The realization smacked me like a cold Crabby Patty in the face. When my kids meet new kids, they try to strike up conversation by finding areas of mutual interest, such as "What grade are you in?" or "Do you have any pets?" One day at the pool, the question was "Do you like SpongeBob?"
"Oh," came the swift parental rebuke. (Channel voice of Mrs. Puff) "We don't ALLOW SpongeBob in our house…"
The steely disdain made me and my children want to shrivel like we'd been sunbleached.
Pro SpongeBob families have a silent camaraderie. There's an odd feeling of relief when you meet another who can easily sing "The Campfire Song" or say "I'm ready… I'm ready... I'm ready!" with just the right twang. It's a sign that we aren't alone in making what some see as the worst parenting decision ever.
It got even tougher on us in 2011, when the Journal of Pediatrics published a study done by UVA researchers that said the show can have negative effects on a 4-year-old's attention span. The group that watched SpongeBob was more distracted and excitable during subsequent memory tests than the group that watched Caillou. Honestly, if I had to watch another episode of Caillou I'd be drooling on myself and eager to do anything else, even a cognitive memory test.
Now with "The SpongeBob Movie – Sponge Out of Water" set to open this weekend, I know the debate is going to come up again. And it's time to defend our squishy yellow friend.
I understand where the non-SBers are coming from… because I used to be one of them. Before I had children of my own, I remember asking my sister how in the world she could let my niece and nephew watch such annoying, grotesque garbage. But I had never actually watched the show.
At its core, SpongeBob is a show about fairness, empathy, and rooting for the underdog. When Mr. Crabbs pawns off a pair of unwanted fishing boots to SpongeBob in exchange for his paycheck ("Squeaky Boots", Season 1) - kids know that's not fair. They feel sadness for the little guy when he's duped into believing they're something special, and cheer when Mr. Crabbs gets his come-uppance.
They can totally relate to SpongeBob getting pulled into trouble by his best friend Patrick – whether its defying grown-ups' instructions to stay off the fish hooks ("Hooky", Season 1) or cutting up in boating class and suffering the consequences ("New Student Starfish", Season 3).
Yes, the characters suffer horrible physical contortions and have disgusting personal habits – but that's the genius of the show. Children love watching stuff their parents hate. And while they're watching, SpongeBob is showing them that it's ok to envy the cool kids and not be one ("I'm Your Biggest Fanatic", Season 2), feel conflicted about growing up ("Grandma's Kisses", Season 2), and have crazy imaginations they want to share with everyone ("The Idiot Box", Season 3).
One episode in particular really sums up its heart: "Best Day Ever", Season 4. SpongeBob has planned an amazing day with each of his friends, but everything goes wrong. He's frustrated and despondent – because he's tried so hard to please Sandy, Mr. Crabbs, Patrick, and Squidward. Haven't we all been there? In the end, it's really about love.
And this weekend at the box office – hopefully millions of SB families will be there to show the love for SpongeBob & his pals. He's not perfect, which is perfect for us.