Legacies don’t have to be huge, monumental things like discovering a new planet, or finding the cure to a life-threatening disease, or leading the fight for equal rights. Legacies can come in the form of a yellow sponge living in a pineapple under the sea, inspiring generations of kids to imagine worlds within the confines of a cardboard box, treasure friendships, and laugh their way through life.
Stephen Hillenburg probably had no idea that his simple cartoon show would ever be as successful as it is now. Nearly 20 years old, SpongeBob SquarePants has seen more than 250 episodes to date, two full-length movies (with a third one scheduled for 2020), and an award-winning Broadway musical. It has lived long enough to be watched by two generations, be the constant source of meme-worthy material, and outlive Hillenburg himself.
It has consistently entertained families with its colorful cast of characters, bordering atrocious episode plots, memorable songs and quotes, off-the-wall humor, and wild adventures beyond Bikini Bottom. At the same time, it has supplied us with many lessons which we keep with us to this day.
It’s difficult to imagine a world without SpongeBob. It’s his influence that has defined the millennial generation, changing our lives through memes, music, and jokes.
The Power of Imagination
What sets SpongeBob apart from the rest of the kid’s cartoons is its inventiveness, introducing us to situations that are too bizarre to make sense of, but are, as a result, memorable and genuinely funny. It’s true that such is the essence of kid’s shows, but SpongeBob thinks so much out of the box that the brand of humor is just uniquely theirs.
It’s also through SpongeBob that we were inspired to think differently as kids. We hid ourselves in cardboard boxes and used our imagination to take us to space, to a pirate ship, or to anywhere we wanted to be because SpongeBob said we could. We made our own Glove World with latex gloves we got from the drugstore. We even concocted our own recipes of the Krabby Patty secret formula.
It even made us believe that the Sea Bear and the Hash-Slinging Slasher were real. That we can make a Bubble Person and call it a friend. And we owe it to these cartoons for instilling within us this power of creativity and innovation.
“Is mayonnaise an instrument?” and Other Memes
One of the biggest influences of SpongeBob to our generation is the number of memes it has spawned.
We have SpongeMock, who repeats stupid or misogynistic statements with aLteRnAtiNG leTteR cApiTaLizaTIon. We have Evil Patrick, plotting his next naughty plan. We have SpongeBob making a rainbow with his hands with “Nobody Cares” written on it. We have Confused Mr. Krabs. SpongeGar. SpongeBob sitting alone at a booth, hands together in contemplation.
We even meme the memorable quotes and reference them in daily conversations. We ask somebody who’s trying to fix something whether they’ve tried switching it to Wumbo. We scream “Chocolate? Chocolate! CHOCOLATE!” with zero chill. We describe things with foul odors as nothing else but “the kind of smelly smell that smells smelly.”
It’s kind of funny when you think about it, that no matter what may happen to SpongeBob SquarePants, the memes will go on to live forever.
Coral Blue no. 5
SpongeBob has always touched on gender and sexuality, and some of its standout episodes alluded to these topics. We have an episode with a crossdressing Patrick, who captivates the likes of Mr. Krabs and Squidward. We also have a scene where SpongeBob is shown wearing the unforgettable Coral Blue no. 5 lipstick (which he gets from his purse). And, we have an episode featuring SpongeBob and Patrick as foster parents of a baby scallop, with SpongeBob taking on maternal duties.
It’s great to see SpongeBob challenge social and gender norms through television and influence kids to realize at an early age that there’s nothing wrong with same-sex couples and crossdressing.
F is For Friends
SpongeBob never failed to show us the meaning of friendships. It’s the one thing that can never be taken away from the cartoon. SpongeBob’s friendships with Patrick, Sandy, Squidward, and even Plankton have always transcended any problem. No matter how many times Plankton has taken advantage of SpongeBob’s kindness to him, or how much Squidward ostensibly disapproves of him, SpongeBob will always consider them his close buddies. And it’s this attitude which always gets SpongeBob out of any rut — forming unlikely bonds with villains, staying kind and generous, and helping anyone in need without batting an eyelash.
SpongeBob also showed us the importance of failure. SpongeBob himself can’t drive to save his life, and can’t even break a board with is karate chop. Squidward enjoys playing his clarinet the most, but can hardly put out a decent melody. Plankton exerts so much time and effort on his schemes, but they never seem to work. But they never give up.
SpongeBob proves to us that we are always capable of pushing through any hardship. We just have to stay patient, focused, and determined to succeed.
Not a Simple Sponge on Brodway
The love for SpongeBob has even led playwright Kyle Jarrow to create a full Broadway Musical in honor of the character and the stories we’ve grown up with. SpongeBob the Musical gave life to Bikini Bottom and its fishy inhabitants, and the result was a production full of amazing songs sung by characters we’ve learned to love even more. And even though it wasn’t as successful as it had hoped to be, SpongeBob the Musical delighted the new generation of kids and touched the hearts of the Millennials who’ve grown up.
The S.O.N.G. Songs
SpongeBob’s music likewise shaped our childhoods with zany and catchy lyrics that talked about the most random of topics, from sitting around the campfire to spelling out the meaning of F.U.N., from being a Goofy Goober to calling today “the best day ever!”
“I’m Ugly and I’m Proud!”
Above all, SpongeBob inspires us to be unafraid to express ourselves and be who we want to be. Because of SpongeBob can become one of the greatest fry cooks, can keep doing karate even if he sucks, and can go on dangerous journeys time and time again to save Bikini Bottom despite being an ordinary, naïve sponge, then we too are capable of anything.
SpongeBob teaches us to be comfortable in our skin, to be able to stand on rooftops and scream “I’m ugly and I’m proud!”, to love what we do no matter how simple (like making Krabby Patties or going jellyfish fishing), and to follow our hearts no matter what others say or think.
It’s the very reason why Hillenburg created SpongeBob in the first place — all from his want to bridge his two passions, marine biology and animation.
And if the new generation of kids is being taught these values from a cartoon show and already at an early age, then it’s safe to say that their future is bright, and it’s all thanks to the legacy of one marine biologist who believed he could, so he did.
How has SpongeBob SquarePants influenced your life? Share your thoughts in the comments down below!