who lives in a metaphor under the sea?

22 Oct

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.




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.


Shut up.

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?


Posted by on October 22, 2009 in Uncategorized


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

10 responses to “who lives in a metaphor under the sea?

  1. Rebekah

    October 22, 2009 at 9:04 am

    “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. ”

    It’s sort of a turnaround, isn’t it? For hundreds of years children were being steered toward future professions by helping on the farm, becoming apprentices, etc.. Then came a few decades of Peter Pan-ing, and now we’re somewhere in the middle.

    I am decidedly Pro-Bob. I even saw the movie.

  2. Brittney

    October 22, 2009 at 9:13 am

    Gosh, I hate Spongebob but you’re making me like him a little.
    And seriously, cool points for referencing Recess. I had to explain the concept to Damien a few weeks ago and found myself missing that show so hard.

  3. lisa

    October 22, 2009 at 10:20 am

    I have to confess, I’ve never watched a single episode.

  4. James

    October 22, 2009 at 10:29 am


    I have been a fan of Spongebob for years, but all the Spongebob DVDs (and I do mean ALL the DVDs) in our house actually belong to my mother. Spongebob’s entire demeanor of over-enthusiasm backed by utter innocence is an absolute treat for her. I like it for both the childish antics and the parody of Serious Business. We watch it just about every day at lunchtime.

    Hoorah for cultural criticism! Dare I say it, Trombould would be proud. You could almost turn this in as an essay. Although I would argue that while kids may love Spongebob for tearing down the looming, serious, self-important image of the world of adults erected by the grown-ups around them, they probably aren’t conscious that this is why they like it. Chances are better that they think they’re in it for the boundless energy and slapstick humor. Few are the children I know who could sit in their velvet windbreaker, bubble pipe in hand, and comment on the criticism of homophobia evident in “Rockabye Bivalve”.

    Or am I talking down? I know that the parody evident in Recess is exactly what endeared that show to me so intensely, but I was at least eleven years old by that time. Not outside childhood, no, but not so young as many of Spongebob’s fans.

    • James

      October 26, 2009 at 1:09 pm

      By the way, have you seen the episode “Grandma’s Kisses?” It kind of speaks to a lot of what you presented here.
      Patrick: “I know all about being a grown-up. First, puff out your chest!”
      (Spongebob swells)
      Pat: “Now say, ‘tax exemption’!”
      Sponge: “Tax exemption!”
      Pat: “Great! And for the final step, you must acquire a taste for free-form jazz.”
      (cue trumpets and sax)

  5. sarah

    October 22, 2009 at 10:32 pm

    i love the bit about teletubbies.

  6. Vanessa

    October 22, 2009 at 10:43 pm

    I’m pro-Bob. It’s a funny show that has really intelligent moments. It’s silly. There are songs. Patrick is my favorite.

    Just throwing this out there: I watched a short documentary about SpongeBob, and the creators actually said they never really thought of it as a children’s show. When you really think about the content beyond the sheer ridiculousness of Sea Bears and a crab having a whale as a daughter, a lot of it is aimed at an older audience than parents seem to think. If older people gave it a chance, I think they’d see a lot of satire and a lot of jokes that most definitely aren’t for kids (and isn’t that the best part of watching a show you watched as a kid? Finally getting the grown-up jokes that were mixed in?).

  7. Kitty

    October 25, 2009 at 11:26 am

    I have never really wanted to watch it before… but now I’m interested. Just let my put down my Jane Austen Novel….

  8. Andy Light

    November 12, 2009 at 7:40 am

    I like Spongebob very cute. I love to watch his shows. Thank you for sharing this to us. I’ll be back for more updates.

  9. knowoneyouknow

    July 7, 2010 at 7:14 pm

    (yep, making my way through the archives here…)

    I’m glad you are writing about Kid Culture more. I’m an adult now and I really miss Bugs Bunny and Friends, the original Speed Racer cartoons and discovering Indiana Jones when he first hit the Big Screen back in the day. I often laugh at the Seriousness that adults pretend to have – I could never be a good grown-up, I’m not good at it, and I’m glad for that. Don’t get me wrong, I have a good job, I’m responsible, and I have a plan for early retirement – but it’s a means to an end.

    keep on with Kid Culture and all it’s energy and innocents and purity that makes it so… joyful!



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: