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?