Nickelodeon’s Spongebob Squarepants is arguably one of television’s most thematically-rich shows. Exploring the lives of a diverse population of undersea inhabitants, the show has found enormous appeal with adults due to its extremely unique blend of brilliant wit, visual experimentation and delightful characters. Let’s explore a few interesting topics examined in the show.
Labourer vs Corporation
The relationship between Eugene Krabs and his employees, Spongebob and Squidward, is a deeply harmful one. Krabs takes his workers completely for granted, denying them basic rights and often expecting an unfair amount of dedication: he’s regularly shown keeping them in the restaurant at unthinkable hours and demanding physical exertion for the means of greater profit. Krabs, a profoundly greedy individual, fails to see past potential for profit: profit that is rarely shared with his workers. On the occasions that his business rival, Sheldon Plankton, aims to sabotage Krabs’ business by undercutting his operation, Krabs defies employment law entirely. Plankton, a complicated character with dubious morality (who is, let’s not forget, married to a computer), displays a certain degree of compassion for Spongebob as worker, and treats him with significant respect in the workplace with the aim of learning the Secret Formula. On the other hand, Plankton displays fascist/empirical tendencies once he grasps power: in 2004’s Spongebob Squarepants Movie, he enslaves the citizens of Bikini Bottom with mind-controlling bucket helmets and commands them to build a statue in his honour. Ultimately, the cruel and selfish nature of Krabs’ character is more apparent on the show, but that’s mostly due to his greater screentime.
Squidward’s Sexual Repression
Note: this argument is largely invalidated by the episode “Love That Squid”, in which Squidward falls for a woman called Squilvia.
Much is made of the very physical, but totally platonic friendship between Spongebob and Patrick Star: two childlike, asexual characters. Yet the potential for sexuality in Squidward is far more compelling: this is a seemingly middle-aged man who hires professionals to visit his house and give him pedicures. The primary obstacle to a sexual lifestyle is Squidward’s stunning narcissism: his house is decorated with large, framed self-portraits. He doesn’t own a pet or have any true friends, spending his free time playing the clarinet, creating art and watching ‘House Fancy’. His lifestyle has some stereotypical elements of the single gay man, and some of the straight bachelor. Squidward has possibly repressed his own desires, be they aimed at men or women, and replaced that aspect of his character with a love of self. A combination of Squidward’s narcissism and grave unhappiness causes him to glorify his weekend freedom as the one time he can enjoy his few simple passions. In one episode, Squidward is shown laying flowers at the graveside of “his hopes and dreams”. While his life truly is tragic- despite his knowledge of art and music, he works in a greasy fast food restaurant. Squidward’s constant self-pitying and meanness toward Spongebob and Patrick, who rarely mean him any harm, makes it difficult to sympathise with his situation. If Squidward were a bit nicer, surely he’d be more successful in life.
The Role of the Immigrant
Sandy Cheeks is the one resident of Bikini Bottom who is established as a proud immigrant: she hails from Texas, USA. As she’s a land mammal, she cannot breathe underwater, and hence she wears a spacesuit and bowl helmet, and lives in an airtight dome. A handful of episodes explore Sandy’s experience as an outsider and as an immigrant: she’s often homesick for Texas, and tries to emulate the Texan experience in the undersea environment. Sandy is far from family, and her isolation amidst her fishy friends is one of the show’s sadder elements. Nevertheless, with Spongebob and Patrick for company, and with the constant distraction of innovation and invention, Sandy enjoys a broadly happy existence.
While Spongebob’s behaviour can often be quite clever and thoughtful, Patrick Star’s is almost always instinctive, reactionary and lacking much consideration. The specific state of Patrick’s stupidity is dealt with in a number of ways: his older sister is shown to be significantly more stupid even than him, putting some perspective on his character. When Squidward loses his temper at Spongebob and Patrick, Spongebob’s reaction is typically to apologise and attempt to aid Squidward in some way; Patrick merely stands in ignorance of his wrongdoing. His lack of empathy for others also manifests itself in his stubbornness: Patrick is known to storm off in fury when his values are questioned. His independent living situation is admirable, considering his dependent personality. Spongebob enjoys Patrick’s company largely because they share a love of play, and lead simple existences, but one wonders if the Starfish might find friends of more similar intelligence elsewhere.