SpongeBob has achieved popularity with both children and adults, and his asexuality and behavior has created certain controversy around it. The character was involved in controversy when he appeared in a We Are Family Foundation video promoting tolerance. This was criticized by James Dobson of Focus on the Family because of the foundation's link to homosexuality.
Appearance and characteristics Edit
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".
SpongeBob is a fry cook at the Krusty Krab restaurant, at which he has won employee of the month many times. 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, which is located beneath the real tropical isle of Bikini Atoll. His neighbors are Squidward, who is an octopus and SpongeBob's co-worker at the Krusty Krab, and Patrick, a star fish and SpongeBob's best friend.
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. He is unaware of how Squidward is annoyed by him.
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.
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. 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.Originally the character was to be named SpongeBoy but this name was already in use. 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. 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".
Although SpongeBob's driver's license says his birthdate is July 14, 1986, which would make the character 12 years old at the time the series premiered on May 1, 1999, 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. The decision to have SpongeBob attend a boat driving school was made due to a request from Nickelodeon that the character attend a school.
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. Hillenburg utilised Kenny's and other people's personalities to help create the personality of SpongeBob.
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. 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.
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.
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, including college campuses and celebrities such as Sigourney Weaver and Bruce Willis.Salon.com indicates that the unadulterated innocence of SpongeBob is what makes the character so appealing. 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, and he is seen as an icon for adult gay men in the US, (apparently because he regularly holds hands with his sidekick Patrick).
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. SpongeBob has gained popularity in Japan, specifically with Japanese women. The Japanese market is seen as a significant market to break into. 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.
The show has been so recognized that 3 of the songs that were featured on the show, was made as an exclusive download content song pack for Rock Band.
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.
In 2005, a promotional video which showed SpongeBob along with other characters from children's shows singing together to promote diversity and tolerance, was attacked by an evangelical group in the United States because they saw the character SpongeBob being used as an advocate for homosexuality.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.
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. After Dobson made the comments, Hillenburg repeated this assertion that sexual preference was never considered during the creation of the show. Tom Kenny and other production members were shocked and surprised that such an issue had arisen.
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. 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".