Disclaimer: this list is in no particular order.
With the release of the new Spongebob movie this weekend, one can't help but be impressed at how long the yellow sponge has been around for. Since 1999, Spongebob has been laughing his way to the top of Nickelodeon's ratings and merchandise sales, becoming a billion dollar franchise. But this giddy sponge didn't always make audiences happy.
From Patrick in fishnet tights to an attempted suicide, there have been a good amount of times where Spongebob viewers were left with a bad taste in their mouths.
6. Spongebob and global warming
In 2005, an educational short called "The Endless Summer" made its debut on Nickelodeon. The short dealt with Mr. Krabs (being the Jordan Belfort of the ocean) cooking up a scheme to make money. Specifically, he planned to use boatmobile exhaust to induce global warming and keep the pool he built at his Krusty Krab restaurant open year-round. The plan gets out of hand, and Bikini Bottom is left in smoldering ruins.
Of course, those who disagreed with climate change theories weren't going to have any of this. Oddly enough, it took six years after its initial airdate to make Fox News' headlines. In a segment of Fox and Friends, a panel of analysts criticized the short for "pushing a liberal agenda," and saying it was very one-sided in its argument over climate change. Look on the bright side, Fox News, at least they didn't have Al Gore guest star as MermaidManBearPig.
5. Patrick's unemployment benefits
Just like "Endless Summer," the "Spongebob, You're Fired" episode stirred up political controversy. Basically, the episode centers around Spongebob losing his job at the Krusty Krab and going on unemployment. Patrick shows him all the wonders of being unemployed, such as being given free stuff, food stamps and more time to relax.
Fox News once again did a piece on this. This time, they viewed the episode as a positive statement on the dangers of welfare recipients abusing the system. This sparked a huge debate between the liberal and conservative media over whether or not it was critical of welfare recipients in general. It got to a point where it was apparently so controversial, that the notably progressive Al Sharpton went on MSNBC to defend welfare users.
4. Squidward's mutilated toenail
A 2008 episode called "House Fancy" stirred up controversy not for it's supposed political bias, but for its arguably graphic violence. Basically, Squidward is going to appear on a television show so he can prove that his house is more aesthetically pleasing than his rival, Squilliam. In a series of comedic events, Spongebob ends up helping Squidward redecorate, eventually helping him move his couch. What follows is a scene some find a bit too disturbing for a family-oriented television show.
Yep, Spongebob actually rips Squidward's toenail off, nerves and all. Needless to say, although this didn't make Fox News' headlines, viewers were more than put off by it. Here are just a couple of user comments I've found on tv.com:
This episode tries too hard to be funny and fails every time, plus, any episode that makes you watch a character's toenail get ripped off due to another character's stupidity deserves a bad review.
I watch SpongeBob every morning before school. I do not need to see Squidward's toe get ripped off and then his whole foot crushed before my day actually even begins. The old writers were so much better than that. The new writers, however, seem to be in a secret competition for who can make the grossest gags.
As shocking as it is that this slipped the censors, one can't help but be reminded of another scene that made kids all across the globe cringe in disgust.
3. Spongebob's infected, pus-filled splinter
Speaking of cringing, I can't count how many people were legitimately horrified by the episode: "The Splinter." The premise of this one is simple: Spongebob gets a splinter at work and must hide it to avoid being sent home. From an extreme close-up of the splinter's entry...
to Patrick trying to heal the wound with garbage (only to have it fester and get even more infected)...
to Mr. Krabs getting showered in pus...
it's clear the writers and animators were channeling John K. for this one. Nevertheless, it received extreme criticism for its focus on Family-Guy-style gross-out humor. Once again, viewers voiced their opinion that the episode was far too disturbing for children. This episode was so poorly received by fans, that some have taken to YouTube to make videos ranting about it. No kidding.
I guess this episode is Spongebob's equivalent of the How I Met Your Mother finale.
2. Patrick's stockings
This one comes from the first Spongebob movie, all the way back in 2004. In a musical number (which I won't spoil the context of), Patrick is seen wearing fishnet stocking and dancing like a stripper. This joke was meant to humorously reference 80s hair-metal videos, but many parents found it too risqué for little Timmy and little Susie.
One faith-based website called Kidology wrote:
...The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie takes this kind of humor too far and many times crosses the line into humor that is inappropriate for young children...There was also one scene where Patrick shows up in knee-length black leather boots and black fishnet stockings. The movie was sadly peppered with scenes such as these.
1. Plankton attempts suicide
"One Coarse Meal" is perhaps the most infamous Spongebob episode of all time. Not because some found it too gross or too risque, but because many felt it mocked a sensitive subject. Basically, the episode starts off with Plankton getting spooked out by Mr Krabs' daughter, Pearl. Mr. Krabs decides to use this to taunt Plankton and starts running around in a whale costume to scare him.
Eventually, Plankton can't take it anymore and lays out in the street to kill himself. He says:
What's the point of going on? I'll just be tortured for the rest of my life by that whale. That's it, I'm done. [at this point, he lies down in the street] The 4:15 bus should be along any time now.
When Mr. Krabs finds out about this, he just laughs it off as Plankton being crazy. Needless to say, though this was played for laughs, this INFURIATED many people who watched the show. It surprisingly didn't make the news, despite the fact that suicide and bullying are pretty heavy topics in this day and age. Some fans have said that making light of these issues on a show meant for children ages 7-11 is too much. Plus, plenty of viewers would argue that making light of these issues goes against Nickelodeon's anti-bullying campaign.
Of course, Plankton doesn't actually kill himself, which is more that can be said about a certain Tom and Jerry episode. Still though, you have to wonder if whether Nickelodeon is going too far, or if people are too sensitive.
Overall, it doesn't matter if a show is meant for kids or adults; it can still generate controversy for any big or small reason. Who knew a cartoon about a little yellow sponge could cause such an uproar?
Update: Just another disclaimer: I personally don't find these scenes offensive. I was just looking back on all the times people in started an uproar over this show in its 16-year history.