So, some stirrings in the blogosphere (whose url's will remain unidentified) have led me to put some thoughts down in reflection on the goodness of the cartoon known as SpongeBob Squarepants.
I still remember the day when I strolled down the halls of the department of molecular biology and biochemistry at UC Irvine, when the departmental chair stopped to ask me if I was a fan of this show. He knew I was somewhat quirky, and thought we could share a moment of common affection for what I now hold to be a television great. However, in standard elitist tone, I gruffly said "No. I'm too cool for such childishness." Of course that comment was half tongue in cheek, half serious. As the years passed and free cable graced the face of our student housing complex, I saw some of the show as my wife and son were watching. Admittedly, there were moments of great music, as this undersea alternate universe played it out in ways that were comical and true to our world.
One instance would have to be SpongeBob's pet Gary, the snail who is indubitably the show's equivalent of a cat. When Gary left, this song accompanied SpongeBob's seach for reconciliation with his pet. The R&B sensibilities are just great.
But overall, there was a period of time where I knew that my family enjoyed the show, but I had no serious interest in watching it.
Perhaps the weight of the three letters, P, h, and D, have led me to seek more levity. Whatever the cause, at some point the genius of SpongeBob Squarepants got through to my hardened heart.
Just as the great heroes are not mere molecules who accidentally arrive on scene and unwittingly save the day, the adventures of SpongeBob do not come about in a haphazard way. The genius, however, is that this show presents itself as pure whimsy. The plots unfold like any standard story, and our protagonist carries himself as no hero at all-if anything, he is the opposite of a hero. If you watch him explain his stance on the matter of fun in the following video, you will see what I mean.
A cursory observation of this clip (and most complete episodes) would lead one to think of this as harmless children's entertainment where having a fun time is all that matters in life. A more twisted view may lead to conclusions of superficiality on the part of our 21st century undersea Ulysses (or Odysseus, if you're really cool), or even some sort of underlying immorality on his part.
On the contrary, the true beauty of SpongeBob Squarepants is in the fact that he exists as a light shining out in darkness. His light, masked in a nerdy awkwardness, is a light of innocence. He exists in a world of cynical narcissism, megalomania, and godless materialism, as exemplified and personified by the most commonly occurring adult characters of Squidward, Plankton, and Mr. Crabs, respectively.
Going back to the F.U.N. video, we see two different views of what matters in life, and as silly as SpongeBob is, he is right about what matters more. Power and bombs, or friendship?
Zooming out to consider this show in toto, all of the interactions that our child hero undergoes show the glaring incongruity between the mind of a child who wants to engage in the simpler things of life and the adults who are contrasted with him. Sure, some of the funniest moments are when this innocence leads him to make conclusions that are fallacious, but the texture of the show is a consistently innocent one.
And so I would say that not only is this show funny because of the silliness, but behind the silliness is a tapestry of wisdom. There is wisdom in innocence. It is not self-aware in the young ones on our planet, and self-awareness is sometimes the strongest way to quench that light, but childlike simplicity has the power to overcome that darkness. We see this, oddly enough, in a cartoon as unassuming as SpongeBob.