When I heard that Stephen Hillenburg, creator of Spongebob Squarepants, passed away yesterday at 57, my heart sank into my stomach. I didn’t know this person, I had never even heard his name until today, and my mourning of his passing won’t take away any pain from his loved ones. This realization of my indulgence into my own sadness caused me to re-evaluate and remember Hillenburg through the laughter and joy that he brought into my life, which is what I want to express now. From karate, to jelly fishing, to learning how to escape a sea bear, we all learned a lot from Spongebob Squarepants.
When I was in 5th grade, my family and I went to our Grandma’s beach house in Galveston. When it got dark, we decided to watch a movie, but the only VHS available was The Spongebob Squarepants Movie. Five minutes in, my Mom, Dad, younger brother, and myself were howling at a scene where Patrick flies into the Krusty Krab with a flag between his butt cheeks. My Dad laughed so hard he had tears rolling down his cheeks, and I can guarantee that my Mom was threatening to pee her pants if we didn’t stop. My brother and I were so happy to be a part of a moment so purely immature and funny.
There has probably been a moment in your life where you’ve remembered some TV show you stayed up to watch or a racy book that you read that you look back on now and think, “that is probably why I am so weird.” For me it was Courage the Cowardly Dog, The Andy Milonakis Show, that one episode of Doctor Phil that I accidentally saw where a babysitter called a 6 year old the “b-word,” and Spongebob Squarepants. These are the weird shows that shaped our personalities and drew us to the people in our lives that reflect that same absurdness.
I think a lot of other creative people share this sentiment. If you look a lot of content that has been created in the past decade, you can trace back influence to Spongebob. Cartoons like Adventure Time and Regular show gained a cult following among children and adults for their ability to walk the line between humor and maturity. Their use of childlike dialogue to discuss mature issues reminds me a lot of Spongebob, like when he and Patrick have to raise a clam as a child and fight over the lack of responsibility that Patrick is taking in their marriage. Some of my favorite 20-something comedians, like Brandon Wardell and Gabriel Gundacker, are a perfect example of people who’s humor was shaped by the weird world of cartoons, and who used this influence to build careers on newer mediums like social media. Robin Williams, a legend who is known for his extreme silliness that often masked immense depth, also guest starred on Spongebob, representing the parallels the show creates perfectly.
Whether you’re at a concert with your friends, making a “is mayonnaise an instrument” reference, or watching a new “adult” cartoon, like Big Mouth or Bojack Horseman, just remember you have Hillenburg and the rest of the cast of Spongebob Squarepants to thank. He created a world where you could be weird, kind, and creative, hoping that our generation of kids would try and recreate this universe for ourselves.
“Knowledge cannot replace friendship, I’d rather be an idiot than lose you” – Patrick Star
Hillenburg was diagnosed with ALS in March of 2017 and passed away on November 26th, 2018. There is currently no known cure for ALS. If you’d like to make a donation to help fund the research, you can donate at http://www.alsa.org/donate/