The Red Sponge: Spongebob’s Role in Enforcing an Oppressive, Capitalistic Society
Every millennial who grew up watching “Spongebob Squarepants” has come to the same horrifying conclusion: you have turned into Squidward. No matter how buoyant, how cheerful, how optimistic you were as a child, there comes a point where you begin to identify with Squidward more than any other character in the show.
You could explain this phenomenon with the disillusionment and cynicism of growing up, or the burdens of being a teenager in a post-John Hughes society. There is, however, an even simpler answer. Spongebob is an allegory for Karl Marx’s The Communist Manifesto. The show revolves around Spongebob, the hardworking proletariat, accepting a low-level fry cook job and enduring Mr. Krabs’ exploitation with a grin on his face.
The face of compliance
It’s not hard to draw the parallels between Mr. Krabs and the bourgeoisie. He’s a cheapskate who underpays and overworks his employees for his own personal gain. Mr. Krabs famously ripped off his own arms (claws?) to retrieve a dime that fell down the drain. He took his workers on a boating trip to retrieve his millionth dollar from the jaws of a giant clam. He has zero regard for his employees’ safety and almost routinely puts them in danger for his own benefit. Mr. Krabs’ daughter, Pearl is an extension of the bourgeoisie archetype. She’s vain, self-centered, and largely unaware of others’ misfortune. She lives in a bubble, obsessed with clothes, makeup, and celebrities — because she has the leisure for such frivolities.
Remember when Pearl gentrified The Krusty Krab
Speaking of living in a bubble, Sandy is not exempt from analysis. Sandy is quite literally shielded away from the rest of the world. She represents the intellectual elite, using her privilege and higher education to jeopardize working class jobs and further the industrial revolution. Her endeavors into space mirror the Cold War-era “Space Race,” capitalism versus communism. Her voyage ends on the moon, just like the U.S.’s did. On top of her scientific record, Sandy is independent and self-sufficient, exemplifying capitalistic ideals of individualism.
If Sandy is the intellectual elite, then Patrick Star is just the opposite. Patrick represents the bourgeois caricature of the working class that capitalists want you to buy into. He is ignorant, undereducated, and lazy. He lives under a rock, likely because he can’t afford anything else — although he doesn’t seem to mind. Patrick appears to deserve his poverty because he does nothing but sleep, yet he also seems at peace with his lot. This idea of the happy, unproductive bum simultaneously vilifies and justifies the proletariat. “See, they’re poor because they just don’t work hard enough! In fact, they like being poor!” Patrick Star is arguably one of the most offensive cartoon depictions of this generation.
Blatant vilification of blue-collar workers
Spongebob, on the other hand, represents the ideal proletariat. Spongebob is hardworking, humble, and endlessly optimistic. He’s a lot like us before we realized the inherent evils of a capitalistic society. Day in and day out, Spongebob gleefully works a minimum-wage job flipping burgers with no hope of promotion. He’s a cog in Mr. Krabs’ greasy machine, but he doesn’t even realize it. He just continues to skip to work every day, chanting “I’m ready!”. Ready for what, Spongebob? Ready for the bourgeoisie Kool-aid he’s been absorbing through his poriferous sponge body.
Spongebob is the ideal worker, and as children, we aspired to be just like him. The very first episode of Spongebob showed him getting his first job as fry cook. According to the show, the very best achievement you could receive is being gainfully employed. Not only employed, but tirelessly productive and efficient to maximize your manager’s profits. Spongebob famously served busloads of anchovies at a never-before-seen pace. It wasn’t enough that Spongebob could perform his job well; he had to go above and beyond his duty in order to seem valuable. These are the principles we instilled in the youth of today. What went wrong?
Back, finally, to Squidward. Squidward isn’t like Spongebob or Patrick. He isn’t satisfied in his low-level employment. What Squidward seeks is artistic satisfaction and world renown. He covets the success of his employer without achieving the work ethic necessary for someone of his class to ascend. Squidward has realized that the cards have been stacked against him at every turn, and resigns himself bitterly to the clutches of capitalism. If Squidward were less jaded, he could be the catalyst to prompt full-scale class warfare, perhaps ending in a communist utopia. Unfortunately, Squidward’s defeatist personality and egoism prevents him from implementing social change.
Mfw I realized I will never dismantle oppressive power structures that infiltrate our economic landscape
That is why we are all Squidward. We’ve uncovered the limits of capitalism and realized that hard work may not always pay off. We’ve begun to notice the oppressive economic and social structure that infiltrates our everyday life. We yearn for something higher, but feel that change is out of our reach. We become bitter, combative, self-deprecative, and cynical. There’s a reason Squidward is the unhappiest character on “Spongebob.” Not only for faults of his own, but for his own rotten luck. The show subliminally punishes Squidward for his views, hoping to prod viewers back towards Spongebob’s blithe, unfounded optimism.
Their efforts were to no avail. Millions of millennials are finding themselves disillusioned, realizing all along that Squidward was the reasonable one. He had a right to protest Mr. Krabs’ vile working conditions, and his sarcasm was merely a coping mechanism for the injustices placed against him. Squidward is the dissatisfied proletariat, and we identify with him more than ever. The difference is, we have the energy and collective power to succeed where he could not. Together, we can rise up and defeat the bourgeoisie, establishing an egalitarian society that does not prey on the lower classes. In the words of Spongebob, “I’m ready.” Are you?
Excerpts from interview with Johan “Shellback” Schuster (from 2015)
His artist name Shellback is fittingly from professor
Shellback in the Swedish cartoon Bamse - a logical and technical genius that
has a solution for everything. And also a person that sleeps a lot at his
workplace and may seem a bit absent.
A more intelligible way to understand how Johan thinks is to listen to his
works. “Shake It Off” with Taylor Swift was, together with Megan Trainor’s “All
About That Bass”, the song that dominated the year of pop music in 2014. If you
haven’t heard “Shake It Off” a hundred times you are obviously allergic to electricity.
Anyone who thinks there is a formula for pop hit records is a sloppy listener. The songwriters and artists that try to sound like the
others on the charts can become successful - for a while - but they soon fall
into oblivion. On the contrary, the biggest songs are those that break the norm, the ones that
do not follow any rules other than gut feeling.
It Off (billboard #1 for 4 weeks) didn’t sound like any other modern hit song
at the time of its release. The song starts with a five second long drum intro
- old fashioned acoustic drums - something that is unheard of on commercial
It is Johan playing the drums on Shake It Off. It is also Johan playing guitar, bass, keyboard and shouting in the background.
on Shake It Off is credited to Shellback, Max Martin (Johan’s discoverer and
mentor) and Taylor herself.
Johan further explains: - Shake
It off was the next to last song we recorded for the album. The other was
actually Blank Space (billboard #1 for 7 weeks). With Taylor one can work very
quickly, sometimes we wrote a song a day. When we met 6 months after our first
session we felt like there was a type of song missing.
How do you know that?
- Basically it’s a kind of pleasing frustration. How good everything feels.
We’re home, we have everything we need. But, at the same time… a feeling
of… something missing. Something that breaks from the other stuff. Something
more light-hearted. Pharrell had just released Happy and that song was on our
minds. When we worked with Taylor on the last album, which was the first time
she didn’t write everything herself, we did We Are Never Ever Getting Back
Together. It had a different feel than her other songs. It had a more fun and flirty feel to it. We felt that maybe we needed a song like that.
usually has a solid idea when she comes in, but this time we had nothing. It is
also uncommon for Martin and me to work that way. We usually come well prepared
to a session. So we just sat there. What the hell do we do now? We started
playing music to each other to get reference points. Someone that happened to
be me said, how about doing something in the same tempo as Hey Ya by Outkast?
Something faster and more drum based?
the studio there was a drum kit set up and ready to go. I went in and played
something just for fun. We later on used that very recording for the song. What
you hear is played live. We really thought of it as a sketch - all right, now
we have a tempo to work on - but it often happens that you keep the demo even
though it isn’t perfect, since there is more feeling in it. Martin was humming
something, Taylor was humming something else. There was a mellotron. I found a
brass sound and started playing something really bad on purpose (duh duh duh,
exactly what is heard on Shake It Off). Martin instantly said: “That is
awesome”. If he had not said that I would have moved on and tried something
we had didn’t really feel like chorus chords, but just as we were packing up
for the day Taylor wrote a falling melody that sounded really hooky. We still
didn’t know what it was. Is it a chorus? A verse? Me and Martin listened to it
in the car on the way home and we were shaking our heads. Is this good? Is it
shit? The next day after we had slept on it, which is the best thing you can
do, we realized that we had been humming it all morning. The rest of the song
wrote itself very naturally. Taylor wrote the lyrics in 30 minutes.
is an incredibly clever lyric, a comment to her life situation as a tabloid target.
- She is a hell of a writer, personal and broad at the same time. And the speed
of it is unreal. I don’t get how she does it. If I was to write about my life
it would be the most boring lyric in the world (starts singing the Shake It Off
melody): “I go to the studio every day…”