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SpongeBob SquarePants is the fictional main character of the Nickelodeon animated television series SpongeBob SquarePants. He was designed by marine biologist and animator Stephen Hillenburg, and is voiced by Tom Kenny. He is a naive and goofy sea sponge who works as a fry cook in the fictional underwater town of Bikini Bottom.

SpongeBob has achieved popularity with both children and adults, and is an icon for gay men in the United States.[1] The character was involved in controversy when he appeared in a We Are Family Foundation video promoting tolerance. This was criticised by James Dobson of Focus on the Family because of the foundation's link to homosexuality.

Appearance and characteristics

SpongeBob is a sea sponge, but he resembles a kitchen sponge. He has large blue eyes, many holes appearing all around his body and a mouth with prominent front buck teeth. He typically wears a white shirt with a red tie and brown square trousers, hence his family name "SquarePants".[2]

SpongeBob is a fry cook at the Krusty Krab restaurant, at which he has won employee of the month many times.[3] He attends Mrs. Puff's Boating School, analogous to a driving school, but cannot pass the boating test. SpongeBob lives with his pet snail Gary in a large "pineapple-house" on 124 Conch Street in fictional Bikini Bottom,[2] which is located beneath the real tropical isle of Bikini Atoll.[4] His neighbors are Squidward, who is a squid and SpongeBob's co-worker at the Krusty Krab,[5] and Patrick, a star fish and SpongeBob's best friend.[6]

SpongeBob is an optimistic and energetic character who is also very naive. His hobbies include jelly-fishing (similar to bird watching and butterfly catching) and blowing bubbles with Patrick.[2] He is unaware how Squidward is annoyed by him.[5]

Development

Stephen Hillenburg intended to create a series about an over-optimistic sponge that annoys other characters. Hillenburg compared the concept to Laurel and Hardy and Pee-wee Herman. As he drew the character, he decided that a "squeaky-clean square" (like a kitchen sponge) fits the concept.[2]

The first concept sketch portrayed the character as wearing a red hat with a green base and a white business shirt with a tie. SpongeBob's look gradually progressed to brown pants that was used in the final design.[2] SpongeBob was designed to be a kid-like character who was goofy and optimistic in a style similar to that made famous by Jerry Lewis.[7]

Tom Kenny (2008)

Tom Kenny, voice of SpongeBob Squarepants.

Originally the character was to be named SpongeBoy but this name was already in use.[2] This was discovered after voice acting for the original seven minute pilot was recorded in 1997. The Nickelodeon legal department discovered that the name was already in use for a mop product.[8] Upon finding this out, Hillenburg decided that the character's given name still had to contain "Sponge" so viewers would not mistake the character for a "Cheese Man." Hillenburg decided to use the name "SpongeBob." He chose "SquarePants" as a family name as it referred to the character's square shape and it had a "nice ring to it".[9]

Although SpongeBob's drivers license says he's born in 1986, Hillenburg joked that he is fifty in "sponge years". He explained that SpongeBob actually has no specific age, but that he is old enough to be on his own and still be going to boating school.[2] The decision to have SpongeBob attend a boat driving school was made due to a request from Nickelodeon that the character attend a school.[10]

SpongeBob is voiced by veteran voice actor Tom Kenny. Kenny previously worked with Hillenburg on Rocko's Modern Life, and when Hillenburg created SpongeBob SquarePants, he approached Kenny to voice the character.[11] Hillenburg utilised Kenny's and other people's personalities to help create the personality of SpongeBob.[8]

The voice of SpongeBob was originally used by Kenny for a background character present in a crowd scene in Rocko's Modern Life. Kenny forgot the voice initially as he created it only for that single use. Hillenburg however remembered it when he was coming up with SpongeBob and used a video clip of the episode to remind Kenny of the voice.[8] Kenny says that SpongeBob's high pitched laugh was specifically aimed at being unique, stating that they wanted an annoying laugh in the tradition of Popeye and Woody Woodpecker.[12]

When SpongeBob SquarePants is broadcast in non-English languages, the voice actors dubbing SpongeBob's voice use Tom Kenny's rendition of the character as a starting point but also add unique elements. For example the French version has SpongeBob with a slight Daffy Duck style lisp.[8]

Reception

Lexington Barbecue Festival - Spongebob

Kids wait in line to meet SpongeBob at the Lexington Barbecue Festival

Through-out the run of SpongeBob SquarePants, the SpongeBob character has become very popular with both children and adults. The character's popularity has spread from Nickelodeon's original demographic of two to eleven year olds, to teenagers and adults,[13] including college campuses and celebrities such as Sigourney Weaver and Bruce Willis.[14] Salon.com indicates that the unadulterated innocence of SpongeBob is what makes the character so appealing.[15] SpongeBob has also become popular with gay men, despite Stephen Hillenburg saying that none of the characters are homosexual. The character draws fans due to his flamboyant lifestyle and tolerant attitude,[16] and he is seen as a gay icon.[1]

The popularity of SpongeBob translated well into sales figures. In 2002, SpongeBob SquarePants dolls sold at a rate of 75,000 per week, which was faster than Tickle Me Elmo dolls were selling at the time.[7] SpongeBob has gained popularity in Japan, specifically with Japanese women. The Japanese market is seen as a significant market to break into.[17] Nickelodeon's parent company Viacom purposefully targeted marketing at women in the country as a method of building the SpongeBob SquarePants brand. Sceptics initially doubted that SpongeBob could be popular in Japan as the character's design is very different to already popular designs for Hello Kitty and Pikachu.[17]

Not all reception for SpongeBob has been positive. AskMen's Top 10: Irritating '90s Cartoon Characters ranked SpongeBob at number four. The publication said that his well meaning attitude is extremely annoying.[18]

Controversy

In 2005, a promotional video which showed SpongeBob along with other characters from children's shows singing together to promote diversity and tolerance,[1] was attacked by an evangelical group in the United States because they saw the character SpongeBob being used as an advocate for homosexuality.[19] James Dobson of Focus on the Family accused the makers of the video of promoting homosexuality due to a pro-homosexual group sponsoring the video.[19]

The incident led to questions to whether or not SpongeBob is homosexual. Creator of the character, Stephen Hillenburg, had previously denied that SpongeBob is gay in 2002 when SpongeBob's popularity with gay men grew. He clarified that the character is asexual.[20] After Dobson made the comments, Hillenburg repeated this assertion that sexual preference was never considered during the creation of the show.[21] Tom Kenny and other production members were shocked and surprised that such an issue had arisen.[8]

Dobson later asserted that his comments were taken out of context and that his original complaints were not with SpongeBob, the video, or any of the characters in the video but with the organization that sponsored the video, We Are Family Foundation. Dobson indicated that the We Are Family Foundation posted pro-homosexual material on their website, but later removed it.[22] After the controversy, John H. Thomas, the United Church of Christ's general minister and president, said they would welcome SpongeBob into their ministry. He said, "Jesus didn't turn people away. Neither do we."[23]

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 BBC Staff (2005-01-20). US right attacks SpongeBob video (html). BBC News. Retrieved on 2007-06-11.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 Banks, Steven (2004-09-24). SpongeBob Exposed! The Insider's Guide to SpongeBob SquarePants, Schigiel, Gregg (Illustrator), Simon Spotlight/Nickelodeon. ISBN 978-0689868702. 
  3. "Employee of the Month". SpongeBob SquarePants. Nickelodeon. 1999-10-02. No. 25, season 1.
  4. SpongeBob SquarePants profile on Xbox.com. Xbox.com. Retrieved on 2008-11-08.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Meet the Characters: Squidward. Nickelodeon (2008). Retrieved on 2008-11-08.
  6. Meet the Characters: Patrick Star. Nickelodeon (2008). Retrieved on 2008-11-12.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Strauss, Gary (2002-05-17). Life's good for SpongeBob. USA Today. Retrieved on 2008-11-08.
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 Farhat, Basima (Interviewer). (2006-12-05). Tom Kenny: Voice of SpongeBob SquarePants - Interview (mp3) [Radio production]. The People Speak Radio. Retrieved on 2008-11-08.
  9. Neuwirth, Allan (2003-04-01). Makin' Toons: Inside the Most Popular Animated TV Shows and Movies. Allworth Press, 51. ISBN 1-58115-269-8. Retrieved on [[2008-11-08]]. 
  10. Stephen Hillenburg created the undersea world of SpongeBob. Orange County Register (2002-02-12). Archived from the original on 2012-07-17. Retrieved on 2008-11-09.
  11. Orlando, Dana (2003-03-17). SpongeBob: the excitable, absorbent star of Bikini Bottom. St Petersburg Times. Retrieved on 2008-11-08.
  12. SpongeBob's Alter Ego. CBS News (2002-12-30). Retrieved on 2008-11-08.
  13. Park, Michael Y. (2002-10-09). SpongeBob HotPants?. FOXNews. Retrieved on 2008-11-09.
  14. Imperiale Wellons, Nancy (2001-05-01). SpongeBob cartoon proves its hip to be SquarePants.. Orlando Sentinel. Archived from the original on 2012-07-18. Retrieved on 2008-11-09.
  15. Zacharek, Stephanie (2004-09-19). "The SpongeBob Squarepants Movie". Salon.com. Retrieved on 2008-11-08.
  16. Susman, Gary (2002-10-09). Under the Surface. ew.com. Retrieved on 2008-11-08.
  17. 17.0 17.1 Kageyama, Yuri (2007-01-24). SpongeBob Goes Trendy to Win Japan Fans. The San Francisco Chronicle. Archived from the original on 2008-12-19. Retrieved on 2008-11-08.
  18. Murphy, Ryan. Top 10: Irritating '90s Cartoon Characters. AskMen. Retrieved on 2008-11-08.
  19. 19.0 19.1 Associated Press (2005-01-22). Spongebob, Muppets and the Sister Sledge writer suffer criticism (html). USA Today. Retrieved on 2007-06-11.
  20. BBC Staff (2002-10-09). Camp cartoon star 'is not gay' (html). BBC News. Retrieved on 2007-06-11.
  21. SpongeBob isn't gay or straight, creator says. Reuters (2005-01-29). Retrieved on 2008-11-09.
  22. Chang, Pauline J. (2005-01-28). Dobson clarifies Pro-Gay SpongeBob Video Controversy. The Christian Post. Retrieved on 2007-06-11.
  23. Till, Francis (2005-02-04). Ministry celebrates SpongeBob: Gay, happy, yellow, orange, whatever, he's welcome (html). National Business Review. Retrieved on 2007-06-11.

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