Saturday, May 3, 2014

Exploring The Bikini Bottom: Adult Themes In Children's Television


"If nautical nonsense be something you wish"...look and read below! SpongeBob SquarePants may not be as innocent as you thought...




SpongeBob SquarePants has held its spot on TV screens since it first aired in 1999 making it a 15-year run! Most cartoon shows don’t get time like that. “But beyond just TV longevity, SpongeBob SquarePants has grown into a nearly $8 billion-dollar-a-year property at retail for Nickelodeon, with more than 700 license partners worldwide, making it the most widely distributed franchise in MTV Networks history” (Hamp 1). So what made it for Spongebob? The key to Bob’s success is its cross-generational appeal. It amuses just as many toddlers as it does adults, celebrities, and college students who have an admiration for aquatic double entendres and slapstick sponge comedy. This “demographic transcendence,” as Andrew Hampp calls it, has facilitated the cartoon show in maintaining its position as the most watched TV show on cable, with 76 million viewers. I will be discussing this demographic transcendence, or cross-generational appeal, through Spongebob's adult comedy themes found relatable by a wide variety of viewers, not just children. 

SpongeBob’s popularity is largely due to what genre it is. The writing actually fits into several different genres, but the ones that allow the show to tap into a wider range of audiences are the timeless slapstick genre and adult humor. The use of adult themes, gags, images, and even dirty jokes places SpongeBob on the outskirts of what it means to be a kids cartoon. It is way different than normal children’s programming and I’d even say relates more closely to animated shows geared for young adults. Entertainment weekly even stated that “For a period of time, SpongeBob SquarePants was one of the best-written comedies on television. Not among children’s entertainment, not among cartoons, but comedies”. The show’s humor, creativity, and complete absurdity has been compared to that of Monty Python and Pee-Wee Herman.

This employment of adult themes and humor is actually very striking to me. I watched this show as a kid and still watch it on occasion with my younger brother. I knew the show had humor that would appeal to adults and even more that were geared specifically to college-aged kids and adults, but after researching more I have found it quite shocking in regards to some of the jokes and adult themes that get slipped into each episode that I didn’t think twice about when I was a kid. I’m going to share some of the jokes and humor that have been placed into different popular episodes of SpongeBob that represent adult humor and demographic transcendence. 

Example 1:
SpongeBob: Who wants to get all dirty anyways?
Sandy: Yea, and sweaty
SB: But I think we both would know who would get to the top first
S: Yea
Both: hahaha, me
(ep. 8, season 4)

Example 2:
SB: We’re not doing so well Patrick. We need a better approach; a new tactic.
Patrick: I know, let’s get naked.
SB: No, let’s save that for when we’re selling real estate.
(ep.11, season 5)

Example 3:
Mr. Krabs picks up Spongebob
Mr. Krabs: Who’s my little money maker?
Spongebob giggles and Mr. Krabs starts giving him kisses on the cheek.
(ep. 14, season 2)

Example 4:
They live in Bikini Bottom

Example 5:
The Krusty Krab is in Bikini Bottom

Example 6:
SpongeBob: Patrick, your genius is showing. 
Patrick: Where?

Example 7: Rape joke...


Example 8: Uhmmm Patirck, what are you doing?

Example 9: A Bob boner?

There is even one episode where they go on a panty raid and break into girls’ rooms and “score” by stealing their underwear. They hold up the girls’ panties and are in complete admiration. In another episode, Gary walks in on SpongeBob watching what seems to be porn (you can see this in the video I included). Anyone can see how these jokes are geared towards adults and how the inclusion of this kind of sexual adult humor broadens the range of viewers and affectively increase its popularity. These are the kind of jokes that I, as a kid, didn’t get, and that hopefully many other kids don’t get! It appeals to older ages through not only spoken jokes, but also images, place names, sounds, video, etc.

Another adult theme that appeals to a different demographic that has been a large part of the show’s popularity is homosexuality. There is much speculation that SpongeBob and his best friend Patrick Star are actually gay lovers. Parker explains some of the reasoning behind the suspicions of homosexual undertones by stating, “They [Spongebob and Patrick] hold hands.  They blow bubbles at each other, whispering sweet nothings into their bubble wands, exchanging wobbling orbs of pure infatuation.” Jeffrey Dennis goes further by suggesting that “Spongebob and his next-door neighbor Patrick are paired with erotic intensity”(137).For example, in “The Bus,” SpongeBob is stuck in the unfamiliar and scary town of Rock Bottom; Patrick hurries to help him out in a panic, as if he can’t stand to be parted from him. When Patrick incorrectly thinks SpongeBob forgot to get a Valentine’s Day present for him, he throws a fit, crying, “Patrick needs love, too!” However it just so happens that SpongeBob ends up giving him a chocolate heart so huge that it’s delivered like a hot-air balloon.

While the two aren’t constantly represented as homosexual lovers, primarily because they don’t live together, the prospect of same-sex desire is certainly not omitted. In episode 6 season 4, Gary begins purring at and slinking seductively all over Patrick. SpongeBob is heartbroken. He unsuccessfully attempts to win Gary back through food and emotional demonstrations; Gary clearly prefers cuddling with Patrick. Their conversation about the whole ordeal noticeably suggests same-sex lovers:

SpongeBob [to Gary]: I’m a wreck without you!
Patrick: How pathetic! I’m sorry, SpongeBob, but Gary is with me now. Face it, you’re only hurting yourself. It’s what Gary wants, and what Gary wants is me.

When Patrick finds out that Gary was only obsessed with a sandwich in his pocket, he declares salaciously:

Patrick: “He only wanted me for my shorts!” (Now Patrick is the one who is heartbroken) “Gary, I thought what we had was special!”

Finally, there is one more example that I want to mention from season 7 episode 9. SpongeBob and Patrick are paired together as partners (again suggesting that they are homosexual) when they become parents of a baby scallop they find. They go through all the trials and tribulations of being parents which would most definitely be relatable to adult viewers. Of course this is done in a very satirical way which makes it funny not only because it is relatable but because its relatable in absolutely ridiculous ways. For instance I'm sure many moms out there could relate to SpongeBob cooking and cleaning and trying to care for the baby but also the episode portrays it quite ridiculously because SpongeBob has about eight arms going at hyper speed to get all the chores done; then across the kitchen you see Patrick who is literally scarfing down his breakfast by picking up the kitchen table and letting all the food, including the plates it's on, fall into his mouth.

This hilariousness is what makes SpongeBob Squarepants cross-generational. It transcends age and demographic and is therefore widely relatable. It is why Nickelodeon "runs episodes at a variety of times throughout a day, including late a night, such as 11:30 p.m., obviously targeting an older crowd." and why "studies report that nearly a third of SB's audience is 18 years of age or older" (Rice 1). Through this show's use of adult humor, including dirty jokes and sexual innuendos, and adult themes like homosexuality and other significant relationship situations, through it's images, and through simply the name Bikini Bottom where the characters live, the show Spongebob Squarepants is an example of a kids cartoon that is not only out of the box but hugely successful and popular.

7 hours later... The End.

Works Cited
Dennis, Jeffrey P. "Signifying Same-Sex Desire In Television Cartoons." Journal Of Popular Film & Television 31.3 (2003): 132-140. Academic Search Elite. Web. 2 May 2014.


Fox, Whitney. "Stephen Hillenburg: Shaping Minds One Sponge at a Time Watercooler Journal." Watercooler Journal. N.p., Web.02 May 2014. <http.//watercoolerjournal.com/stephen-hillenburg-shaping-mind-minds-one-sponge-at-a-time/>.


Hampp, Andrew. "How Spongebob Became An $8 Billion Franchise." Advertising Age 80.25 (2009): 4-23. Academic Search Elite. Web. 2 May 2014.

Parker, James. “A Dreamer of the Golden Dream.” Atlantic (June 2009): 33-35. Web. 25 Oct 2010. <www.theatlantic.com/spongebob>.



Rice, Jonah Lee. “Spongebob Squarepants: Pop Culture Tsunami Or More?.” Journal Of Popular Culture 42.6 (2009): 1092-1114. Academic Search Elite. Web. 2 May 2014. 

"TV Review: SpongeBob SquarePants | EW.com." EW.com. N.p., 21 July 2012. Web. 02 May 2014. <http://www.ew.com/ew/article/0%2C%2C20609141_20615345%2C00.html>.

11 comments:

  1. Alex,

    This is an awesome topic, and one that could have been written about through the lens of any number of popular children's shows, which is what makes this cross-generational writing so fascinating. I know from personal experience that any show that was deemed "too dumb" by my parents (Fairly Oddparents comes to mind) would be turned off if I attempted to watch. Do you think that it's not just an attempt to get more people into what is primarily a kid's program, but also an attempt to earn parent approval?

    Something I think you could have expanded on just a bit was the 'homosexual' undertones of Spongebob and Patrick's relationship, particularly the real world effects that some of those jokes had. I can recall when there was a movement by some Christian groups to get God-fearing parents to get the show out of their homes. So it would have been interesting to hear your take on what the response to certain adult jokes tells us about our values as audience members, and a society or group as a whole.

    Final question for you...do you think it is acceptable for these dirty jokes to be presented to kids, even if it will go over their heads? (I know they did for me) Rock on buddy.

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  2. This was a really interesting post to read. As someone who watched the show as a kid but hasn't seen an episode in forever now, it was crazy to look through examples and realize how much adult humor was totally going over my head. I think you make a great point about how much this appeals to older audiences. I even remember being younger and having my parents not even mind watching this with me, which was not their normal attitude toward my kid shows. I think you make some great points about the homosexual undertones and points about even the name of the town (Bikini Bottom), which I wouldn't have even thought about. Great blog post!

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  3. Very interesting blog topic! I watched the show when I was younger and still watch it on occasion today. I never realized the amount of adult humor the show includes when I was younger, but the more I watch the show, the more present these dirty jokes are. I thought you provided great, specific examples that examine the types of jokes the show makes to appeal to an older audience. But I also agree, is it okay for young children to be watching shows that have these types of jokes?

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  4. I really enjoyed reading your blog post! I didn't even realize how many adult jokes were in Sponge Bob and I didn't realize how dirty some of the jokes were either! I didn't catch any of these jokes as a kid and I agree with you with hoping that younger kids do not pick up on these jokes either. I think its awful that younger kids are viewing such inappropriate topics in Sponge Bob without even realizing it. They should be watching innocent shows and not be exposed to adult topics such as the ones you have listed in your blog. Your blog makes me wonder if other cartoon shows are incorporating the same kind of humor into their shows for kids to watch. I am curious to what other adult jokes are in the Sponge Bob episodes that kids are being exposed to. I think it is awful that kids are watching this type of humor at such a young age because I feel that they should not be aware of such topics until they are way older. Great job on your blog post!

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  5. This was a cool theme. I do love dirty jokes and Spongebob and I think it is true that alot of younger children's programs have strong adult themes in them that fly over the kid's heads. There is a variety of discussion as well to the sexual orientation of spongebob, patrick, squidward, sandy, etc. It would be cool to see more elaboration in this sense of the topic, but for a short TV crit blog post, I think you did good job of delving into the slapstick/adult humor discussion and questioning who it is really made for.

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  6. Such a cool topic! I remember watching SpongeBob when I was younger and thinking all of this was just stupid humor I thought was hilarious, but I have seen the show as an adult and I do feel that certain content can be dirty. I wonder what other shows that I watched as a kid has more adult content than kid content. Overall, great job! Such an awesome topic to write about!

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  7. I loved reading this! We always hear about how kids shows have dirty innuendoes and jokes that are subtle.. But you never really realize it until you see examples.

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  8. Okay this is definitely one of the best topics because you don't think about this when you watch it as a kid because you don't know any better. And not only is this true for Spongebob but actually if you watch some of the Disney movies too there's a ton of adult references in it, it almost ruins the innocence when you watch it again with that in mind!

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  9. I absolutely can't stand spongebob, how i ever watched it as a child is beyond me. but reading your blog, some of the content is actually really funny now that i probably understand it all. i think this was a pretty original topic so good job on picking this!

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  10. I enjoyed reading this blog! Everything you said is true--I remember a lot of it from when I watched it growing up. Although SpongeBob may make "dirty" satirical jokes, what makes this show great is that it makes these jokes so subtly that kids have no idea what is going on/being said. I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing since I feel as though you can make about almost anything seem "dirty" these days.

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  11. I was so excited to read your post after talking about your idea in class. I love where you went with it. This really hits close to home as my dad loved watching Spongebob with me as a kid and seemed to dislike essentially every other program I wanted to watch. This gives a great outline as to why that probably is!

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