Martin Goodman on The Lightening Rod that is Spongebob Squarepants

Via: Dr. Toon on AWN

Martin Goodman has an interesting post over on AWN entitled “Society and its Discontents”. In it, he discusses the fact the animation is merely a product of the culture from whence it came and as a result, interacts with it on many differing levels. Below is an excerpt from the post:

Once produced and seen, it [animation] takes its place in the enormous mosaic of our media and is consigned a definitive niche by the consensus of both the public and we, the critics.

For example, animation undergoes a process of “branding” in which it becomes a definable commodity. A simple example: there is today a subset of animation called “Classic Looney Tunes”. I have no idea what this really means, since many of the most beloved Warner shorts were actually “Merrie Melodies”, and shorts bearing this title continued to be produced by the studio until its final days. “Looney Tunes” today means both the characters that originated at the Warner studio and the cartoons both past and present, featuring them. Another example is Nickelodeon: It is both a network and a brand, with economic endeavors separate from its televised fare.

Thus, we have a confluence of culture, economics, politics, and demographics to consider whenever we analyze a particular piece of animation. The way in which these factors interact is an important consideration for you future critics (Of course, you can forego all of this and simply watch cartoon films and shorts for the enjoyment of it, and that’s fine. Consider this a “think piece”)

I agree with pretty much everything Martin has to say. Animation is indeed a product of the culture that created it. Pretty much any cartoon ever made is an example of that! It’s also forms part of out very complex and intricate cultural landscape, that is almost a given at this stage.

Where the post gets interesting is when it starts discussing the various allegations made against Spongebob Squarepants. Mark promises to go deeper into some of the controversies in his next post, but there’s an important aspect to the whole scenario that I think is a simpler explenation for everything:

Spongebob is a winner.

Yes, Spongebob Squarepants the loveable man-child of a sponge is a winner. He’s been on the air for a decade and continues to rake in the cash for Nickelodeon.

SB (as we’ll call him for the duration of this column) rivals The Simpsons in popularity and longevity, and like them, has a generational crossover audience that seems to span every demographic.

“So what?” I hear you say. “Fair play to him” is what Irish people would say. However, plenty of people look at that success and are either reviled or jealous because of it. Such feelings can inherently obfuscate (fancy word for obscure/contort) otherwise rational views towards a show.

In a way, it’s very similar to the various patent battles surrounding smart phones. Android is racing past Windows and Apple in terms of market share and features so both parties are going after it with the patent guns blazing. It’s not because Android necessarily infringed, it’s because it’s easy to go after the clear leader.

Just think of the guy who tried to sue (how he’s eligible for a Wikipedia page, I do not know) because he though Stephen Hillenburg stole his idea for a talking sponge. The evidence to the contrary is on my bookshelf in the Nicktoons book, where there’s a comic Hillenburg created in 1989 featuring a character called “Bob the Sponge”. Any lawyer worth their salt could have seen that your man didn’t have a leg to stand on, but he decided to sue anyway, and lost, big time.

He’s been the most popular cartoon for kids for the last decade. He’s wildly popular in all respects so just that simple fact will make him a target. You can bet that if our favourite yellow sponge had stuttered to three or seasons we wouldn’t have heard any of the controversies, past, present or future.

Having lived in the States for just about 4 years now, I can safely say that although there is very real cultural and societal recognition for those who get ahead or are successful, there is also a sector that sees that success and attempts to undermine it or take it for themselves by using the legal system for their own ends. Back home people would just begrudge you, that’s just the Irish way,

All this goes back to my series of posts on why animators need to be aware of the legal implications of their work. It’s a minefield out there and you have to have your wits about you if you are going to successfully navigate it.