More than just a television series, the yellow and charismatic sponge who lived under the sea has impacted the lives of the many children who grew up watching his life in Bikini Bottom. From watching the episodes as children to turning stills from episodes into memes as young adults, SpongeBob SquarePants has carried through the lives of its audience.
SF State students and staff felt a wave of grief when they heard the mastermind behind the show, Stephen Hillenburg, died at 57 from Lou Gehrig’s disease on Nov. 27.
The cultural phenomenon was developed in 1999. The show consists of 12 seasons of 11-minute episodes. The humor from the show has shaped some students’ sense of humor, such as senior Kat Collins. She can remember watching the show almost every morning from when she was 8 to 11 years old.
“I definitely feel the sense of community among people in my generation because we all grew up with it and the jokes from the show are so universal,” Collins said. Collins explained the community created from the show and the humor that has been engraved in the brains of everyone who watched it.
Second-year student Taylor Velasco has watched the show since she can remember because her older brother always had it on.
“Practically anyone you meet will understand immediately if you say ‘Nosferatu’ or start singing the Krusty Krab Pizza song,” she said about the famous “Graveyard Shift” and “Pizza Delivery” episodes. Velasco also agreed that iconic jokes, such as the Dirty Dan and Pinhead battle between SpongeBob and his best friend Patrick Star in the “Survival of the Idiots” episode, have impacted their generation.
Collins said that she was crushed when she heard the news of Hillenburg’s death. The show helped shaped her sense of humor. SpongeBob’s goofiness and ability to turn anything into a joke helped her feel comfortable to do the same.
Similar to Collins, second-year student Mason Young said he felt SpongeBob taught him to not care what people think. According to Young, watching the series was a way for him to escape his reality. “As a child it was hard, but the humor SpongeBob brought me made me feel better.”
Hillenburg graduated from Humboldt State University in 1984 and taught marine biology at Orange County Marine Institute. He also received his Master of Fine Arts in experimental animation at the California Institute of the Arts in 1992.
Adjunct chemistry professor Paul Wolski said he was shocked when he heard the news since Hillenburg was young. Wolski started watching the show when he was about 12 years old. Wolski remembers back when he was in high school and a friend made a parody of the show’s theme song about their principal, whose name had the same syllables as SpongeBob SquarePants.
Hillenburg told the Washington Post in 2001 how he conceived of the square yellow sponge and the main character. While he was drawing biologically correct sponges, he was looking for a character to match the “somewhat nerdy squeaky-clean oddball” persona of the sponge.
Famous meme accounts on Twitter have been created in honor of the show. Accounts such as “FredMyLeg” and “out of context SpongeBob” apply iconic scenes to the maturing fan base.
According to Wolski, while the death of Hillenburg has upset the SpongeBob audience, the show made people happy and Hillenburg’s legacy will live on.