Happy Squared: The Impact of SpongeBob SquarePants After Ten Years

July 2, 2009
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“Who‘s first words were, ‘May I take your order?’ ”

“Mine were.

“Who made a spatula out of toothpicks in Woodshop?”

“I did.”

“Oh, who‘s a big yellow cube with holes?”

“I am!”

“Who‘s ready?”

“I‘m ready!”

“Who‘s ready?”

“I‘m ready!!”

“Who‘s ready?!”

“I‘m ready!!! I‘m ready, I‘m ready, I‘m ready…”

And with those words, an American icon was born, but no one could have known it then. He was just a square, yellow sponge living at the bottom of the sea in a town called Bikini Bottom. Had anyone predicted that this little guy would become the frontrunner of television (not just cartoons, television) viewing for the next decade, they would have been laughed out of the room. Now, the cartoon is the virtual life-blood with which Nickelodeon strives to this day. But the show has not only taken Nickelodeon to new heights, it has also left a permanent impression on American culture; an impression in the shape of that goofy smile permanently affixed on SpongeBob’s face. And the show itself has had some real gems as far as episodes go. From those awkward first steps, to the classic moments we’ll remember forever, to the feature length movie that solidified SpongeBob as a worldwide phenomenon. Let’s not forget, however, the impact that this show has had on us, the viewer. From kids to adults, SpongeBob SquarePants brightens the day of anyone who watches his amusing misadventures (well, most people anyway, but that’s another story). Just to think, he’s done all of this while living in a pineapple under the sea.

SpongeBob debuted in July of 1999 and it could only be described as the laugh heard ‘round the world, only it didn’t travel that fast at first. No, first things first, that now all too familiar laugh had to survive the inevitable gauntlet of all new shows - the eager audience. I can only imagine what it must have been like for creator Stephen Hillenberg when he pitched this idea. I can just hear him, “Okay, picture it guys, a talking yellow sponge who gets himself into these wacky situations with his best friend, a starfish. It’ll have humor, originality, and all of that great non-imitatible cartoon violence.” If I was an exec in that session, I probably wouldn’t have known what to say, but I most likely would have settled on saying, “Go for it, man. What‘s the worst that could happen?” And then I would be reprimanded by my fellow monkey-suits for encouraging an idea with such a small premise.

“There is only so much you can do with a square yellow sponge,” they would say. “What‘s the theme here, underwater?”

That’s the problem with people sometimes, they are far too structured. When I write something, I rarely think about what the theme is going to be. I simply write what I’m thinking and then pretty it up before it gets onto the paper. True, the majority of the time a concrete theme and direction are required but, often times it’s better to throw caution to the wind. For SpongeBob and company, this philosophy equated to instant success. The first episode consisted of two main events: SpongeBob applying for a job at a fast food joint, and SpongeBob saving the restaurant from an anchovy feeding frenzy. Doesn’t sound like too much happened, but SpongeBob has a certain flair about it that can take the most obscure topics and turn them into, as SB calls it, “The best day ever!”

After the first few seasons, it had become achingly clear that Sponge and friends were going nowhere fast. The show had quickly become the most addicting fix on TV, especially for me. It wasn’t long before Nickelodeon began to take advantage of the new, lucrative license that SpongeBob provided for them. They began to develop toys, books, and even video games. I myself have the first two that were made including the adaptation made of the movie. I was certifiable at this point - an official SpongeFreak. It is people like this that have given the show its longevity. We are the reason why after ten years, SpongeBob SquarePants has supplied Nickelodeon with its best ratings in years.

I remember that magical moment - the first time I saw the pilot - I was sitting in front of the TV in the living room. I remember that I sort of discovered it on accident. I was flipping through the channels nonchalantly not looking for anything in particular when, as if directed by fate, I found SpongeBob. It amazes me to this day that something so utterly simple, naïve and silly could have captivated me like it did. All I can say is that there is an undeniable charm about this show. One that, like the lottery and unlike Rush Limbaugh, is unbiased and will snag anyone daring enough to lay eyes on it. I guess it was just Sponge’s personality. Like me, he was the biggest goofball in existence, and he wasn’t afraid of showing it. I was seven years old when I first saw SpongeBob and at that time I was somewhat insecure and was afraid to express myself. I learned how to be comfortable in my own skin by watching SpongeBob do what he loved to do everyday despite what people may have said about him. That to me was everything I ever aspired to be: independent, easy-going, free of the pressure to conform. It was more than just a cartoon to me; it was a revelation.

This is one of the reasons that I continue to watch cartoons and this show. After ten years, you can count me and my grandfather as loyal fans. That’s right; I said my grandfather. Now, one of the first cartoons my grandpa ever watched was Popeye, which would explain part of the reason he likes SpongeBob, but, for the most part, he doesn’t like the modern cartoons very much at all. SpongeBob is the only modern cartoon that he will willingly turn to himself (often times he‘ll just watch what ever I have on). Thought I was lying about SpongeBob’s charm, didn’t you? It really is amazing. Ultimately, I believe the success of the show can be attested to the brilliant voice acting. One person in particular deserves a closer look. The man behind the voice of the sponge is none other than Mr. Tom Kenny. And if you don’t know the name, I almost guarantee that you’ve heard his voice before. Known as the man with 1,000 voices, Kenny has either starred, held a supporting role, had a small, recurring role, or had a minor cameo in some of the most memorable and successful cartoons of the last decade. Some of his more notable ventures, besides SpongeBob: The PowerPuff Girls, Dexter’s Laboratory, My Gym Partner is a Monkey, and many of the games of the original Spryo the Dragon games (he voiced Spyro). It is also important to note that in each of these shows and games, it was not unlike Tom to voice several different characters; his range is amazing. (You may have also seen him near the end of the Sky High flick where the flying superschool almost landed on his house but was saved at the last second by the hero kid.)

The question, still, is why. Why would I still be watching this ridiculous kiddie cartoon after ten years? I mean, for Pete’s sake, I’m seventeen! I’ll tell you why, because, after seventeen years, eleven spent in school, at least five spent trying to find my place in the world, more than one outburst fueled by unbridled prepubescent rage, and one epiphany, I have decided that I am through compromising for the sake of other people. I’m on a mission to change the world, not conform to it, and SpongeBob saved me from doing just that. Just like any other form of entertianment, there are cartoons that will be remembered for a time and then pass away. Then there are those that will be remembered for a long time. SpongeBob is in another class with a select few cartoons: those that will be remembered forever. And, yes, I did go that far. Think about it for a second, the average sitcom lasts a grand total of six years with some cartoons lasting even less. SpongeBob has lasted ten years, and with new episodes still being released with a never-ending supply of fresh, original material, it doesn’t look like the series is going anywhere anytime soon. I may be out of college before they finally decide to end it all. I’m not afraid of the show ending, though, I’ve already had so many memories that will carry on the show for me forever. I’m just worried about the direction that Nickelodeon will take as the series progresses. Who knows; Nickelodeon might even consider going in the same direction Cartoon Network has, putting reality shows in their rotation (shudder). I pray that doesn’t happen, but SpongeBob has been their front-runner since it premiered and we’ve seen in the past how desperate TV execs can be to keep their beloved ratings. But whatever happens in the future, SpongeBob has cemented himself not only as an icon, but a cornerstone in this country’s rich history. Just try and wrap your mind around it, as scary as it is to think of SpongeBob SquarePants in our history books ten, fifteen years from now. But, for better or for worse, that’s how the story has unfolded. And just to think, he did all of this while living in a pineapple under the sea.

Join the Discussion

This article has 34 comments. Post your own now!

manny12 said...
Aug. 28 at 7:18 pm
I believe some fail to understand the impact this show has on their children. This show brought me so much joy growing up and I continue to enjoy it to this day, just as the author.
ColdplayForever said...
Feb. 29, 2016 at 11:21 pm
I really, really don't like Spongebob, but this was a good article. If I had to choose the character I was most like, it most likely would be Squidward.
Emilia M. said...
Mar. 26, 2014 at 12:37 pm
Hey KD Ghostrider!  I really like this piece about Spongebob! I am actually writing a research paper about why college kids continue to watch television shows directed toward children, specifically spongebob, and I was wondering if you would like to take part in a short online interview. It would be a couple of questions, along with me asking you to watch an episode. If you are interested, please let me know! Thanks!  
Artgirl1999 said...
Jan. 25, 2013 at 8:33 am
Great writing. This is really good. While I find SpongeBob annoying, you're entitled to your opinion. Which you presented well.
MarykThis teenager is a 'regular' and has contributed a lot of work, comments and/or forum posts, and has received many votes and high ratings over a long period of time. said...
Jan. 10, 2012 at 7:42 am
I feel bad for Sponge Bob's original creator after Nickalodeon kicked him out, now the the poor yellow fellow is sufering from season rot!
vazenitran98 said...
Dec. 28, 2011 at 8:33 pm
That was an amazing article! I didn't plan on reading it all,but here I am now,and it was very amazing!
callie15 said...
Aug. 9, 2011 at 5:49 pm
Wonderful article! I absolutely love Spongebob Squarepants! It's the only little kid cartoon I watch anymore. My favorite character has to be Patrick :)
crazy-ashbobash This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Jul. 18, 2011 at 11:38 pm
Check out some of my stuff?! Awesome! Love it! The truth is, I was 3 and my bro, dad & I watched it every single day, no kidding...!
May 16, 2011 at 8:06 am
Spongebob is the best cartoon. I watch it with my neice
Anonomis said...
May 13, 2011 at 11:15 am
my bum hurts
anonymous replied...
May 13, 2011 at 11:19 am
that is fore play my firend
Lacey-Chan666 said...
Apr. 17, 2011 at 2:32 pm
I'm a major SpongeBob fan, too! I have a SpongeBob shirt, a hat, two pairs of socks, and pyjama pants. I try to buy my little siblings SB clothes as often as possible, and I ALWAYS watch the new episodes. Some people wouldn't want to admit that they still watch it only because it's considered a little kids show, but I honestly think that it's a show meant for all ages. Some people look at me funny when I ask if they like SB, because I'm a teenager. I don't see anything wrong with watching it, though.
rev1theory said...
Apr. 7, 2011 at 9:35 am
love the article and spongebob sucks
weepingwillow said...
Jan. 20, 2011 at 2:11 pm
I Love spongebob! Plankton is my favorite character! = )
thebushhippie said...
Dec. 10, 2010 at 5:37 pm
Whoa......I never knew that this long of an article could be written about Spongebob!!! Awesome job!! LOVED IT!!!! :0)
MusicCloud7 said...
Dec. 10, 2010 at 1:29 pm

I love this article. I love to watch spongebob with my little sister.


Squidward is my favorite character(:

thank you. It's awesome.

BlackHoleHighAlumni This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Nov. 18, 2010 at 3:07 pm

Ugh, I can't stand Spongebob! :P Actually, I can't really say that anymore...about two years ago I did just cause two kids I babysit, that was what they watched for five hours straight! Gah! But know they've moved on to Avatar and Clone Wars and Speed Racer...

Very well written article and very well researched! :)

Garrett.R.97 replied...
Dec. 10, 2010 at 9:59 am
Thats were ur wrong u can never watch too much Sponge Bob. He's my childhood. He gives meaning to life. Almost everybody has heard of SB. and of those people it is very rare to find someone who doesn't like it.  
RallyR This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Dec. 10, 2010 at 2:11 pm

You know I wasn't being mean, right? And who cares that I don't like it? I's my opinion. Spongebob is apar of my childhood also, but I just don't care for him that much. It's not a big deal. 

p.s There are a lot more people than you realize who don't like Spongebob. And I have reasons for it, so...

Garrett.R.97 replied...
Dec. 10, 2010 at 7:56 pm
I understand its just hard to think of somebody likeing spongebob and then deciding they dont anymore thats all im saying no hard feelings
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