A controversy is bubbling, and from an unlikely place: a pineapple under the sea.
In the recently aired episode of famed children’s cartoon “Spongebob Squarepants,” Spongebob is laid off from his fry cook job at the Krusty Krab by the cheapskate boss, Mr. Krabs (Krabs gives Spongebob the axe, literally, to save a nickel). But instead of listening to his friend, sea star Patrick Star, who says that “Being unemployed is the best gig I know,” Spongebob keeps his hopes up and *spoiler alert* ends up back at work by the end of the episode, which aired Monday.
For some reason, instead of the story ending there, the political right wing media has seized Spongebob as a hero for not “mooching off the social services of Bikini Bottom,” like Patrick Star, as both the New York Post and Fox News anchor Heather Nauert put it.
This touches on a larger theme in conservative ideology that Spongebob’s episode gives us a moment to reflect on. Following the right-wing doctrinaire, you’d have to believe that there is a huge percentage of this country that enjoy living off social welfare and unemployment or poverty benefits. See, for example, the 2012 election, the 47 percent comment, and the constant “makers vs. takers” dichotomy in the media.
So I’ve had to ask my marine bio friends for evidence, and I’ve done the reporting so elusive at Fox News. I’ve come to the conclusion that unemployed humans are not the same as sea stars. Some sea stars literally eat by filtering the water passing over their bodies. It’s the definition of a sedentary lifestyle.
Unemployed humans, on the other hand, do not have it nearly as easy. First, as a 2009 comprehensive study of the unemployed noted, overwhelming majorities of those surveyed said they feel or have experienced anxiety, helplessness, depression and stress after being without a job. Furthermore, countries with higher unemployment correlate strongly with higher depression levels. I don’t know how else to emphasize this, but unemployment is not a fun experience.
In addition, on the national level, it is a very serious problem. The October jobs report listed 4.1 million Americans as long-term unemployed, and the national unemployment rate ticked up to 7.3 percent. And while 47 million Americans have low enough incomes to qualify for food stamps, recent Republican legislation means these 47 million will see cuts to their food security this November.
Finally, the reason the makers of Spongebob decided to air this simplistic explanation of unemployment in a children’s show was because of how widespread the issue is. One in four American children lived in poverty in 2012, and as Alison Bryant, former digital researcher for Nickelodeon said to Politico, “I don’t think they’re handling political issues; I think they’re handling the reality of kids’ lives.”
Patrick Quinlan is a sophomore majoring in international studies and political science.