They ask us this every time the theme song plays, but how well do we really know the sponge who lives in a pineapple under the sea? SpongeBob SquarePants hit the airwaves in 1999 and took the world by storm.
The creativity, hilarity, artistic integrity, and nuance of a show about a sponge with square-shaped pants changed the landscape of cartoon history forever. The show was created by Stephen Hillenburg, a marine biologist and former creative director of Rocko’s Modern Life. Hillenburg
Irreverent and brilliant, SpongeBob had a solid three seasons on Nickelodeon and a theatrically released movie before the quality began to wane. The series may not be what it once was, but ten seasons and counting of a kids' show is not a feat to be taken lightly. A lot of secret controversies can accumulate in 18 years of broadcast… let’s unearth the darkest secrets from the bottom of the sea.
Are you ready, kids?! Here are the 15 Dark Secrets You Never Knew About SpongeBob SquarePants.
15 Patrick and Gary are first cousins
Gary, SpongeBob’s snail who acts like a cat, and Patrick are friends. Why shouldn’t they be? Gary is SpongeBob’s pet, and Patrick is SpongeBob’s best friend. What you may not know about Patrick and Gary is that they’ve got more in common than SpongeBob. In fact, Patrick Star and Gary the snail are first cousins. That’s right. It’s Pluto-Goofy syndrome taken to a whole new level.
According to the season 4 episode “Rule of Dumb”, Patrick’s father (Herb) and Gary’s father (Sluggo) are brothers, making Patrick and Gary first cousins. This was revealed in the first season that series creator Stephen Hillenburg left.
In his wake, the show was somewhat… well-- how to say this delicately-- changed, and not in a good way. The brilliance was gone, but surely SpongeBob served as a perfectly good show for young children who didn’t know any better, right?
14 SpongeBob got in trouble for being a sailor mouth
SpongeBob was deemed by many parents as an unsuitable show for children far before Hillenburg and his team left. In fact, there’s been controversy since way back after the 15th episode of season 2 (Hillenburg stayed on until the end of season 3 and the first movie).
The episode in question, called “Sailor Mouth”, featured SpongeBob and Patrick overhearing Mr. Krabs using a curse word (bleeped out with dolphin sounds in the episode). Not knowing that there were “bad” words that they shouldn't use, the friends proceeded to use it all over Bikini Bottom to much outrage from the aquatic townsfolk.
A watchdog media group called the Parents Television Council (PTC) spoke out about the episode as promoting and satirizing vulgar language, one of the first public denouncements of SpongeBob by a conservative parental group.
According to the PTC’s report, this episode was an attempt to promote and satirize profanity usage among children. The report came out in 2005, several years after the episode originally aired in the 2001-2002 season — the same television season that the PTC named as one of the best children’s television programs on air.
13 The show faced international censorship
Maybe American children are just a little more immune to impropriety, but various countries across the water consider their progeny to be of far more delicate sensibilities. Many scenes were cut out of circulation for supposedly inappropriate levels of “sexual deviance."
For instance, Sandy Cheeks karate chopping a fish between the legs in "Karate Choppers" was deemed too risqué, as was the phrase “getting nailed” in the episode "Life of Crime", as well as SpongeBob and Patrick holding hands in "The Fry Cook Games".
In some cases, whole episodes were canned. In the UK, the Halloween episode "Scaredy Pants" was banned because of the scene in which SpongeBob’s face is shaved off and only his exposed brain is left. Which does sound rather horrific… but you know what, he is a sponge, so there was no blood.
12 The Krusty Krab secret formula revealed
Have you ever seen a lobster trap? Well, it looks exactly like the Krusty Krab-- the restaurant is shaped exactly like a lobster trap. SpongeBob and co are the size of actual sea creatures, i.e. only a few inches tall, so they re-appropriated a forgotten trap to use as a family-style fast-food restaurant.
This may seem like no big deal, except when it comes to the mysterious secret ingredient — the very one that Plankton from the Chum Bucket is always after.
While theories are in abudnance, the answer might have been in front of us the whole time. The first episode that the secret formula featured in heavily was called “Imitation Krab”, and provided an image of the official recipe for Krabby Patties.
In “Friend or Foe” the secret recipe is discovered after a whole shelf of ingredients crashes into a bowl. Why would poor destitute (at the time) Eugene Krabs have something as rare and precious as King Neptune’s Powder? He wouldn’t, but he might actually have imitation crab. Which, you know, isn’t quite cannibalism.
11 Bikini Bottom is the site of nuclear testing
Ever wonder if that island at the beginning of the theme song had a name? Well, it does, and it isn’t Maui. The creators have called the three palm-tree island — which, fun fact, is actually bigger than it looks due to an optical illusion — Bikini Atoll. It's an interesting name, but it might sound somewhat familiar if you’re any kind of history buff…
While you may have always thought that the name Bikini Bottom was simply a one-off joke, the official Nickelodeon synopsis as well as various writers have confirmed the location of Bikini Bottom underneath Bikini Atoll, a setting known historically as an atomic testing site.
In 1946, a bomb was set off underwater. Some sites claim that this is merely a theory because SpongeBob voice actor Tom Kenny once said that it probably wan’t true. However, since others have since confirmed this it seems more than likely.
10 SpongeBob the sensual symbol?
In April 2009, Burger King released a SpongeBob-themed marketing tie-in using a parody version of Sir Mix-a-Lot's song "Baby Got Back". It didn’t take long for the Campaign of a Commercial-Free Childhood to protest the ad for being “sexist and inappropriately sexual.”
The commercial in question changed the words to “I like square butts and I cannot lie…” with some non-scantily clad ladies — boxes stuck to the seat of their shorts — who danced inoffensively in the background.
The commercial was no worse than any rendition of a Kids Bop's album. Besides, it is strange that this was the thing that set them off and not the second episode of the first season, which includes SpongeBob singing about his ripped pants.
9 Inappropriate jokes abound
There are a ton of inappropriate jokes that SpongeBob writers got past the censors. The show has no shortage of anatomy euphemisms — like when SpongeBob was buried under the sand except for his nose and Mr. Krabs said he "hoped" that was his nose.
In one scene, SpongeBob winks at Gary, joking about not dropping soap, while in another episode a giant red blimp flew by and Squidward remarked that it must be “that time of the month.”
Some of the jokes are subtle-- the kind of thing that animators employed on Rocko’s Modern Life, Angry Beavers, and Hey Arnold! However, sometimes even SpongeBob pushes into Ren and Stimpy or Adult Swim territory, which is evident by the time that the crew went on a panty raid. There were bras and everything. Honestly, how did these jokes manage to get aired on Nickelodeon?
8 Studies say that SpongeBob is messing with kids’ brains
SpondeBob was no stranger to conservative parents calling foul by 2011, but who can argue with cold, hard science? According to a 2011 study from the University of Virginia, SpongeBob is messing with the memory retention of children, impairing their “readiness for learning.” Findings show that allowing preschoolers to watch the series causes short-term disruptions in mental function and attention span due to frequent camera cut scenes.
The drawing and Caillou groups showed little difference, but the group subjected to SpongeBob showed marked impairment in their various tests.“[A] possibility is that children identify with unfocused and frenetic characters, and then adopt their characteristics,” said lead investigator Angeline Lillard, a psychology professor at UVA.
7 Mr. Krabs stirs up climate change debate
An educational short called “The Endless Summer” debuted on Nickelodeon in 2005. The special was about Mr. Krabs trying to make more money — as per usual — but this time the plot involved using boatmobile exhaust to cause global warming. The reasoning went that this was all in order to keep the new pool he’d added to the Krusty Krab and to get more customers.
This, of course, marks the rare occasion when the pool at the bottom of the ocean isn’t the thing that makes the least sense in an episode. Of course his plan gets out of hand, and Bikini Bottom is left in ruins.
The backlash wasn’t exactly instantaneous; it took six years for the short to garner attention on FOX News. A Fox and Friends segment had a panel of analysts criticize the short for "pushing a liberal agenda.”
6 The countless suicide jokes
Post-showrunner change, the show embraced bizarre and out-of-place dark jokes. These moments were not only not funny, but just plain distasteful. In one episode SpongeBob goes back to the Middle Ages and meets an unhappy fish who almost slits his own throat — “Someday… but not today” he says through gritted teeth.
Another episode features Mr. Krabs mentally torturing Plankton in “One Coarse Meal” until his tiny nemesis is so upset that he lays in the street, waiting for a car to run him over.
These kinds of jokes seem to be featured most prominently in the episode entitled “Are You Happy Now?” In one scene, Squidward hangs a rope from his ceiling, saying “I just can’t seem to get happy… maybe this will help.”
After an agonizingly long beat, it is revealed that he was hanging up a bird cage. Another scene from that same episode shows Squidward putting his head in an oven, but after another long beat he is seen pulling out some burnt cookies.
5 SpongeBob mocks those on welfare
In the episode “SpongeBob, You're Fired” political controversy came SpongeBob’s way once again. The episode is about SpongeBob losing his job at the Krusty Krab and being forced to go on unemployment benefits. Initially devastated, Patrick shows him the wonders of being unemployed, like getting free stuff, food stamps, and free time to goof off.
Fox News had featured SpongeBob on their show before to call it out, but this time they took the show in a positive light. Their view was that the episode was a cautionary tale on the dangers of welfare abuse.
This sparked a debate between various media outlets on whether the episode was critical or supportive of welfare users. The fight raged on until Al Sharpton himself went on MSNBS to defend those on welfare. That’s right — Al Sharpton went on the news to talk about SpongeBob.
4 SpongeBob is making kids fat
In 2005 a report was released that found compelling evidence linking the rise of American childhood obesity to TV commercials for snack foods. They noted that this was particularly problematic in the cases where those advertisements utilized cartoon mascots or ones that starred popular kids’ characters, such as SpongeBob.
The report urged Congress to get advertisers to stop this manipulative practice and nutrition and children’s entertainment advocacy groups held a press conference in 2006 outlining their plans to sue SpongeBob’s production company, Viacom, as well as Kellogg on these grounds.
The aim was to get SpongeBob off of cereal, Pop-Tart, and cookie labels once and for all. However, one walk into a supermarket near you and you can see how well this worked out for them…
3 Creators were caught in a lawsuit over the name
SpongeBob was originally meant to have a different name. In fact, the sponge we know and love would have been named "SpongeBoy" if the name hadn't been trademarked already by a cleaning company. The original working title was SpongeBoy Ahoy! and so it would have remained if it hadn’t already been copywrighted already for a mop.
After playing around and reworking the show a considerable amount, they settled on “SpongeBob SquarePants." This happened after voice actor Tom Kenny riffed for a bit and stumbled upon the combination.
Hillenburg made a point of keeping “sponge” in the name no matter what, however. Otherwise, he was worried kids might mistake the protagonist for a piece of swiss cheese or some other strange product.
2 SpongeBob is a gay icon
In 2002 assertions were made that SpongeBob was gay. The “accusations” were founded on SpongeBob’s flamboyant nature, sensitive disposition, and closeness with his best friend Patrick (and their hand holding).
Eventually series creator Stephen Hillenburg was forced to make a statement that such claims were ridiculous because the characters are “somewhat asexual.” An evangelical group brought the controversy to the forefront once again, however, when they boycotted SpongeBob for being gay in 2005.
In an interview with the Huffington Post in 2015 the voice actor for SpongeBob, Tom Kenny, was asked if the character would ever have a “significant other” (notice the delicate phrasing).
“I think our take on SpongeBob and Patrick is that they’re pre-sexual characters. Like, they’re too young and naïve to have any feelings of that type, and even if they do have stirrings they don’t know how to act on them…” he said. “He’s married to his job. Like Captain Kirk is married to the Enterprise, [SpongeBob is] married to the Krusty Krab.”
1 An internal feud messed with the show’s tone and quality after season 3
After season 3 ended, Stephen Hillenburg told Nickelodeon he wanted to end the show on a high note by finishing the series with a movie. Nick made the film, but then immediately requested more episodes. Hillenburg left the writing staff as a result, but entrusted his position as head-writer to 3-season veteran Paul Tibbitt.
A huge staff overhaul coincided with Hillenburg’s departure in the wake of a long-standing feud between the storyboarders and animators. Additionally, there were many complaints from the team about how little they were being paid compared to how lucrative the show was for the network.
After season 3 and the movie, there was a near total re-hiring of writers, animators, and directors. As a result, the tone suffered irrevocably. As Harvey Dent once said, “either you die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.”
Can you think of any other dark secrets about SpongeBob SquarePants? Sound off in the comments.