Every SpongeBob SquarePants Controversy Explained (2023)

By Adrienne Tyler

SpongeBob SquarePants has been involved in all types of controversies, and not all of them make sense. Here's every one of them.

Every SpongeBob SquarePants Controversy Explained (1)

SpongeBob SquarePants has been around long enough to gain some enemies, and the show and its characters have been involved in various controversies, of which some aren’t exactly related to the content of the episodes – and here’s every one of them. Created by Stephen Hillenburg, SpongeBob SquarePants debuted on Nickelodeon in 1999 and has been unstoppable ever since, becoming the most successful Nicktoon to date as well as one of the longest-running American animated series. The show has also expanded to other media, most notably video games and film, and took over the world of streaming with the prequel series Kamp Koral: SpongeBob’s Under Years.


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SpongeBob SquarePants follows the adventures of the title character – a sea sponge that actually looks more like a kitchen sponge – alongside his best friends and a couple of enemies in the underwater city of Bikini Bottom. Accompanying SpongeBob in all types of trouble are his best friends Patrick Star and Sandy Cheeks, his neighbor and coworker Squidward Tentacles, his boss Mr. Krabs, and the latter’s enemy Plankton. Although SpongeBob SquarePants has been quite popular with kids and adults, there are some that have found it not to be entirely kid-friendly, and so the series, its characters, and its writers have been involved in different controversies.

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Not everyone has been on board with the series’ type of humor nor with the situations the characters see themselves involved in, but not all controversies around SpongeBob SquarePants have been about the content of the episodes, and they have extended to promotional material deemed “inappropriate”. Some viewers have gone as far as to criticize the effect that the show has on its younger audience, while others have gotten some episodes either censored or banned as they considered some scenes or the story in general to not be fitting. Here’s every SpongeBob SquarePants controversy explained:

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SpongeBob SquarePants’ Bizarre Burger King Commercial

Every SpongeBob SquarePants Controversy Explained (2)

One of the strangest controversies in the history of SpongeBob SquarePantsis all about a Burger King commercial. The famous fast-food chain often partners withstudios and networks to sell toys related totheir movies and TV shows to boost both their sales and the popularity of these projects. This happened with SpongeBob SquarePants back in 2009, and in order to promote Burger King’s kids' meal with toys based on the show, the company came up with a commercial that ended up not being entirely appropriate for children. The ad is a parody of Sir-Mix-A-Lot’s “Baby Got Back”, only that this version is about “square butts”, with the King himself singing surrounded by dancers dressed as SpongeBob and wearing “square butts”.

The commercial caught the attention of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, which called it out for sexism and being inappropriately sexual, as the target audience was obviously young children. Burger King replied by saying the ad was actually aimed at parents, though that didn’t make much sense as their product was for children.

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SpongeBob SquarePants’ Sexual Orientation

Every SpongeBob SquarePants Controversy Explained (3)

SpongeBob’s sexual orientation has been a subject of discussion for years, with many affirming that the famous sponge is gay, and they are not ok with that. SpongeBob SquarePants has been accused of “promoting homosexuality” on different occasions, starting in 2002 when the episode “Rock-a-Bye Bivalve” first aired. In it, SpongeBob and Patrick find and adopt an abandoned baby scallop, with SpongeBob taking the role of mom and Patrick of dad. The show was accused of promoting gay marriage, but sea sponges aren’t either female or male, so the role of “mother” was normal for SpongeBob. Hillenburg went on to clarify that he considered the character to be “somewhat asexual”, and so all claims about SpongeBob being gay were false.

Related: Is SpongeBob SquarePants Gay? Every Time The Show Suggested He Is

The controversy continued in 2005 when a video with clips of children’s shows, including SpongeBob SquarePants, was released with the purpose of promoting diversity and tolerance. However, it was criticized by an evangelical group that argued that the show was “advocating homosexuality”. Hillenburg reasserted his position and added that sexual preference didn’t play a part in what they were aiming for with the series. The criticism continued as many viewers insist that SpongeBob’s relationship with Patrick isn’t one of friendship and that SpongeBob’s mannerisms are “too girly” sometimes. In 2020, Nickelodeon shared a tweet in celebration of Pride Month with characters that are allies and part of the LGBTQ+ community, among those SpongeBob, putting an end to the conversation, though not so much to the hate the character still gets.

SpongeBob SquarePants Isn’t Suitable For Children

Every SpongeBob SquarePants Controversy Explained (4)

Not only have some viewers claimed SpongeBob can “make children gay” but the harmless sponge can also make mess with their mental development. A 2011 study by the University of Virginia suggested that SpongeBob SquarePants could cause short-term disruptions in mental function and attention span in preschool-aged audiences, but Nickelodeon was quick to respond by saying the show isn’t even intended for such a young audience and questioned the methodology and validity of the study. Later, in 2014 the education minister of Kazakhstan, Zabira Orazalieva, claimed the show was “too violent” for children, and even called SpongeBob himself a “self-absorbed hooligan” who regularly inflicts violence on others and seems to enjoy it.

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SpongeBob SquarePants’ Controversial Episodes

Every SpongeBob SquarePants Controversy Explained (5)

When it comes to the content of the episodes, SpongeBob SquarePants has also received a lot of criticism, but there’s a difference between quality and the themes addressed in them. It’s no secret that the quality of SpongeBob SquarePants has been in decline for years, and its sense of humor has changed for the worse, but that’s nothing compared to the actual controversy some episodes have been involved in. First is the episode “Sailor Mouth”, in which SpongeBob and Patrick learn a new wordthat turns out to be one of the “13 forbidden words”. The Parents Television Council considered that the episode promoted and satirized the use of profanity among children and feared younger viewers would begin to use inappropriate words.

Other episodes involved in controversy, though for different reasons than the previous one, are “SpongeBob’s Last Stand” and “Selling Out”, which were criticized for promoting environmentalism and left-wing politics because of their negative portrayal of big business, while “SpongeBob, You’re Fired” sparked a political debate over its depiction of unemployment. But even though these episodes were heavily criticized, they can still be watched on TV and streaming platforms, but the same can’t be said about two others: “Mid-Life Crustacean” and “Kwarantined Krab”. The former was pulled out of circulation due to the scene where SpongeBob, Patrick, and Mr. Krabs partake in a panty raid, which Nickelodeon explained had “some elements [that] were not kid-appropriate”; the latter is now unavailable to watch due to its similarities to the coronavirus pandemic, as the episode centers on a virus storyline. Whether all these controversies make sense or not is up to every viewer, but they haven’t been enough to stop SpongeBob SquarePants.

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Next: SpongeBob SquarePants: Is The Show Secretly About Mental Illness?


What is the most controversial SpongeBob episode? ›

For this list, we're looking at instances where “SpongeBob SquarePants” ignited controversy amongst fans, staff members, or other organizations.
  • #5: SpongeBob Got Back. ...
  • #4: Negative Portrayal of Unemployment. ...
  • #3: Left-Wing SpongeBob. ...
  • #2: SpongeBob & Short Attention Spans. ...
  • #1: SpongeBob's “Gay Agenda”

What is the banned SpongeBob episode? ›

"Kwarantined Krab" is the second segment of the 263rd episode of SpongeBob SquarePants, airing as part of the show's twelfth season.

Why was SpongeBob season 2 episode 13 banned? ›

In the episode, characters including Mr Krabs break into a woman's house and search through her underwear draw in a “panty raid”. It was removed, the Nickelodeon representative told IGN, for being “not kid-appropriate”.

What is the hidden meaning behind SpongeBob? ›

"As the name suggests, some viewers have found similarities between the SpongeBob characters and the seven sins outlined in the Bible (Sloth, Gluttony, Pride, Lust, Greed, Envy, and Wrath)." Later, it states which character represents which sin.


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