Yesterday was not so good a day for me and million others who have grown up on the animated show SpongeBob Squarepants: the cartoon’s intrepid creator Stephen Hillenburg died due to complications from ALS. What a truly despicable disease to sap such a creative light from us all, and countless others from their loved ones. We don’t need more ice bucket challenges, please simply keep donating money.
Upon hearing off the news I was hit with profound sadness. 57 years is still way too young of an age to succumb to the grips of death. We will never know what other culturally significant artistic endeavors Hillenburg could still yet have done, he of the genius behind SpongeBob Squarepants.
Indeed SpongeBob is the seminal animated TV series in my childhood, and I’m sure many others as well. Within the pantheon of ‘Doug’ and ‘Hey Arnold’, SpongeBob Squarepants is right there at the top. You’d think a show about a talking sponge and his starfish friend wouldn’t amount to much, but it’s the stories that make it so special. Rather than being the typical children cartoon that panders to a kid’s most base sensibilities, SpongeBob challenged us with big ideas and provoking thoughts. Positive themes of friendship, optimism, and success were juxtaposed on-screen with their polar opposites, letting kids in ever slightly on just how the real world works.
Most importantly it’s all wrapped up in a humorous and hilarious container that made it easy to digest, and in turn, utterly indelible.
Spongebob’s popularity never waned even nearly two decades after the first episode aired, and the generation that grew up on it are fully adults now. To this day I still often reference the show amongst my friends. Social media meme culture would not be nearly as robust and funny without screenshots of SpongeBob screenshots.
So while we deeply mourn the untimely passing of Hillenburg, there’s great satisfaction in seeing the immense legacy he is leaving behind. I have no doubts we’ll still be talking about SpongeBob another two decades after this; and if I ever have kids, they will for sure be introduced to the joy and wonder that Hillenburg have so generously given to the world.
He was number one.