Dr. Toon: The Animation Critic's Art - Society and it's Discontents Part II
5. SpongeBob advocates a global warming agenda based on unproven science Let us tally it up thus far: SB is now an advocate for a liberal global warming viewpoint, he is gay, a sexual exploiter of females, and a sugar/fat pusher as well. Global warming? Oh, naughty sponge! Fox News castigates thee! Does it matter that the Religious Right also tries to promote an "intelligent design" agenda based on "unproven science?" In case the Neocon talking heads at Fox have forgotten the contents of our founding documents, SB (or his spokespeople) have every possible right to express this point of view, whether it is correct or not.
This controversy surrounding SB is the least credible and easily the crassest one of all. The culture wars have never been uglier, and Fox is clearly scraping the bottom of the seemingly inexhaustible moral panic barrel by picking on a tiny yellow sponge instead of taking on established scientists. The problem with Fox is that they believe children are being indoctrinated. Sort of like kids being taught that the Earth is 10,000 years old.
6. SpongeBob cripples kid's attention spans Or so claims the American Association of Pediatrics after a study in which preschoolers were allegedly driven dizzy by the fast pace of SpongeBob cartoons. Why SB cartoons? Again, high visibility produces the synecdoche effect. I'm a psychologist by trade, for those of you who don't know it already. I do believe that fast-paced cartoons really could ramp kids up. For a few minutes. If there turns out to be any long-term cognitive or neurological damage resultant from preschoolers watching SB, I'd be (non-clinical term ahead) gobsmacked.
Should you believe everything the educational experts tell you? Several years ago, there was another study. It pretty much proved that the highly touted "Baby Einstein" videos that competitive parents were sucked into buying had no appreciable effect on accelerating the learning abilities of infants. The babes stared dumbly at the videos much like anything else thrown into the DVD player, mainly because their cognitive abilities were still a formative neurological stew. That didn't stop countless families, in the misconception that the videos were a jump-start for junior, from spending money on them.
Back in 1969, a program called Sesame Street presented learning with brief, fast-paced, animated lessons resembling TV commercials, and this was hailed as an educational breakthrough, not a wrecker of young attention spans. Sesame Street has outlasted countless cartoon programs and is still revered today.
Today I watch kids in mid-graders manipulate every iTool available, play with Photoshop, use phones that contain seventeen billion functions, have hundreds of friends on Facebook, and play video games that I would lose within thirty seconds of taking the controls. They are a wired, multitasking generation who seem to utilize multiple attention spans and have them easily at their command by the seventh grade.
Now, if a four-year old was watching Sesame Street or SBSP in 1999 (the first year of SBSP) that child would be 14 today and would likely have access to, or even own, some of the above. This is their world, and some studies appear to suggest they actually suffer withdrawal symptoms when not using some device for a prolonged period. Did fast-paced animation destroy their attention spans or did they prepare them for full participation in a society of complex technological communications?
I'll tell you what would be too much for today's kids neurological functioning: A dial telephone. TV stations that went off the air at midnight (on all thirteen channels). An AM/FM radio and a vinyl record as sole sources of music. A camera that uses film. I am now fifty-five years old and grew up with all of the above, and I can tell you that I would never want to go back to that world. We all adapt. Kids adapt even faster, and we're fools to think they can't. So, how much damage does a SB cartoon really do?
Probably less than a Pop Tart would.
Therefore, in closing, have an opinion and don't be afraid to advance it if you truly want to be an animation critic. Call it as you see it, and controversy be damned. There will be those who agree with you and those who don't, but that should not be your prime consideration. SpongeBob does not need to be in the middle of controversies, but it is inevitable, for the reasons given above, that he always will be. So take a stand. If you're good and you're lucky, it's what you may be paid to do someday
Assignment: Give your own opinion of the six SpongeBob controversies. Clarify why you feel this way. How would you defend your viewpoints? Are they consistent with your observations? Write opposing viewpoints and examine how you feel about them, both emotionally and intellectually. Then go watch a few episodes of SpongeBob Square Pants. You've worked hard enough.
Martin "Dr. Toon" Goodman is a longtime student and fan of animation. He lives in Anderson, Indiana.