Sunday, December 2, 2012

SpongeBob is a metaphor for TV racism.

SpongeBob, the non-fish protagonist, celebrated by the all-fish background cast

SpongeBob SquarePants is one of the most popular children's shows in the world, and it's aired for over a decade now. But as the most famous cartoon about sea life, it bothers me a bit: why is this underwater TV series devoid of any major characters who are fish?

The whole show features a thriving aquatic community, yet none of the main characters are fish. Instead, we've got a sponge, a squid, a sea star, a crab, and a squirrel. Even most of the minor characters aren't fish: a whale, a plankter, a lobster, the ghost of a human. The only fish in the entire cast is a marginal character named Mrs. Puff, the driving instructor. The show was created by Stephen Hillenburg, a marine biologist, so he should know better. He's doing it on purpose.

Despite this lack of fish, virtually all the background characters and "extras" in SpongeBob are fish. Why is this? Why are there so many fish, yet almost none of them are fleshed-out characters in the show?

The all-white cast of Friends, set in New York City

It's a commentary on modern television; in particular, the sitcoms of the late '90s when SpongeBob was created. Think about iconic '90s TV comedies like Seinfeld and Friends. They took place in major cities like New York--incredibly multicultural urban areas. Yet the main characters of these shows were all white. There were hardly ever even any non-white guest stars.

Is SpongeBob SquarePants a reference to television racism, or is it merely forgetful of fish? You decide.

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