Having recently celebrated its 20th anniversary, SpongeBob SquarePants has been put until the microscope–but for reasons one might not expect.
The cheerfully whimsical sponge-based yellow cartoon character who lives in a pineapple on the sea floor somewhere in the Bikini Atoll, in the fictional ‘Bikini Bottom,’ may have a problematic origin.
University of Washington professor, Holly M. Barker, wrote an article called “Unsettling SpongeBob and the Legacies of Violence on Bikini Bottom,” which interrogates the seemingly thoughtless premises of the immensely popular and memeable cartoon–enjoyed by both adults and children.
Nuclear testing during the Cold War in the region meant relocation, displacement, and depopulation for native settlers of the island.
Due to the extent of the testing, the islands remain uninhabitable to this day.
The main gripe with the premises, however, is linked to America’s colonialist hegemony which has signified deterritorialization for indigenous peoples.
In the article, Barker explains, “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.”
Barker also suggests SpongeBob’s “colonization” of Bikini Bottom “violent” and “racist.” Barker also claims that the cartoon is guilty of the “whitewashing of violent American military activities” against natives of the Pacific Islands, in this case, Bikinians who are unable to return to their ancestral homeland.
However, it doesn’t end there: Barker makes the case that the cartoon is studded with cultural appropriation of Pacific culture, such as Hawaiian shirts, Tikis, Pineapple-shaped homes, and Moais (Easter Island Heads).
According to the article, due to the shameless delivery of such indirect mistreatment of native peoples, children have “become acculturated to an ideology that includes the U.S. character SpongeBob residing on another people’s homeland.”
Fox News reports that the article was published in “The Contemporary Pacific: A Journal of Island Affairs,” which is designed to publish pieces on “social, economic, political, ecological and cultural topics.”
The piece finishes, by urging us to “be uncomfortable with a hamburger-loving American community’s occupation of Bikini’s lagoon and the ways that it erodes every aspect of sovereignty.”