When I was little, I was one of those kids who was pretty sure I would grow up to be a genius. Not a scientific genius, per se, but I was convinced that at some point in my life, I would be wearing all-black in a non-gothic way and I would use words like ‘erroneous’ and ‘pulchritude’ in my everyday life. I would be the sort of person who would be featured in magazines for my epicurean tastes and undeniable sophistication. I practiced for this future daily by devouring big words and chatting up as many grown-ups as I possibly could. I was on the road to a great and intellectual future.
Having said this, I would like to tell you that I think Spongebob Squarepants is a very good television show.
Ha, take THAT, snooty-ass little Past-Self! Eat it! You’re a grownup now and you don’t even really like Dickens that much any more! You like SPONGEBOB. That’s right, I can see you squirming over there in your coke-bottle glasses and Mary-Janes. You can barely stand the phrase, can’t you? It sends a chill down your slouchy pre-sophisticated little spine to hear me say it. Your future is Spongebob Squarepants.
WHO LIVES IN A PINEAPPLE UNDER THE SEA?
But look, okay? I’ve got a really good reason for it. It’s the same reason that I feel almost all good cartoons are good. Let me explain myself, before you judge your future self too harshly.
The basic premise behind Spongebob Squarepants is to view the world of adults through the eyes of a child, and prove just how silly the goings-on of adults really are. Alternately, take a show like Disney’s bygone cartoon, Recess. The simple premise of Recess is to view the world of kids with a perspective of importance and severity that is usually applied to the world of grown-ups. Simply put, a good cartoon is able to expand its appeal by blurring the line between youth and age by providing commentary by both.
See, Past-Self? This is a compromise. I like Spongebob, but only because of the elaborate cultural themes.
That’s it. Nothing else.
Anyway, after a brief disappearance in the early nineties, this premise has been steadily gaining popularity again, due largely in part to the growing capabilities of children. Put simply, kids don’t want to be spoken down to. The days are gone when adults used entirely different tools than the younger set. Now grownups have cellphones, and kids have cellphones. Grownups have iPods, and kids have iPods. Grownups use the computer, and kids know more about computers than most grownups will every hope to. The playing ground has been evened out, and while children still want entertainment geared towards their specific cultural and aesthetic tastes, they aren’t interested in being condescended to. They want their programming to be separate, but equal.
This is why shows like Spongebob Squarepants have grown so wildly popular. The character Spongebob is a child living and working in a world meant for adults, but he manages it, and usually even beats it. He has a house and a pet. He has a job complete with boss and surly coworker. Many of the problems that Spongebob faces are problems specific to an adult life, but his likable innocence and childlike wonder usually pull him out of any sticky situations. Kids love Spongebob Squarepants because it portrays the foreign phenomenon of grown life to be as strange and ridiculous as they’ve always suspected.
On the other side of the coin, adults appreciate Spongebob for confirming what they’ve discovered to be true. Adult life IS silly. It’s overimportant, overdramatic, and generally overrated, and they envy Spongebob’s enthusiasm for it all. He retains his cheer and effervescent attitude when faced by the bullying Squidward or greedy boss Mr. Krabbs, which is more than most grown ups can hope to do. Even while we jaded ageds are jealous of Spongebob’s naivete, we root for him to expose the inanity of what we have to deal with.
And just like that, Spongebob Squarepants becomes a universally appealing show.
It’s also good old fashioned surrealist entertainment, but we can talk about that later.
So, all that being said, I have heard more diehard sentiment towards Spongebob Squarepants on either side of the board than on any children’s programming for the past ten years. Except of course when somebody thought the Teletubbies were gay Jews or whatever. What are do you think? Are you Pro-Bob? Or Anti-Bob?