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The latest skirmish in America’s Culture Wars is being fought, hilariously, in a merry border village called ToonTown, with non-combatants such as SpongeBob SquarePants getting caught in the crossfire. I say hilariously because at first blush, the controversy seems absurd. At second blush, it’s depressing and a little frightening. But then, at third blush, it’s hilarious again, so what the hell — let’s dig in.


You’ve probably caught wind of this latest scandal. Cartoon megastar SpongeBob is accused of appearing in a children’s video that either (a) promotes tolerance and diversity or (b) forwards homosexual “lifestyle” propaganda, depending on who’s describing the situation. Naturally, gay rights activists are lining up on one side of the debate; cultural conservatives on the other. If you’re in the mood to wade through it all, the debate is pretty well outlined here on CNN.com.


My concern is simple: If SpongeBob — like the Teletubbies and others before him — is indeed being associated with some gay lifestyle scandal, well, the record needs to be set straight immediately. Because SpongeBob is gay. Really gay. Fabulously gay. You see, I roomed with Bob for a semester back at UCLA, and I can personally attest that he is to gayness what Captain James Tiberius Kirk is to interstellar space commanders.


There’s just no doubt about it. Back then, of course, Bob was just another starry-eyed invertebrate with dreams of making it big in Hollywood. He almost certainly didn’t anticipate the larger cultural ramifications of his particular orientation. Truth be told — and this is just between you, me, and the Internet — Bob was simply a sweet kid with an adolescent love for famous people. He adored celebrities — male celebrities to be sure, but the fame and glamour aspects were much more important than the gender or the plumbing.


I remember Bob developing crushes on dozens of TV, film, and music stars, only having his heart inevitably crushed when — one by one — they all turned out to be hetero or made some public declaration of their disinterest in dating sea life. Harry Hamlin. Wolf Blitzer. Eddie Vedder. Ren and Stimpy.


Bob and I hung out together quite a bit back in those days. He would introduce me around to many of the other up-and-coming ‘toons that were interning at Disney and Nickelodeon. They were a wild crowd, let me tell you. Suffice it to day that none of them were paragons of virtue, and the studios spent a lot of money covering up some of their more sordid antics.


For example, Jimmy Neutron? Total pothead. But really smart and quite professional, even when stoned to the bejeezus belt. One of those guys that could smoke half a pound of fine, uncut Turkish hashish then show up at rehearsal and totally nail his lines. Jimmy used to try to smoke up Bob all the time, but even then Bob really was a SquarePants. He just didn’t go for drugs or booze. Also, being a sponge, whenever he did indulge, it was dead obvious; he just ended up dripping bongwater or tequila all over the place.


Neutron was actually one of the good guys. The others were much worse. Lilo and Stitch ran with the Oakland chapter of Hell’s Angels, and both were indicted several times on meth lab charges.


Let’s see, who else? Oh yeah, the Rugrats were just huge back in those days — the TV show was topping the Nielsens and they were all signing fat movie contracts. Quite frankly, that whole crew was a little creepy. Chuckie was the ringleader, and he ran the outfit like a doomsday cult. Word was he and the kids had some dirt on several Nickelodeon executives, and the entire production was one big extortion racket, with the Burbank mob providing the muscle. A lot of people don’t know this, but before the Rugrats show broke big, Tommy sold coke, Dylan was a bookie, and Angelica made a lot of little “art films” in Amsterdam. It’s all very hush-hush now, of course.


That’s why it’s so puzzling that Bob, of all ‘toons, has this weird scandal suddenly attached to him. He’s a total sweetheart, one of the few animated characters I’m proud to still call my friend. His loyalty and essential decentness are a rarity in the business, and I won’t stand idly by while a dear spongefriend of mine is dragged through the mud.


The first point, of course, is that homosexuality is not scandalous, and that tolerance and diversity are not just good values for kids to learn: They’re essential. A lot of people don’t seem to get that, so I’ll type slowly and those folks can go back and re-read this paragraph. Sound out the big words, okay?


But by far the most important aspect here is that, for heaven’s sake, if you want to attach a scandal to a prominent media ‘toon, go after some of these other punks. Hollywood has a long and rich heritage of animated freaks and degenerates. For example, it’s common knowledge that Chilly Willy was a Nazi. Also, Sylvester shot JFK and The Flintstones ate babies.


So the next time one of these stupid non-scandals hits the headlines, can we please as a nation take a deep collective breath and rethink our priorities? Otherwise we just may, in the eyes of the rest of the world, look like idiots.

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