When you think of Spongebob Squarepants, the first thing to come to mind is likely that hilarious little yellow sponge and the hilarious Nickelodeon show (not to mention the movie) the character starred in. However, one academic says there’s nothing to laugh at here because SpongeBob is actually a “violent,” “racist” colonizer.
- This counts as serious academic work. Professor Holly M Barker from the University of Washington is the author of the academic paper “Legacies of Violence on Bikini Bottom” which asserts that “SpongeBob SquarePants and his friends play a role in normalizing the settler-colonial takings of indigenous lands while erasing the ancestral Bikinian people from their nonfictional homeland.”
- Is SpongeBob closer to real life than we think? She further claims that the show’s setting of Bikini Bottom is actually a reference to the real-life location of Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands in the Pacific Ocean. The US military used the island for nuclear testing during the Cold War and they relocated locals in order to do so. Because of this, she believes the series is guilty of “whitewashing of violent American military activities.”
- This is pretty intense. Fox News, who reportedly saw the entire paper, published another extract of Barker’s paper which read: “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 US hegemonic powers to extend their military and colonial interests in the postwar era.”
- It’s all about the symbolism. Barker also takes issue with the characters’ cultural appropriation of the indigenous people of the Pacific because SpongeBob and his friends often wear Hawaiian shirts and characters live in giant pineapples or Easter Island heads.
- It wasn’t the creators’ fault. She admits that it’s unlikely that SpongeBob creators had all of this in mind when imagining the show, but she still believes they should acknowledge these issues now that they’ve been pointed out because “Bikini Bottom and Bikini Atoll were not [the writers’] for the taking.”
- Think about the children! Barker worries that watching SpongeBob SquarePants may cause children to “become culturally acculturated to an ideology that includes the US character SpongeBob residing on another people’s homeland.” Many would say it’s really not that deep, but Barker insists this is a real issue.
- SpongeBob should make you uncomfortable. Barker closes her paper as follows: “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.” Whether or not you agree with her, I suppose it’s interesting to think about.