Indulge me, gentle readers. I would like to speak to you today of SpongeBob Squarepants. I now, I know, with his cube-shaped, gap-toothed smiling face appearing on every lunchbox, notebook and bedsheet set, you’ve had just about enough of him, but hear me out. I am here to confess that his is my favorite show on television — and I’m not alone.
The average demographic age for SpongeBob viewers is a surprising 28. Okay, admittedly if you took out those under the influence of some variety of chemical that would probably dip to eight-year-olds, but I would argue that it is actually a pretty complex show.
It was my niece and nephew, Elena and Peter, who first told me about the show. We were parked out on the couch with my then infant son when the first strains of the bizarre piratesque theme song pulled my attention away from the catalog on my lap. “What’s this?” I asked.
They answered rather nonchalantly, “Oh, its SpongeBob Squarepants. It’s about a talking sponge who lives in a pineapple under the sea.”
Huh? Slack-jawed I watched the show and was instantly sucked into the bizarre world of Bikini Bottom. What were these writers on when they came up with this? I wondered, trying to imagine the pitch and what kind of producers would have recognized this as a good idea (not to mention the tremendous hit it would become). As my son grew, he became interested as well, and whenever I walked by the living room and saw that bright yellow face, heard the effervescently cheerful voice, and spied the gloriously tropical colored graphics I would stop whatever I was doing to watch. I wasn’t sure why, but I was soothed by the show.
Now my mother used to say that Mickey Mouse was going to be the downfall of Western civilization. She claimed that he represented what Walt Disney considered to be the typical American: brainless, passive and relentlessly cheerful. I often wonder: what would she have thought about SpongeBob? I mean, he is so enamored of his minimum wage, fast food job he is willing to pay to work, and he is constantly going along with any exploitative scheme that his cheapskate boss Mister Krabs dreams up. His only goal is to earn his driver’s license so he can buy a boatmobile, thereby contributing to society’s consumerist mentality, and his fleshy pink starfish buddy Patrick is obnoxiously brainless yet somehow arrogant. I mean, really, SpongeBob is the ultimate stooge of a capitalist system. But even knowing all this, he still comforts me. Sorry, Mom.
Because there is another side to our absorbent yellow friend, a Zen side, if you will. He is a type of idiot savant, whose relentlessly positive outlook always brings him further happiness and success. He is happy with the simplest of existences, skipping along through Jellyfish Fields, catching the mischievous blobs only to release them and start again. His patience with and resilience to the acerbic barbs from his cantankerous bachelor neighbor Squidward allows him to remain friends with him despite it all. He trusts everyone, loves his pet snail, and goes through life consistently happy and enthusiastic, all while never venturing into vapidity. The show is smart, funny, and simplistically but elegantly rendered, and with its regular cast of allegorical characters, there is always someone you can relate to (I mean, who hasn’t come across a stuck-in-his-ways Squidward in their lives? Or who isn’t tickled by the tight-jawed, Kirk Douglas-voiced Plankton with his silent moviesque evil plans to steal the secret recipe for the Krabby Patty?)
So finally, in my defense, there is something about the show that hearkens to a simpler time, bundled in a modern yet intelligent package with an ultimate message of hope. Unlike the brainless repetitive violence of the vintage Road Runner or the modern scenery-chewing voice-overs, badly rendered graphics and consumerist teachings of Pokémon, SpongeBob Squarepants is a brightly-colored poster child for Buddhist tolerance and tranquility. I, for one, am striving to be more like him, to find joy in everyday things and not let other people’s negativity effect me, to love totally and unconditionally, and retain a childlike wonder.
The only issue that remains is how a giant pineapple would hold up against a Vermont winter. I’ll have to look into that