overthinking the idiot box

June 27, 2005

SpongeFreud SquarePants

by D. Roberts Keenan

Dear Liz:

Sorry I'm so late in getting back to you. You know, I thought this would be an easy assignment: "Let's assign a bunch of debunked psychoanalytic theorems to a popular children's TV show!" Then a bunch of things just kept getting in the way. You know, like life and stuff. Funeral, job search, uneaten ice cream... So. SpongeBob PenisSquarePants. (Whoops, Freudian typo.)

Here's the thing, though: My original theory — that Patrick represented the id, SpongeBob the ego, and Squidward the superego — seemed far less valid and interesting than abandoning it in favor of a new theory: that Freud was a cocaine addict, and that the creators of SpongeBob are obviously high on something, which means this would probably be a really bad show to watch when you were partaking of chemical refreshments.

Yeah, there's evidence to support my original hypothesis:

Of course, in order for any of that theory to be true, one must approach with such a limited view of Freudian theory that it falls apart in many instances. True, one could make the argument that this is comedy, and comedy necessarily requires bizarre action and does not require strict adherence to archetype.

But, Liz, this is where it gets all funky: SpongeBob is obviously written by people high on something other than life. We all know Sigmund Freud was a huge cocaine addict. In fact, he tried to hook many of his patients on the stuff, in the belief that it would cure nervous disorders and restore the female ability to achieve a mature vaginal orgasm (as opposed to the infantile clitoral orgasm).

That's the only way I can think of to account for the numerous references to psychoanalytic symbology and dream imagery contained within the show.

It begins with the credits: The bubbles appear and pop, obviously a reference to aborted sexual activity. Then SpongeBob appears from the gate-shaped door of his roundish pineapple (two breast-like objects, clearly representing a female) clad only in his underpants — which is the equivalent of nakedness on Nickelodeon. Hmm, emerging naked from a female representation? That could only mean one thing: birth. That this takes place entirely underwater does not escape me either.

Of course, after that, we have SpongeBob being clothed by a giant hand — which represents God — after SpongeBob's shame at his nudity. This is quite clearly an allusion to the Garden of Eden and a Fall From Grace, indicating at once SpongeBob's imperfection and his ultimate quest for knowledge and fulfillment. Later, we have images of SpongeBob being rearranged before finally being put together correctly — signifying that chaos before divine intervention allows for order.

The end of the credits, of course, features a deliberate masturbation image: SpongeBob, playing his phallus-shaped nose like a flute. After his brief song, a small series of bubbles floats up and explodes, representing climax, ejaculation and release.

Seriously — how could that much Freudian imagery be crammed into a credit sequence unless you were taking something pretty heavy? I'm not saying the writers and animators are shooting up with a 7 percent solution, but they gotta be doing something stronger than coffee.

Want more proof? Look at the short "MuscleBob BuffPants." The premise of the episode is that SpongeBob wants to be more muscular — "more large and wide," he says, an obvious reference to an erection — but cannot, because he is trapped at an immature stage. Conversely, Sandy Cheeks is the clearest manifestation of penis envy, allowing that muscles are meant to represent male sexuality. Sandy's muscles are huge, although she generally keeps them constricted under her dive suit, representing the conflict between her desire to exhibit her masculine sexuality and the morals of society. Sandy is personified penis envy taken to an extreme, as she no longer simply desires the male sex, but has attained it. She is the ultimate Electra, having moved past a physical association with the male sex in order to become pregnant into full-fledged possession and the ability to impregnate (in this episode's case, toss an anchor) herself.

When Sandy offers to help SpongeBob grow his own muscles (does children's programming get smuttier?), she requires him to wear a water-filled bubble over his head, representing his confinement by female sexuality and ultimate powerlessness in her domain.

SpongeBob, suffering both penis panic and male penis envy when he realizes his muscles will not grow larger, mimics a superior masculinity when he purchases a set of mail-order inflatable muscles. His evident penis exhibition makes him popular at the beach, where everyone assumes his artificial phallus is real.
Still, his strength is false, and during the anchor-tossing contest, SpongeBob must refill his deflated arms using his mouth, a clear reference to autofellatio. This manages to symbolize SpongeBob's complete immaturity, as both oral sex and masturbation were considered by Freud to be juvenile expressions of sexuality.

Still, his strength is false, and during the anchor-tossing contest, SpongeBob must refill his deflated arms using his mouth, a clear reference to autofellatio. This manages to symbolize SpongeBob's complete immaturity, as both oral sex and masturbation were considered by Freud to be juvenile expressions of sexuality. (Masturbation was selfish, the good doctor said, and must be discouraged, lest the id consume one completely. Oral sex was not considered a mature expression of sexuality because it did not lead to procreation and was therefore inferior. God, what a prig.)

Because SpongeBob's penis is not real, the illusion of course disolves (with a large explosion, a reference to premature ejaculation and childish sexual expression). It is as if SpongeBob were trying to adopt his father's larger phallus — yet because he cannot truly possess his father's sexuality, the image cannot be sustained. This is, of course, male penis envy at its root.

I think you see my problem, Liz. I mean, there's so much there, but nobody will ever believe a kids' show could contain so much blatant sexual imagery. I just don't think I can write the piece. I know we're supposed to be overthinking the idiot box, but would anyone even believe this stuff?

Sorry about that, but I'm sure you can see why I could never sit down and write such an article. I'm wondering if I shouldn't cancel my upcoming piece on Evil-Lyn's blatant attraction to Teela. My story on the gay love triangle between Brainy, Vanity, and Clumsy Smurf is probably out, too.

With deepest apologies,

D. Roberts Keenan

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Return to Vol. 1, Episode 7.