There’s something about SpongeBob SquarePants that I’ve never been able to understand: why is he so polarizing? I personally like the little yellow sponge, so it’s not hard for me to understand why other people do, too. Like any long-running show, it’s had its misses, but overall, I think it is a really enjoyable show. What I don’t get is why there are almost an equal number of people who despise him. It just doesn’t make sense to me.
From my perspective, SpongeBob carries on the tradition started by the earliest cartoons of Disney, Warner, and Fleischer. It’s comic, surreal, and employs cartoon physics. It stars a bevy of distinct, idiosyncratic characters. It’s well produced, but not too polished. And is written on multiple levels such that children and adults can both enjoy it but for different reasons.
And yet, for some reason, those are the very attributes that a lot of people cite when they claim to hate SpongeBob. I can understand some of the things that might put someone off. SpongeBob has a high-pitched, nasal voice that is pretty much meant to be annoying. And yet, some of that description fits Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse. So, in those cases, maybe the people just don’t like cartoons?
Then there are the made-up controversies:
Not long ago, the University of Virginia stirred up some undersea controversy by publishing a study declaring that SpongeBob makes kids dumb. More specifically, they claimed it shortened attention spans, though how you gauge a preschooler’s attention span is beyond me. I don’t intend to argue the merits of the study. I just think it’s silly to lob such criticism against a show that is clearly not meant to be educational.
This controversy originated way back in 2005 when the Muppets, Barney, Jimmy Neutron and several other children’s icons besides the yellow sponge starred in an animated music video for Sister Sledge’s “We Are Family.” For some reason, Dr. James Dobson of Focus on the Family decided this constituted homosexual propaganda and zeroed in SpongeBob in particular. Since then, this accusation has been kept alive with people citing things like SpongeBob’s fastidious nature, his high-pitched voice, his physical weakness, his love of bubbles, and his *gasp* friendship with another male all as signs of homosexuality. Basically, they are saying that, because SpongeBob fits the most unflattering of homosexual stereotypes, he must be pro-gay. Yeah, that wasn’t really thought through.
Late last year, Nickelodeon aired a special called “SpongeBob, You’re Fired” wherein the polygonal protagonist loses his job. His chronically jobless buddy, Patrick Star, attempts to show SpongeBob the benefits of “glorious unemployment” such as free time and free food. But SpongeBob insists he can only be happy when he’s working, and eventually gets his old gig back. This, of course, made him a conservative hero, but also earned the ire of welfare champions, minimum wage earners, and the like.
So, what are your thoughts on SpongeBob? Love him or hate him?