Be warned, we’re about to make you feel a little old. 18 years ago, on May 1, 1999, an animated yellow sponge with bright blue eyes, wearing a white dress shirt, red tie, brown dress slacks, and a pair of black shoes made his premiere on Nickelodeon. Yes, that’s right. SpongeBob Squarepants is now 18-years-old. (Okay, yes; we are aware that according to SpongeBob’s driver’s license, his birthdate is July 14, 1986 and that he’s really 50 in sponge years.)
Since the premiere of that first episode and the first segment, “Help Wanted,” SpongeBob has been in over 215 episodes over 10 seasons and two feature-length films. The character and the show continue to be immensely popular even now. There seems to be no core demographic for the square sponge, with his reach and appeal stretching across children and grown-ups. President Obama in 2009 stated for the record that SpongeBob was his favorite television character; while President Trump has yet to say how he feels about the denizens of Bikini Bottom, it’s hard to imagine that anyone would seriously find fault with SpongeBob’s character.
Why Is SpongeBob So Popular?
Many people who don’t like SpongeBob, Patrick, Squidward, Sandy Cheeks, and Mr. Krab wonder what the appeal of the show is. Some dismiss it as just fodder for those who like to partake in recreational marijuana; others have written entire papers on it as an educational study. Perhaps the answer lies in the cartoon’s simplicity and its hand-drawn harkening back to simpler times.
Even with the social and political atmosphere of the world being rife with comedic pickings, the world of Bikini Bottom remains curiously unfettered by the shackles of current ideology or trend. Squidward is ill-tempered and dislikes pretty much everything but his clarinet, but you’ll never hear him mention Donald Trump or any sort of immigration issue. There are quirks aplenty in the underwater world, but none of them are barbed or aimed at any group in particular.
However, even while the show attempts to offend no one, there are still people who seem to think they see behind the kelp curtain. In 2002, conservatives were aghast at the possibility that SpongeBob could be gay. After all, he is flamboyant and likes to hold hands with Patrick, his starfish best friend who happens to be male. Then in 2005, James Dobson and the Christian group Focus raised fears that watching SpongeBob might make your children homosexual. In an article in The New York Times, Dobson’s assistant Paul Batura is quoted as saying the following.
“We see the video as an insidious means by which the organization is manipulating and potentially brainwashing kids. It is a classic bait and switch”
Of course, even if some people find this ridiculous, there have been times when both conservatives and liberals have accused SpongeBob of pushing the other faction’s narrative. In 2011, Nickelodeon released a book with the title of SpongeBob Goes Green!: An Earth-Friendly Adventure. Fox News accused Nickelodeon of using “unproven science” to push an agenda about global warming. Not to be outdone, when SpongeBob was fired from the Krusty Krab in 2013 and learned about the joys of unemployment from Patrick, liberals questioned if the yellow animated sponge was attacking the social safety net of unemployment compensation and social assistance.
Russel Hicks, the then president of content, development and production for the cable network Nickelodeon said after this kerfuffle, “Like all really great cartoons, part of SpongeBob‘s long-running success has been its ability to tap into the zeitgeist while still being really funny for our audience. As always, despite this momentary setback, SpongeBob’s eternal optimism prevails, which is always a great message for everyone.”
Whatever the reason for SpongeBob’s longevity and popularity, it doesn’t seem as though the blue-eyed fellow is going anywhere soon. The original showrunner, Stephen Hillenburg may have moved on to bluer waters, but with SpongeBob renewed through Season 11 on its home channel, he’ll be flipping patties at the Krusty Krab for at least a couple more years.
[Featured Image by Scott Roth/AP Images]