The Animation Critic Continued: Society and its Discontents
Controversy Six: SpongeBob is harmful to children's attention and concentration
The latest controversy. October of 2011 saw the publication of a study conducted by the University of Virginia that accused SB (and similar cartoons) of being "fast-paced fantasy television programmes" that impaired children's "executive functions" (namely, the abilities of attention and concentration, problem-solving, and impulse control). Twenty kids exposed to nine minutes of a cartoon featuring "an animated kitchen sponge" (I suppose that wasn't The Venture Brothers) scored worse on tests than another group that watched nine minutes of Cailou and a third group that spent nine minutes drawing pictures. The stimulation produced by SB was postulated to have overtaxed the brains of the group that watched his cartoon. One of the researchers stated that "We think it leaves them mentally exhausted – at least for a short time.
All of these controversies have one thing in common: SpongeBob SquarePants, the madly popular winner of multiple entertainment awards, is under attack. Exposing children to homosexuality? Check. Promoting pro-gay propaganda? Yep. A factor in childhood obesity? Ditto. Being too sexy? You bet. Pushing global warming? Right. Wrecking kid's brains? Yes, that too.
But why SB? Has he done anything right? Where, besides at Nickelodeon, are those who will stand up for the absorbent, porous, and yellow one? Will there be more controversies, and what form will they take? Please do tune in next month, faithful readers, because we are going on a wild, full-speed ride through the cultural context surrounding SB. It's a tour that will cut to the very heart of what criticism means in America at this particular point in time. Not only will everything above be explored and explained, the capstone of what it means to be an animation critic will be on display for your enjoyment.
This column marks twelve enjoyable years with AWN, and I am deeply honored to have been granted such a tenure. I'm just getting warmed up, readers: Stick with me and we’ll make Year Thirteen a great one!
Martin "Dr. Toon" Goodman is a longtime student and fan of animation. He lives in Anderson, Indiana.