Viewpoint: Recent SpongeBob SquarePants attention controversy overblown

A November 2010 hot air balloon festival in Leon, Guanajuato, Mexico, featured SpongeBob.
Photo by Tomas Castelazo | Via WikiMedia Commons.

By Joshua Madden
A&E Editor

Could SpongeBob be ruining your brain?

In a Sept. 12th article from U.S. News titled “Is ‘SpongeBob’ Too Much for Young Minds?,” Steven Reinberg wrote “4-year-olds did worse in thinking skills after watching the cartoon, study says.”

According to an article on Forbes titled, “Are Shows Like ‘SpongeBob SquarePants’ Hurting Kids?” by Dorothy Pomerantz, the study consisted of having kids divided into three groups. The first watched nine minutes of SpongeBob, the second watched nine minutes of a Canadian educational show called Caillou and the third drew pictures.

After all of this, they were given a test of their “executive functions” – which is a silly term – and the kids who watched SpongeBob did the worst.

Instead of coming to the obvious conclusion that the kids who watched SpongeBob probably wanted to watch more SpongeBob instead of taking some tests, the researchers have decided this may show that something is bad about SpongeBob. Exactly what, no one seems to be sure.

If you go on Google News, you’ll quickly discover Forbes and U.S. News aren’t the only news outlets talking about this study. In fact, it’s attracted such attention Nickelodeon was forced to comment.

“Having 60 non-diverse kids, who are not part of the show’s targeted (audience), watch nine minutes of programming is questionable methodology and could not possibly provide the basis for any valid findings that parents could trust,” David Blitter, Nickelodeon spokesman, told the Associated Press.

He also pointed out that the study focused on 4-year-olds when SpongeBob is actually directed toward kids aged 6-11.

Every one of Bittler’s points here makes sense, which is amazing given how illogical the study was in the first place. Evidently you can fight fire with something other than fire.

Am I the only one who feels like they’re missing something here? This “controversy,” if you can even call it a “controversy,” is simply absurd and makes about as much sense as, well, an episode of SpongeBob SquarePants.

Nothing about this study makes any sense. Of course the kids who watched Canadian educational programming did better on tests than the kids who watched SpongeBob. They were probably thrilled to get to do anything other than watch Canadian educational cartoons. Even 4-year-olds have enough sense to know that isn’t the most entertaining way to spend nine minutes.

It’s a funny story simply because of how ridiculous it is, but it also brings up some serious issues about the media and how quick it can be to rush to judgement on an issue.

We need to be careful what we demonize and why we demonize it. Demonizing SpongeBob because of a study that makes absolutely no sense is not an appropriate thing for us to do.

Finding out who paid for this study and what their intentions were seems like an obvious thing to do from here and I would call upon my fellow members of the media to show as much vigilance in that task as they did in reporting on this story originally.

If Forbes or U.S. News wants my help, they just need to ask.

Please send all comments to lariat@baylor.edu.