20 Years of Spongebob

Bikini Bottom Gets New Life Through Memes

Celeste Hoover, Co-Editor-In-Chief

Some of our best childhood memories involve our favorite Nickelodeon shows. Most of us can look back fondly on hours spent watching The Powerpuff Girls, The Fairly OddParents, and iCarly afterschool. While we never quite forgot characters like Mojo Jojo or Spencer Shay as we got older, no other show has had quite as much impact on teens as a certain Spongebob Squarepants.

As high school students, the beloved Bikini Bottom has found a new place in our hearts, as an ever evolving meme generator. With the 20th anniversary of the show fast approaching, I thought it was time we took a look at how it has continued to churn out dozens of hilarious, relatable, and just the right amount of absurd, images over the past few years. The big question: Is there a reason for Spongebob meme mania? And why now?

As of October 12, animators have produced over 251 episodes and three “live-action” Spongebob Squarepants movies. That makes for over 150 hours of Squarepants content to date. With numbers like that, it’s easy to see how such a huge amount of the show’s iconic scenes have gone viral. On Know Your Meme, the internet hub of all things meme-y, Spongebob Squarepants currently counts in at 4,635 images. Some of the most popular include the “Imma head out” Spongebob, savage Patrick, dazed Mr. Krabs, and of course, mocking Spongebob.

Shared and retweeted almost daily by fans and avid meme users alike, these images might circulate social media for weeks while inspiring hundreds of different captions. In honor of the show’s 20th anniversary and it’s ongoing popularity, Nickelodeon has even released a line of vinyl kids toys modeled after the most iconic of these memes, ‘Masterpiece Memes’.

Some of the best Squarepants episodes aired just on the eve of the internet, when we were still fiddling with iPods in elementary. But as the internet evolved, so did we, dragging our favorite childhood memories right along with us. I can be assured that my followers will know exactly what I mean when I tweet images of a dazed Mr. Krabs and a late alarm clock. It’s the perfect mix of nostalgia translated into 21st century high school life, and it’s done thousands of times a day. Even though most of us can agree that the golden years of Spongebob ended around 2006, we were lucky enough to be born at just the right time to experience the elysian era of Spongebob memes.

But, it takes more than bittersweet nostalgia (cue the Gary Come Home sequence) to ensure staying power in something as dynamic as social media. Matt Schimkowitz, a senior editor at Know Your Meme, told Time Magazine that the often exaggerated reactions and emotions of the characters, as well as their eye catching and simple design, could be a factor in the growing show’s internet presence. 

There’s no real subtlety in terms of when Spongebob is happy, or when he is sad, or when he is angry,” Schimkowitz said in an interview with Times Magazine. “He just is those things, which makes it much easier for people online to use them essentially as emojis and share them to express how they’re feeling about a particular subject.”

We might never know the whole truth behind something as elusive as Spongebob memes. It’s audience and motivations continue to grow along with the show’s phenomena. Regardless, its existence has undeniably shaped our slightly farcical sense of humor and high school experience. After 20 years, it’s still safe to say that the tie between our past and our present lives in a pineapple under the sea.