Written by Joseph Carrick
While the average American might not be able to recall who lives in 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, they do remember who lives under a pineapple under the sea. SpongeBob Squarepants has become an icon in American culture, with much visibility in social media.
Nearly all SpongeBob related reference memes and reaction images are based on the first three seasons, which has become known as the Golden Age of SpongeBob. Despite 19 years running, this show receives more airtime than any other show on the network…but why?
One obvious answer for SpongeBob’s popularity is the humor; practically every reference to SpongeBob exists within some context of comedy. The cartoon has scenes ranging from simple slapstick to surrealism that Picasso would be proud of, and while these elements certainly helped its popularity, it’s not entirely unique to this cartoon.
The three main characters of SpongeBob essentially build popularity, but one character in particular helped maintain its popularity with this generation.
The bland and cynical Squidward Tentacles is the perfect foible to the energetic and optimistic SpongeBob SquarePants, and the pair also resemble childhood and adulthood.
Young audiences are much more likely to relate to the joyful and naïve enthusiast that is SpongeBob, as he sees fun, new adventures everywhere he goes. This is of high contrast to Squidward’s monotonous, never-ending routine of adult life, stuck in a dead-end career that fuels his unhappiness. He’s trapped in his minimum-wage and his passion for art and music is his only escape, albeit unsuccessful, as society finds his work mediocre at best.
This generation grew up with this dichotomy of childhood and adulthood. Early exposure to the innocence of childhood and the cynicism of adulthood is what brought viewers back.
Returning audiences recall formerly relating to SpongeBob, yet see themselves now in Squidward. The only thing audiences might not relate to is his mythical ability to somehow own a house with his current cashier position.
The dichotomy between the pair of characters is lost to popular meme references, and to the later seasons, but it is what brought audiences back, and this is why SpongeBob SquarePants beat out all the other cartoons and became the household name it is today.