This summer marked the tenth anniversary of SpongeBob who, in his timeless decade, has kindly made his way to reigning Puer Aeternus (Latin for “Eternal Child,” i.e. Peter Pan). The Sponge has cried and laughed his way to the top as the world around him, and us, has grown ever more bitterly Squidward. Meanwhile, the little square-panted trickster has ridden a sort of porous authenticity, with his kind heart and open tear ducts, to an unprecedented level of global recognition. Given that SpongeBob is beloved from the mansion to the hood, from Ivory Towers to the darkest prisons—a laughing Buddha soaking up the zeitgeist free of all judgment—perhaps SpongeBob is an archetypal unifier, a manifestation of something we all can love. The Sponge is post-political (his country is the ocean), post-intellectual (smart enough to dispense with smart in favor of real), post-cultural (in mirroring our culture he has become our culture), post-developmental (no one really knows if he’s a grown-up or a child) and thus a perfect mirror of our own awakening kindness.
Given all this (and as you can tell from my writing as a quasi-intellectual, left-leaning, middle-aged, white male Beverly Hills shrink, I am not post-anything: I’ve known SpongeBob and I’m no SpongeBob… I should have been a pair of ragged claws, scuttling across the floors of silent seas) I thought we should try to get a little closer to the Sponge in honor of better parenting.
Tom Kenny, the voice of SpongeBob, was kind enough to sit down with me the other day to share his thoughts about what SpongeBob might bring to the endeavor of parenting. After years of being asked about why SpongeBob is so popular, Tom got tired of saying, “I don’t know,” and turned to giving it some thought. Tom says, “Voice-over wise, I’ve always tended to play characters who are pretty sweet and not very smart. I’m not sure what that says about me.”