The Lega-sea of a Sponge

“My leg!”

 

“I’m Dirty Dan.”

 

“Wumbology? The study of Wumbo?”

 

The first language I learned to speak was English. The second was Spongebob Squarepants references.

 

Moreso than any other piece of creative work I witnessed growing up, Spongebob was a self-contained universe that transfixed and immersed its fans.

 

We often forget that Nickelodeon wasn’t always a dynasty. Many my age equate the network with Disney Channel, but before Spongebob Squarepants, they were two entirely different beasts. Disney was (and is) a monolithic business that horizontally integrated entertainment and travel, crushing the competition in every venture it pursued. Nickelodeon was a quirky cousin, inspired by its creative properties in television.

 

Disney had Mickey Mouse as a symbol and patron saint. Then Nickelodeon generated Spongebob, and it became something respectable, legitimate, larger than life. Nickelodeon was no longer counterculture compared to Disney. It was culture.

 

Spongebob seems essential now, but it shouldn’t have worked. It’s controversial.  I knew so many kids at my Christian elementary school whose parents wouldn’t let them watch the show. Many kids cut from the same cloth have adjusted to learning the essential Spongebob references to survive as an effective Generation Z communicator.

 

Remember that study that said kids who watched Spongebob were more stupid? To that study, I say this: if I’m so stupid, how am I writing this article and using words like “monolithic?” What did your smart kids watch, Lawrence Welk Show reruns?

 

Spongebob was absurdist. It made jokes about freeform jazz. It depicted a close friendship between two men. It didn’t always have a resolved ending- I’m still frustrated about never learning the secret formula. It had zero memory. Nothing that happened was ever consequential- Plankton never stole the secret formula, Squidward never played the clarinet well, Spongebob never graduated Boating School. You didn’t have to be smart to understand it, but you had to be bright-eyed and open to appreciate it.

 

On November 26, 2018, creator Steven Hillenburg died of ALS. He went to school for marine biology, then animation. He combined his greatest passions and created something weird that shaped the sensibilities of a generation.

 

Spongebob made me quirky. Spongebob made me want to be passionate about my career. Spongebob made me a loyal friend to even the Squidwards of my life.

 

When the world told me to be a pessimist, two people told me to be an optimist: my mother and Spongebob Squarepants.

 

Thanks for everything, Steve.