Created by Marine Educator, Stephen Hillenburg, the Sponge Bob setting is said to be the site of the Bikini Atoll Nuclear Bomb Tests from the 1940s and 1950s.

who lives in the pineapple under the sea?

Things are rarely as they seem. The innocent and silly SpongeBob SquarePants is no exception. First premiering in 1999 the show was wildly popular with children and adults alike. Created by a marine educator turned animator, Stephen Hillenburg, only some people are aware of the sinister beginnings of Bikini Bottom, the home of SpongeBob and friends.

Stepping back to just after World War II, the United States had gained control of the Marshall Islands, halfway between Hawaii and Papua New Guinea in the Pacific Ocean. This vast secluded area attracted the attention of the War Department. It was an ideal spot to test the effects of nuclear bombs on warships while only displacing the few people from the remote islands and atolls. An atoll is a ring-shaped reef, island, or group of islands made from coral.

Bikini Atoll, inhabited by 146 people, was forcibly vacated. The residents were told they could return after the testing. This was 1946. The radiation levels were never safe enough for humans to inhabit the island again. From 1946 through 1958, the U.S. completed 67 nuclear tests in the area. It is said that the vacant island shown during the SpongeBob theme song is Bikini Atoll. 

The most devastating and powerful test was the Castle Bravo test which occurred on March 1, 1954, destroying 3 islands and leaving a lifetime of radiation and health complications for the Marshallese people in the surrounding area.

Fast forward to 1999 and the creation of the unusual residents of a hauntingly similar Bikini Bottom. Surmised to be mutant creatures born out of radiation-wreaked habitations, the quirky and lovable cast of SpongeBob SquarePants has been entertaining and possibly educating for over 2 decades.

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from radioactive fallout to fictional fun: the creation of spongebob squarepants

The astute viewer may have already picked up on the, sometimes not so subtle, references to the sinister origins of Bikini Bottom. A few noted examples include the local magazine in the show, “Toxic Waste Monthly,” and the mushroom-like explosions in various episodes.

According to the Wikipedia article entitled, “SpongeBob SquarePants the Character,” Stephen was drawn to marine life as a young child. As an aspiring artist, he majored in Marine Biology and minored in Art at Humboldt State University. During his first career position, which involved educating the public about marine science and history, he created a comic book called, “The Intertidal Zone.” The main character in this comic book was Bob the Sponge who resembled an actual sea sponge.

Ten years later, the show “Spongeboy Ahoy” was created and production had started when they discovered a cleaning product that already used that moniker. Quickly retooling the character, SpongeBob SquarePants was born. His birthdate is referenced as July 14, 1986, although his real age is left ambiguous throughout the series. Hillenburg wanted an adult character while Nickelodeon insisted he needed to be young.

The popularity of both the character and the show SpongeBob can not be argued. Considered one of the top 100 cartoon characters of the prior 2 decades by Entertainment Weekly in 2010, voted number 9 by TV Guide in their list of 50 greatest cartoon characters of all time, and even listed by Barack Obama as a family favorite, SpongeBob has made his indelible mark.

entertainment with a hidden message: spongebob’s impact and legacy

As far as the show being a platform to fight nuclear weapons or even advocate for restitution for the people of the Marshall Islands, this has never appeared to be a goal. The subtle message is there but remains couched in the entertainment.

As with many things in life, we can learn and be entertained simultaneously if we are simply willing to look for hidden messages, ask questions, and pursue deeper conversations.

To learn more about the development of SpongeBob SquarePants and how it may inspire your child to a career in entertainment, check out the book, The SpongeBob SquarePants Experience. Further explore the development of U.S. nuclear weapons and the role workers and the community of St. Louis played, there is an interesting documentary included with Amazon Prime, The Safe Side of the Fence.

Thank you for reading.

Maria Calderoni

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