SpongeBob SquarePants, memes and worldwide fandom: How Stephen Hillenburg's creation is more than just a TV show

The beloved animated series has spawned a whole frame of common references online

Clémence Michallon
New York
Tuesday 27 November 2018 23:09
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Internet access was still a novelty when SpongeBob SquarePants started airing in May 1999 – but now, the beloved animated series has become an essential part of the online world, likely to be referenced in conversations on social media by way of one of the dozens of memes it has spawned.

Stills from SpongeBob SquarePants have been appropriated and reinvented by thousands of viewers over the years, meaning images of SpongeBob and some of its companions, such as his best friend Patrick, have been used to convey various emotions and feelings such as disdain, fatigue, and malice.

After the death of SpongeBob creator Stephen Hillenburg was announced on Tuesday, some on social media urged others to share their favourite SpongeBob memes as a tribute to the cartoonist and animator, who announced last year he had been diagnosed with ALS.

SpongeBob SquarePants'​s online reinvention has enabled the show to age along with its fans, who were likely children when the series debuted, meaning they made the Millennial cutoff. Here are some of the best-known, funniest SpongeBob memes cropping up on social media these days.

Mocking SpongeBob

This meme comes from a 2012 episode in which SpongeBob clucks like a chicken, with his arms bent on each side of his body.

Because meme history is rarely linear, the actual meme has little to do with poultry or that particular episode's story line.

Rather, it typically consists of a photo of SpongeBob in his chicken stance along with in an imaginary, short dialogue in which one person supposedly says one thing and their conversation partner repeats it in a mocking tone.

The meme is typically used to mock the second statement, which is typed in a haphazard combination of uppercase and lowercase letters to convey irony.

Confused Mr Krabs

SpongeBob's penny-pinching boss Mr Krabs has hundreds of memes to his name.

One of the main memes inspired by the fictional fast food owner is used to express a state of panic and confusion.

Several images of Mr Krabs have been used to that effect, but social media users have mostly resorted to a still of the crab running in disarray, surrounded by a mob of angry Bikini Bottom residents.

The image is usually associated with a statement describing an uncomfortable situation, such as being yelled at upon waking up from a nap, or being put on the spot at work.

Krusty Krab vs Chum Bucket

In the world of SpongeBob SquarePants, there is only one fast food worth visiting: the trusted Krusty Krab, where SpongeBob works as a cook.

The other option is the vile Chum Bucket, which belongs to Mr Krabs' rival Sheldon Plankton.

Viewers of the show have used an image of the two locations side by side to express the superiority – in their opinion – of one concept over another.

For example, one Marvel fan tacked the imprint's logo on top of the Krusty Krab while affixing DC Comics's label onto the Chum Bucket, thus pledging allegiance to the former over the latter.

Others have used the meme to state their preferences for red grapes over white grapes; independent over mainstream hip hop; and the show Community over Glee.

Tired SpongeBob

Over the course of 12 (so far) seasons, SpongeBob once found himself naked and visibly out of breath.

Social media users have used the image to illustrate their own fatigue in countless memes.

The posts typically consists of the SpongeBob SquarePants still next to a brief description of the circumstances that caused such exhaustion, such as job searching or responding to a single message.

Evil Patrick

Patrick Star is, by and large, a jolly character – but one of his rare moments of maliciousness has been captured and reproduced by hundreds of meme creators.

The still comes from the season one episode Nature Pants, in which Patrick chases after SpongeBob while holding a net.

Social media user have used it in messages confessing their – relatively innocuous – dark deeds.

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