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When Cartoons Go Bad

As if we all don’t have enough social justice issues to worry about, what with all the coronavirus issues we are presently faced with, Professor Holly M. Barker from the University of Washington, a highly educated academic with a B.A. in English, an M.A. in International Education and a PhD in Anthropology, has added yet another straw in what appears to be a never-ending attempt to cause all our heads to explode. Professor Barker, whose field of expertise at her university is that of sociocultural anthropology, recently published a paper wherein she has accused none other than SpongeBob Squarepants who, as we all know, lives in a pineapple under the sea along with his friend in the community of Bikini Bottom, and his friends, of promoting violence and racism.

Now, as a matter of due diligence, I have to admit that I am somewhat of a “SpongeBob” aficionado. It seems like only yesterday when back on an early Saturday morning in May of 1999, I was watching Nickelodeon with my two small daughters when we chanced upon episode one of the first season of SpongeBob SquarePants. Although my two girls loved it right away, I have to admit that I was somewhat confused with this new SpongeBob character, a hopelessly optimistic and resilient sea sponge, who lives in a pineapple under the sea along with rather eclectic assortment of friends and neighbors in the community of Bikini Bottom.

Over a period of time, SpongeBob’s personality, conscientious, optimistic and blind-to-the-faults in the world and all those around him, ultimately won me over, transforming me into a rabid fan of the series. My family, especially my beloved Grace—”She  Who Must Be Obeyed”—were not shy about expressing their concern about the mental health of this 49-year-old ex-jarhead who worked on Rikers Island and bounded out of bed each day singing SpongeBob’s “best day ever” mantra. 

As time went on and my SpongeBob mania became known to the kids on West 12th Road, I found my car being stopped by groups of children demanding a password to be allowed to proceed unhampered to the end of the block to my residence. I was only allowed to proceed after I yelled out the correct response which was, of course, SpongeBob Forever!  

When asked by my adult friends about this cartoon fixation, I would simply state the obvious. The series is clever (without being impenetrable) to young viewers and goofy without boring grown-ups to tears. As far as I am concerned, it’s the most charming cartoon on television, as well as one of the weirdest. And it’s also good, clean fun, devoid of the double entendres rife in today’s animated TV shows, which makes sense because it is, after all, about a sponge.

SpongeBob’s relentless good cheer would be irritating if he weren’t so darned lovable and his world so excellently strange, joyfully dancing on the fine line between childhood and adulthood, guilelessness and camp, the warped and the sweet. Just this month, the series celebrated its 20th anniversary with the animated sponge continuing to spend his days getting into wacky adventures along with his buddies, Patrick Starfish, Squidward Tentacles, and Mr. Krabs. And, without speaking down to children, the lovable, absorbent square still doles out some life lessons along the way.

Apparently, the nexus between SpongeBob’s show and Professor Barker’s social justice outrage is that the good Professor has somehow come to the conclusion that SpongeBob’s cartoon home in Bikini Bottom actually refers to the Bikini Atoll in the Central Pacific where natives were relocated by the U.S. government for nuclear testing back in the 1940s. According to Ms. Barker, SpongeBob and his friends have colonized Bikini Bottom without permission, promoting “racist, violent, colonial practices.” She adds, it is “disturbing that they did not realize that ‘Bikini Bottom and Bikini Atoll were not theirs for the taking…’We should be uncomfortable with a hamburger-loving American community’s occupation of Bikini’s lagoon and the ways that it erodes every aspect of sovereignty.” 

But Barker wasn’t done there. She accused the show of gender bias as well stating, “all of the main characters on the show are male.” She claims Sandy Cheeks is only a token female character, only on the show to be female. Barker bemoans the song writing: “The first act of the song is to have children identify who resides in the pineapple house.” She adds, “The children’s response, repeated extensively throughout the song, affirms that the house and Bikini Bottom are the domain of SpongeBob. The song’s directives, ensconced in humor, provide the viewer with an active role in defining Bikini Bottom as a place of nonsense, as the audience is instructed ‘If nautical nonsense be something you wish…drop on the deck and flop like a fish.’”  Barker then claims that those who watch the show become “an unwitting participant in the co-opting of Bikini’s story and the exclusion of the Bikinian people.”

My takeaway from all this “nautical nonsense”?  1…The academic credentials of a college professor are obviously no guarantee of faulty brain synapses or, in layman’s terms, rendering one’s critical thought process several french fries short of a happy meal. 2…Remember that the highly credentialed and french fry deficient academic is teaching your children, and finally,  3…That you are paying exorbitant tuition and other fees to have the brain-addled academic teach your kids at a college or university already awash with millions of dollars in federal subsidies.

As for me, I have personally reached out and spoken with SpongeBob, Patrick, Mr. Krabs and Squidward Tentacles and assured them that Broad Channel will always stand ready as a sanctuary community for the residents of Bikini Bottom should the politically-correct crowd become too much for any of them. Dan Mundy has assured me he will bring this up at the next civic meeting and foresees absolutely no problem with this issue.

 Broad Channel, why would anyone want to live anywhere else?

By Peter Mahom

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