Here it is. Who’s next? It’s our beloved SpongeBob Squarepants, whose love of work and community is now considered to be “violent,” “racist,” and “insidious”. That according to a scholarly article by the University of Washington professor Holly Barker, who has published an article titled “Unsettling SpongeBob and the Legacies of Violence on Bikini Bottom“.
Barker’s thesis complains that the show’s fictional setting of the town of Bikini Bottom is based on the nonfictional Bikini Atoll, a coral reef in the Marshall Islands used by the U.S. military for nuclear testing during the Cold War.
The indigenous people of the area were relocated during the testing, which eventually rendered the area uninhabitable due to residual radiation.
As an “American character,” SpongeBob supposedly has the “privilege” of “not caring about the detonation of nuclear bombs.”
“The detonations do not cause concern for the characters, as they did for the Bikinians, nor do they compromise SpongeBob’s frequent activities, like visiting hamburger joints or the beach with friends,” writes Barker.
Barker notes, “SpongeBob’s occupation and reclaiming” of the nonfictional location’s lagoon is “symbolic violence.”
“Although the U.S. government removed the people of Bikini from the atoll above the surface, this does not give license to SpongeBob or anyone else, fictitious or otherwise, to occupy Bikini,” writes Barker.
“SpongeBob’s presence on Bikini Bottom continues the violent and racist expulsion of Indigenous peoples from their lands (and in this case their cosmos) that enables U.S. hegemonic powers to extend their military and colonial interests in the postwar era.”
Barker also takes issue with the cartoon’s theme song:
“The first act of the song is to have children identify who resides in the pineapple house,” she explains. “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.’”
By participating in the theme song sing-a-long, Barker says “the viewer becomes an unwitting participant in the co-opting of Bikini’s story and the exclusion of the Bikinian people.”
As if fictionally “occupying” nonfictional land was not enough, Barker also accuses the cartoon of being biased against women.
The professor complains that “all of the main characters on the show are male,” except for Sandy Cheeks the squirrel, whom she suggests was only created in order to boost the gender diversity of the show.
“The name ‘Bob’ represents the everyday man, a common American male, much like a ‘Joe,'” Barker observes, concluding that “our gaze into the world of Bikini Bottom, as well as the surface of Bikini, is thus filtered through the activities of men.”
“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.”
It could even be more insidious. Could this be another Russian plot, hatched by the nefarious pair of Boris and Natashia? I think so.