University of Washington professor Holly Barker linked the animated series “SpongeBob Squarepants” to violence against the indigenous people of the Pacific, arguing that the cartoon is “violent,” “racist,” and “insidious.”
Barker’s article, titled “Unsettling SpongeBob and the Legacies of Violence on Bikini Bottom,” was published in an academic journal called The Contemporary Pacific: A Journal of Island Affairs.
Not theirs to take: In it, she says that the fictional city of Bikini Bottom, where the main character and his friends live, is based on Bikini Atoll one of the smallest islands in the Marshall Islands, where the US conducted nuclear tests after World War II. The indigenous people of the area were relocated and then forced to move as the nuclear testing rendered the area uninhabitable due to radiation. Barker believes that it is unfair that SpongeBob and his friends can “occupy” the place, while its original inhabitants can’t.
SpongeBob, she says, as an “American character” has the “privilege” of “not caring about the detonation of nuclear bombs.” “The detonations do not cause concern for the characters, as they did for the Bikinians, nor do they compromise SpongeBob’s frequent activities, like visiting hamburger joints or the beach with friends,” she writes.
“Although the U.S. government removed the people of Bikini from the atoll above the surface, this does not give license to SpongeBob or anyone else, fictitious or otherwise, to occupy Bikini … SpongeBob’s presence on Bikini Bottom continues the violent and racist expulsion of Indigenous peoples from their lands (and in this case their cosmos) that enables U.S. hegemonic powers to extend their military and colonial interests in the postwar era,” Barker adds.
Barker said that although the creators didn’t think about “U.S. colonialism” when creating the show, “Bikini Bottom and Bikini Atoll were not theirs for the taking.”
“Cultural appropriation”: Barkers takes issue with Bikini Bottom’s “token objectification of Oceania” and its “buildings shaped like pineapples, Easter Island statues, and tikis,” as well as “the “Hawaiian-shirt motifs.”
“The song’s directives, ensconced in humor, provide the viewer with an active role in defining Bikini Bottom as a place of nonsense, as the audience is instructed ‘If nautical nonsense be something you wish…drop on the deck and flop like a fish.’”
Bias: “All of the main characters on the show are male,” except for one, writes Barker, who according to her, is there for gender diversity. “The name ‘Bob’ represents the everyday man, a common American male, much like a ‘Joe,’” and because of this “our gaze into the world of Bikini Bottom, as well as the surface of Bikini, is thus filtered through the activities of men,” she says.
“We should be uncomfortable with a hamburger-loving American community’s occupation of Bikini’s lagoon and the ways that it erodes every aspect of sovereignty.”