The lovable sponge who’s made his way into our homes and hearts for the last 20 years faces new and odd criticism from University of Washington Professor Holly Barker.
In her new article titled, ” Unsettling SpongeBob and the Legacies of Violence on Bikini Bottom,” Barker attempts to draw a connection between the innocent sea sponge turned fast food fry cook and colonial occupation by the US government in the Bikini Atolls. For anyone who’s ever watched one of the nearly 250 episodes of SpongeBob, it’s fairly clear the late Stephen Hillenburg wasn’t aiming to convey a supposedly racist and violent message.
SpongeBob easily boasts one of the most diverse cast, seeing as every character is a different species of aquatic life. The show itself is surprisingly progressive in nature, if Professor Barker really wants to go down that road.
In the articles abstract, Barker writes, “SpongeBob Squarepants and his friends play a role in normalizing the settler colonial takings of Indigenous lands [Bikini Atolls] while erasing the ancestral Bikinian people from their nonfictional homeland.” The only similarity between Bikini Bottom and the Bikini Atolls is the clever use of the word ‘Bikini’ their names share. As someone who grew up on SpongeBob, the show does not even hint at any colonialist under tones.
This article exposes the complicity of popular culture in maintaining American military hegemonies in Oceania while amplifying the enduring indigeneity (Kauanui 2016) of the Marshallese people, who maintain deeply spiritual and historical connections to land—even land they cannot occupy due to residual radiation contamination from US nuclear weapons testing—through a range of cultural practices, including language, song, and weaving. This article also considers the gendered violence of nuclear colonialism and the resilience of Marshallese women.
None of this has to do with the show itself, rather Barker and other Academic Leftists routinely attempt to take normal, innocent popular culture phenomenons and turn them into political weapons aimed at demonizing Western values and American Exceptionalism.
Recounting Hillenburg’s passing, Barker wrote the tributes to his memory lacked “any discussion about the normalization of colonial and military violence engendered through his cartoon depiction of Bikini Bottom.” She continued, “the carton desensitized viewers to the violence of settler colonialism,” and ‘whitewashed’ the United State’s role in the region.
If things couldn’t get any more fishy, Barker attacks the song we all know by heart, saying “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.'”
Barker attacks the show for lacking female characters, despite the presence of female squirrel Sandy Checks, a scientist and Karate champion. She refers to her as a ‘token’ character.
“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,” she concludes.
As some of our favorite fish would say, this article is a load of barnacles.