It's The Pedophilia Stupid
How SpongeBob Promotes Pedophilia,
The derogatory argot in French for a homosexual male is pédé (pronounced Pay Day). It's a term that also means pedophile. The religious right in America has posited a similar equivalence between "gay" and "pedophile" in their assertions that SpongeBob is a reprehensible influence of the youth of America because he is (they say) gay. They're missing the point. SpongeBob's character may or may not be gay, but that's not what makes his influence so pernicious. For all that's been made of the alleged homosexual subtext in "The SpongeBob Squarepants Movie" and consequently the television program, it's confounding that no one has pointed out how blatant the pedophile references written directly into its text far outweigh its "gay" overtones. This presents a problematic backlash for liberals who defend SpongeBob in the name of "diversity" because they too are witlessly confusing pedophilia with homosexuality and thus falling into another rhetoric trap set by the right.
Influential Christian conservative talking head James Dobson spearheaded the current SpongeBob controversy by publicly attacking the "We Are Family Foundation" for their allegedly "pro-homosexual video," featuring many different cartoon characters including SpongeBob, which was to be sent out to "61,000 public and private elementary schools." However Dobson has not cited specific aspects of the character that he believes prove that SpongeBob is gay. Instead he is concerned with smearing the "We Are Family Foundation" and their allies the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the National Gay and Lesbian Taskforce, and Parents, Family and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG). I have not been able to obtain a copy of that educational video, but am in any event, interested only in the content of the SpongeBob movie as it relates to the social discourse of the film and claims that it promotes a pro-pedophile versus a pro-homosexual motif.
University of California at Davis Professor of Psychology Gregory M. Herek writes, "Sexual orientation is normally thought of in terms of an adult's sexual attraction to other adults, whether to members of the same gender, opposite gender or both genders." Herek cites a case study of 175 male adults convicted in Massachusetts of child sexual assault that found that none of them were homosexuals. Yet all of them would fit the description of a fixated child molester. Gay, in other words, does not equal pedophile.
One insidious aspect of SpongeBob's actions in "The SpongeBob Squarepants Movie" is that the child character is shown as an instigator in intimacy with adult male characters. What troubles me as a critic is that the script seems expertly tailored as a tool for John Doe pedophile to convince his child neighbor that there are acceptable situations in which a grown man and a little boy may be in various states of undress together.
When I attended a screening of "The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie" on a Saturday morning with a crowd of preteen children in Manhattan I was completely unfamiliar with SpongeBob. In my freshly caffeinated state I expected to settle in for some standard kiddie humor along the lines of the Bugs Bunny variety that I grew up with. But after the false start opening of the film I found myself taking more notes for this children's cartoon than I did for Yimou Zhang's "House of Flying Daggers." In scene after scene I noted a relentless stream of phallic references scored by a plotline, character arc, and dialogue that was unmistakably rife with pedophile text. We're not talking "subtext" here, but rather an explicit line of thinking in the dialogue and character interaction that describes an intermingling of adult males with a boy whose only wish is to be treated as an adult.
As a "PG" movie, the MPAA ratings board prefaces the film with a blurb that reads "Some Material May Not Be Suitable For Children." "Some Mild Crude Humor" falls under the tacit disclaimer as a brief warning that a few fart jokes may be in the offing, but parents are accustomed to enduring that sort of offense in 90 percent of the movies currently produced for preteens. It's unclear how the references to nudity in the film avoided a mention in the MPAA warning.
So what happens in the movie? SpongeBob is a big-eyed (read naive) yellow adolescent sponge with athletic socks and a private school uniform who lives at the bottom of the ocean with an array of phallic shaped fish characters. SpongeBob has no sponge peers that he resembles; he's "special" and alienated. SpongeBob is introduced in his first scene as an adult restaurant manager who calms an upset penis-like patron (note the Caucasian pink flesh color) named Phil by placing a slice of cheese on Phil's hamburger while the two sit alone inside an empty restaurant. SpongeBob questions Phil, who sweats as if he's in a sauna, before SpongeBob carries him outside the restaurant to a crowd of adoring fans. But wait. This has all been a dream because SpongeBob isn't really there. He's a goofy little boy lacking any parental supervision at home. This latchkey kid aspect of SpongeBob's movie reality is particularly suspect because it makes the child character an independent free agent who presumably is capable of making reckless decisions that somehow conspire to elevate him to adult status after he rides on David Hasselhoff's bare back near the end of the movie. In this closing scene the swim-short clad body of the "Bay Watch" actor serves as a boat upon which Patrick and SpongeBob ride across the ocean. The thing to keep in mind is that the character of SpongeBob is not a freewheeling adult sponge, but an unattended child.
After the dream restaurant scene, we discover our underwear-wearing little boy is obsessed with being promoted to "manager" at the restaurant where he works. SpongeBob points to his wall of "374 employee of the month awards," which would make him 31 years old if he started working straight out of the womb. We get a look at SpongeBob's underwear-centric wardrobe that consists of a couple of pairs of white briefs and a pair of white athletic socks. But when the back of SpongeBob's cardboard pants falls down, his bare ass is exposed, implying that he's not so interested in underwear after all.
"Cleanliness is next to managerliness" (sic) is a theme line that SpongeBob proclaims and which defines his motivation throughout the story. The unspoken emphasis on the "man" portion of the word "managerliness" gives a clue into SpongeBob's ignoble pursuit of what follows in the next scene. SpongeBob runs into the house of his adult next door neighbor Squidward as the old man character showers in silhouette with what seems to be an enormous erection. SpongeBob soon appears in the shower with the man whom he services by brushing him with a bathing brush. When Squidward demands to know why SpongeBob can't wait until they get to work to discuss SpongeBob's issue, SpongeBob replies that "there's no shower at work." What's notable here is that the child character is shown as the instigator of a sexual overture between himself and an adult male character. Matching shower caps that carry a prophylactic connotation unify the child with the adult. Condom imagery also shows up as ever unrolling red eyelids for SpongeBob's boss Eugene Krab.
Next we meet yet another nude character in Patrick the starfish. Patrick serves as a more naive alter ego of SpongeBob. Patrick's proclivity for inappropriate nudity creates an image system for the movie that supports child nudity in the presence of adults. SpongeBob declares that the two will "party 'till we're purple," to which the pink Patrick replies, " I love being purple." This is an undisguised allusion to a well-known joke about the difference between pink and purple being the grip of one's member. It's clearly a Caucasian joke, and the atmosphere of the cartoon supports this racially segregated view of the world within a sexualized context. The "Goofy Goober" song that Patrick and SpongeBob sing together is a celebration of a willing rejection of responsible behavior that would pain most adults if they witnessed a grown man singing it in private with an underage boy while watching the movie on DVD. Patrick imbues the song a sexual subtext when he warns SpongeBob in mid-song that he has a surprise to share with him at the upcoming party. Patrick's 'surprise' turns out to be a nude public appearance wherein he carries a SpongeBob banner between the bare cheeks of his buttocks.
So far I've only mentioned elements from the first 15-minutes of the movie. As the story goes along SpongeBob switches into a hung over drunk adult with 5 o'clock shadow after getting intoxicated on ice cream with Patrick. SpongeBob's sudden transformations from child to adult follow dubious activities lightly disguised within the province of a child but clearly in the domain of adults. SpongeBob and Patrick stay out all night at an ice cream parlor that is actually a saloon. This is enough of a right-of-passage for SpongeBob to describe himself as "100 percent man" when telling off his boss. Already you get a sense of the kind of flip-flopping between child and adult that the filmmakers are reinforcing. Whereas child cartoon characters from Charlie Brown to Bart Simpson follow a longstanding tradition of adopting adult-based speech and concerns, SpongeBob establishes a new leitmotif equating adult behavior with cross-age sexually charged interaction.
The film's unscrupulous theme of turning boys into men via physical intimacy with an adult male culminates after SpongeBob and Patrick "get King Neptune's crown in Shell City." After drying out under a hot lamp in a beach shop SpongeBob and Patrick are rescued by a real life David Hasselhoff who transports them across miles of ocean on his back before propelling them home by squeezing them out from between his hairy pectorals on the King's crown. Once home SpongeBob admits that he is only a "kid" who "rode the Hasselhoff." In the text of the script SpongeBob has gone from being a "dork" and a "dingaling" to merely being a "goofball" and a "wingnut." But he also transforms into being a "manager" (with an emphasis on "man") by riding the adult male (David Hasselhoff).
SpongeBob's best friend Patrick has a crush on the King's mermaid daughter — so that knocks him out of homoerotic contention for SpongeBob's affections. The only gay affiliation SpongeBob has in the movie is his physical connection with a scantily clad adult male (David Hasselhoff) and that is a pedophile connection that's supported by the text of which I've provided several examples. James Dobson et al. are wrong about SpongeBob: he isn't gay. It's much worse, for the right, the left, and everyone in between. He is attracted to older men, and therein lies the pro-pedophile propaganda at work here. I can't say whether or not this consciously crafted ploy is effective or not, but the attempt to push a brash new NAMBLA-like agenda is unmistakable. The questions that the religious right needs to ask are how and why they ever confused homosexuality with pedophilia. Not only does blurring this issue do gays a disservice, it lets SpongeBob get away with murder.
In episode #5 of LA GRANDE BOUFFE (THE BIG FEAST), Mike Lacy and I drink "Delicious IPA" (Stone Brewing) while chewing the fat over Robert Altman's unforgettable 1992 film THE PLAYER.