taught Spongebob how to tie his shoes when he forgot how to, and frequently shows that even creatures or people without a voice can make themselves heard and are not to be ignored. The best example is when Gary was forced to take part in a pet show. Frustrated that Spongebob was not listening to him Gary led the other pets in rebellion casting off the costumes their owners forced them to wear and freeing themselves.
At this point you are probably wondering at what possible cultural significance there could be in Spongebob just based on those barebones descriptions of Spongebob and his friends. Well each of the characters occupies a social role or way of being that is easy to recognize. For example, Mister Krabs is a successful business krab and greedy and Squidward is cultured and vain. To children and adults are stereotypical, if exaggerated, ways of behaving along with ways to respond to these behaviors, people, and the world around them. These easy to recognize stereotypes and traits make Spongebob accessible to anyone.
If that was not clear enough, let me put this to you in the following way, the show has been on television for a uniterrupted14 years. Even for a four year period when they did not produce new episodes, Spongebob was on the air, on Nickelodeon, one of the most popular channels for children. Spongebob and the cast of Bikini bottom have been influencing children with a positive philosophy of living for that long. Millions of children. (Wikipedia. (n.d.) Spongebob Squarepants. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spongebob)
OH NO! You say that a cartoon about a talking sponge has been influencing the behavior and thinking of children for 14 years. Yes I say and I say positively influencing children for that long as well. That can’t be! Well some people have tried to prove that indeed that can’t be.
Spongebob has been subject to accusations that he is a homosexual. Primarily, due to his singing, which he does often, his close friendship with Patrick, and his sometimes goofy gender bending behavior. Why anyone would need to assign a sexuality to a sponge is beyond me…he is a sponge and everyone knows that sponges are asexual. (Wikipedia. (n.d.) Spongebob Squarepants. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spongebob)
When Spongebob’s sexuality was not in question, the bigger issue was his affect on the children who watched the show. Does watching Spongebob cause behavioral issues? Does watching Spongebob make children stupid? Does watching Spongebob lead to children watching harder cartoons in darkened rooms? In 2011, a University of Virginia study was released too much fanfare that stated that just watching nine minutes of Spongebob caused four-year old children to do worse on tests immediately after watching the nine minutes of Spongebob than children who had not watched any Spongebob. In spite of the well-publicized results the reality was much different. (Christian Science Monitor (2011, September 12). Spongebob study: Do fast-paced cartoons impair kid’s thinking? Retrieved from http://www.csmonitor.com/Science/2011/0912/SpongeBob-study-Do-fast-paced-cartoons-impair-kids-thinking)
The study’s size was extremely small, under 50 children altogether. The children were all from the same socio-economical background. The tests the children were given were activities such as coloring or stacking. Given the typical episode length of 15 minutes only allowing the children to watch 9 minutes should be considered as a factor for poor behavior and test taking. Finally, the children were four-years old that alone should have been a factor, as the show is not aimed at children that young.
Even while under attack Spongebob grew from the boundaries of a television show. Today Spongebob and friends can be found in books, magazines, as stickers, as toys, as games, as crystal studded jewelry that sells for hundreds of dollars (Zales. (n.d.) Spongebob crystal square pendant in sterling silver. Retrieved from http://www.zales.com/product/index.jsp?productId=3875279 ), holiday themed decorations and doodads, clothing, apparel, fast food toys, Duck Tape, video games, and even a couple of amusement park rides in Six Flags Over Texas, Mall of America, and even a 15-minute long show at the Chicago Shed Aquarium. A person can go anywhere and find someone or many someone’s who will talk about Spongebob…good or bad.
But why? Why has Spongebob become so popular? The show is a clever mix that appeals to children and adults. Children love the vibrant colors, the action, the music, and the simple messages that are in every episode. Adults who love Spongebob find the hidden humor aimed at them; clever turns of a phrase, interactions between the characters, and yes even the simple messages that are in every episode.
What messages am I talking about? Spongebob only makes noise, usually loud and whiny sounding noises. If you are looking for a highbrow, deep thinking approach to Spongebob I highly suggest that you read Spongebob Squarepants and Philosophy: Soaking Up Secrets Under the Sea by Joseph J. Foy where several philosophers from different backgrounds discuss the deeper meaning behind Spongebob and Bikini bottom. Each essay is written around a theme or character of the show using a specific philosophy that shows how Spongebob is not just a simple children’s show about nothing. However, I think that the simple messages are the messages that resonate the most with people.
Some of the messages are:
- Always see something new every day. No matter what you think there is something new to be seen. Sometimes though you have to look really hard.
- Love your job. Love what you do for a living. Doesn’t matter what the job is to other people, it only matters what the job is to you.
- Money comes and money goes. Money only has the value you place on it.
- Your dumbest friend is actually a lot smarter than you think.
- Sometimes it pays to turn your brain off for a day.
- Do something fun no matter what other people think of you.
- Fun can be found anywhere and at any time.
- Ask questions no matter how stupid someone else thinks they are. The question was important enough for you to think of it, so ask it.
- Believe that something good is around the corner, it makes the tough times easier and makes the fun times more colorful.
- A smile beats a frown.
- Stand up for what you believe.
- Stand up for your friends.
- Be there for your friends and family.
What you don’t believe me that each of those messages can be found in an episode of Spongebob? Perhaps you aren’t paying attention. Let me give you another example from Spongebob: Every day no matter what happens to Spongebob he looks forward to going to work at the Krusty Krab. Even after his house was destroyed, he got lost, and Squidward yelled at him for playing another round of door slam, Spongebob went to work with a smile on his face. He worked his shift. He made his food with a smile on his face and a song on his lips. At the end of the day he went home satisfied and happy. How many of you will be able to say that? There is at least one lesson in there-love your job. Unfortunately, many adults focus on the loud, screaming, crying, and singing sponge rather than the message behind the sponge. Children they may not get the message directly, but they pick up on the message regardless.
The cultural importance of Spongebob is not through the merchandise, the theme parks, or even the jewelry. The cultural importance of Spongebob is expressed through the smiles put on faces, the laughs at the images and jokes, and the simple message…no the simple philosophy of living that has crossed over into the wider world: Smile, laugh, see something new every day, love your job, do not be afraid, and with the help from your friends anything can be done-even moving an entire city out of the way of an Alaskan Bull Worm.
Finally, I leave you with one last message: Always remember to feed your snail.