Soaking the sponge

First it was plastics. Next, it was high fructose corn syrup. Then it was red dye No. 5.
And now, it’s SpongeBob Squarepants.

Yes, just in case you really have been living in a pineapple under the sea, seems the squeaky, age-ambivalent, happy-go-lucky sea critter is now Parental Anenome No. 1.

As if navigating the waters of a toxic diet weren’t enough, now we come to find the deliriously spirited yellow sponge is poisoning our childrens’ minds as well.

Seems some scholarly types did a test on 60 4-year-olds and found that the ones exposed to a mere nine minutes of SpongeBob’s shenanigans scored lower on an aptitude test than their cohorts who were treated to a PBS children’s show or handed a box of coloring crayons. The SpongeBob group also apparently jumped around like monkeys on crack while awaiting a post-test snack, reaching low blood-sugar meltdown a full minute and a half before the coloring/PBS group. (No word on whether the snacks contained HFCS or red dye No.5.)

While the study’s authors stopped short of pointing the barnacled finger of ADD blame at SpongeBob, they did say partaking in even half an episode of his underwater adventures led to “short-term learning and attention problems in children.” Not to mention splitting headaches among any adults who happened to be within earshot.

The conclusion: any fast-paced television show, whether it be SpongeBob or old reruns of “Starsky and Hutch” are causing our kids’ brains to short-circuit faster than an electric eel out of water.  

And we needed a laboratory of PhDs to tell us this? No offense, but I’ve had acid trips that were less animated than an episode of SpongeBob. So isn’t it common sense that kids might come off it a little tweaked? Not to mention the negative body image that comes from seeing female sea creatures of a certain age depicted with what appears to be lead tennis balls aroud their navels (if fish even have navels). Besides, how many times can someone explode/shrivel up/pop his eyes out/melt into a puddle on the ground and/or be gruesomely flattened to not only survive, but still be chirpy? Talk about complete nonsense.

In its defense, Nickelodeon, which airs Mr. Spongepants and crew ad nauseum 24/7, said the show is not geared toward 4-year-olds, but 6- to 11-year-olds, who I suppose are much better equipped to deal with the constant sensory onslaught. Strangely absent from the target market discussion was the 16- to 22-year-old crowd, which presumably had gone to the kitchen during a commercial break with a bad case of the “munchies.”

Anyway, I would be lying if I didn’t say I or my children occasionally enjoyed a few minutes of a SpongeBob marathon or two. (The David Hasselhoff one still gets me.) And, we have been known, from time to time, to spontaneously break into a round of “The Best Day Ever” and throw out a good Squidward imitation at bed time. We even once had a pet box elder bug named “Gary.”

So, he can’t be all bad, can he? Sure, it might not be “Masterpiece Theatre,” but at the very least, at least it’s imaginative. Plus, think of all the valuable life lessons SpongeBob has brought us: like be nice to others (especially the slow, fat, pink kid) and don’t eat your ice cream too fast (or your head will freeze and shatter.)

Besides, what other cartoon offers such an absurdly accurate cast of characters to prepare young ones for the real world? Consider: Plankton, the wannabe diabolical mastermind with Napoleonic tendencies; Sandy the ass-kicking token squirrel; Mr. Crab, the penny-pinching bossman; and Squidward, the anal neighbor with a superiority complex. It’s like life, in a conch shell.

Plus, think off all the career opportunities the show opens up, including but not limited to: politics; martial arts; marine biologist; clarinetist; business owner; drivers ed teacher; king of the sea; or fry cook. And then there’s the whole diversity/sensitivity thing, showing kids that it’s OK for a sponge and a starfish to be, um, “best friends.”

Anyway, I will abstain from going so far as to argue that the Easter Island replica teaches kids not only geography but anthropology, lest I be labeled a SpongeBob sympathizer (I prefer “mildly entertained observer.”)

Because, who knows? Maybe “they” are right. (Come to think of it, my 8-year-old is a little absent-minded when it comes to getting out the door in the morning.) Maybe SpongeBob is literally sucking the high-fructose-drenched brains right from our heads. He is a sponge, after all.
And, while the little cartoon sponge on TV may be able to recover from any calamity, the little sponges on the couch soaking it all in may not be so resilient.

– Missy Votel

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