The children’s cartoon SpongeBob SquarePants has been accused of normalising the “violent” and “racist” colonisation of indigenous lands.
The popular show, which celebrated its 20th anniversary this year, has been criticised in a report by Professor Holly M Barker from the University of Washington.
She wrote: “SpongeBob SquarePants and his friends play a role in normalising the settler colonial takings of indigenous lands while erasing the ancestral Bikinian people from their nonfictional homeland.”
The popular Nickelodeon show follows the affable sea sponge, who lives in a pineapple under the sea, as he goes about his life in Bikini Bottom.
Professor Barker believes the underwater city is a reference to the real-life Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands in the Pacific Ocean.
Natives were relocated from the atoll so the US military could use the area for nuclear testing during the Cold War.
This has given rise to fan theories that the cartoon inhabitants of Bikini Bottom owe their mutation to the testing.
Professor Barker says in her report, called Unsettling SpongeBob And The Legacies Of Violence On Bikini Bottom, that the cartoon is guilty of the “whitewashing of violent American military activities”.
In the article, seen in full by Fox News, the professor continues: “SpongeBob’s presence on Bikini Bottom continues the violent and racist expulsion of indigenous peoples from their lands (and in this case their cosmos) that enables US hegemonic powers to extend their military and colonial interests in the postwar era.”
Professor Barker also accuses the show of the cultural appropriation of indigenous Pacific people, with some characters wearing Hawaiian shirts, while others live in homes in the shape of pineapples and Easter Island heads.
The academic acknowledges that the writers likely didn’t have colonisation in mind when creating the series, but added she was upset by the lack of acknowledgement that “Bikini Bottom and Bikini Atoll were not [the writers’] for the taking”.
Professor Barker adds that SpongeBob SquarePants may cause children to “become culturally acculturated to an ideology that includes the US character SpongeBob residing on another people’s homeland”.
The article ends with: “We should be uncomfortable with a hamburger-loving American community’s occupation of Bikini’s lagoon and the ways that it erodes every aspect of sovereignty.”
The report was published in a journal called The Contemporary Pacific: A Journal Of Island Affairs, and is designed to publish pieces on “social, economic, political, ecological and cultural topics”.