Rodrigo Ugarte

Spongebob & Me: A Threat to Masculinity

Filed By Rodrigo Ugarte | August 20, 2012 3:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Entertainment
Tags: conservatism, gay camp, gender ideals, masculinity, Spongebob Squarepants, Teletubbies

spongebob.jpegMargaret Cho, in her stand up show Assassin, commented on one of the cultural debate of the time: Spongebob's sexuality. She mocked those crazy conservative Christians who denounced the yellow porifera as gay.

"Spongebob is a sponge," Cho explained. "Obviously, transexual." And the crowd laughed.

Almost five years after American conservatives attempted to tarnish Mr. Squarepants' reputation and forever dissolution of a generation of children and stoners, the Ukranian government continues the tradition of calling Spongebob gay because he's a single, male sponge living in a pineapple with a pink sea star as a best friend.

When I first read the headlines online, I laughed in disbelief, recalling Margaret's mocking tone, "Spongebob's gay!" I texted friends to spread the hilarious news. But, after the laughs subsided and I revisited the article and the various other commentary pieces on gay blogs, I wondered why, yet again, conservative Christians targeted poor Spongebob. I found the answer in the same article.

Among those named in the Ukrainian hit list of immoral shows I found the Teletubbies. Much like Spongebob, the mind-numbing Teletubbies once stood in the cross-hairs of various evangelical figures in the United States, particularly Jerry Falwell and his opposition to Tinky Winky and its purse.

Tinky Winky's choice of accessory represented a sign of femininity, in a character already deemed suspiciously queer with its purple colored suit and triangular antenna, both gay symbols according to Falwell. Gay symbolism, as obvious as one may think a triangle is, are more threatening when in the form of something that subverts masculinity, like a purse.

This is where Tinky Winky, Spongebob, and me all come together.

While the purse represented a camp and non-gender conformist accessory for Tinky Winky, Spongebob's friends, living situation, behavior, and hobbies separate him from what's deemed 'normal' and 'acceptable.' Unlike Tinky Winky, who had no explicit gender, Spongebob is understood to be male, adding ideals of masculinity and patriarchy to his character. However, he doesn't fulfill them and neither do I.

Though I don't frolic underwater among the coral attempting to catch jellyfish, Spongebob and I share the camp and nonconformity our existence represents. My nonconformity to gender ideals translates into my gayness. I'm not sure about Spongebob though.

In the United States, ideas about gender continue to move away from the 'conventional,' but many continue to cling to ideas about how men should behave - the way they should walk, talk, or do things in public. Neither Spongebob nor I act very straight. When I walk, my hips swish a little. He says 'Imagination' and a rainbow appears. And we share an annoying laugh as well as a slight case of 'gay voice.' We aren't the embodiments of masculinity because society doesn't see us as strong. They see camp. They see difference. They see something unlike them - a challenge to the masculine ideal conservative men continue to try to maintain.

I'm not even that fey and may not seem a threat at first glance. Nonetheless, any departure from the norm threatens patriarchy and masculine because it undermines the power men are supposed to have in our society. Conservatives will always see gender nonconformity as immoral and dangerous for it challenges straight male power. The challenge of turning down male dominance and authority by embracing behaviors deemed womanish, be it campyness or jellyfish catching, puts conservatives in a tizzy, Ukrainians and Americans alike.

The threat of difference forces those self-appointed upholders of morality, be it a Ukrainian morality watchdog or Jerry Falwell, to eradicate the threat or label as sub par, like Spongebob or LGBT folk. However, we aren't cartoons and endure constant reminders of our difference. Spongebob's gayness may seem like a hilarious issue to many of us, and the ridiculousness of it all amuses us, but there's a reason for the animosity felt towards fictional characters that embrace campyness and nonconformity.

Though, we should still remind ourselves that Spongebob is only just a sponge.

(img src: Spongebob Squarepants via Photobucket)

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