SpongeBob Squarepants is a cartoon for children. But the way some fans talk about it on social media, you’d assume it’s a gritty drama about drug addiction, war, and nuclear annihilation. People have grafted a ton of dark themes onto SpongeBob, Patrick, and all their equally cheery underwater pals, suggesting their sunny dispositions are masking some serious trauma. Here are 10 of the bleakest, weirdest, and most hilarious fan theories about the show—some of which have made their way back to SpongeBob himself.
1. Bikini Bottom is the result of nuclear testing.
One of the most popular SpongeBob SquarePants theories claims that Bikini Bottom is located directly underneath Bikini Atoll, the Marshall Islands atoll where the U.S. government conducted 23 nuclear tests during the Cold War. That means SpongeBob and his friends are aquatic mutations whose bodies and minds have been warped by the nuclear waste above. The Bikini Atoll theory would also explain why everyone in this modern underwater community sends letters, and dresses like a dad from the 1950s.
2. The main characters represent the seven deadly sins.
Sloth, pride, greed, gluttony, lust, envy, and wrath. They’re the seven deadly sins, but they’re also—according to some Nickelodeon viewers—SpongeBob's seven main characters. Patrick spends most of his day snoring under a rock, so he’s sloth. Mr. Krabs’s obsession with money makes him a clear candidate for greed, while cranky Squidward is a neat stand-in for wrath. Plankton’s sole mission in life is to steal the Krabby Patty recipe and with it, Mr. Krabs’s success for himself—which is pretty envious. That leaves gluttony for Gary, pride for Sandy, and lust for overly-friendly SpongeBob.
3. Squidward is SpongeBob’s guardian.
While SpongeBob loves spending time with his neighbor, Squidward tolerates him at best. So why doesn’t Squidward move—or quit his job working alongside SpongeBob at the Krusty Krab? According to a Reddit theory, SpongeBob’s secretly rich parents hired Squidward to watch over SpongeBob, whom they suspect has ADHD. Though they worried about how their son would fare on his own, they wanted him to have an independent life, so they bought SpongeBob a nice house—how else could he afford it on a fry cook’s salary?—and gave Squidward a loan to help him move next door. Squidward has served as a sort of guardian ever since, and SpongeBob’s parents purchased a deceptively modest home for themselves nearby so they could spend more money on travel.
4. It’s all about global warming.
You probably assume SpongeBob SquarePants, who lives in a pineapple under the sea, is a sea sponge, right? Wrong! For this metaphor to work, he needs to be a kitchen sponge, representing human waste and pollution. Mr. Krabs, as SpongeBob’s employer, stands in for the large corporations that cause pollution, while Patrick, as SpongeBob’s best friend, is western civilization, i.e. lazy and the main cause of the world's pollution. Squidward is the liberalism that calls for action against climate change, but because no one shares his interests, he’s constantly ignored.
5. Krabby Patties are made from crabs.
What is it that makes Krabby Patties so delicious? It all comes down to a secret ingredient that only Mr. Krabs knows, and there might be a sinister reason why he’s keeping it under lock and key. Many Redditors believe Mr. Krabs is a cannibal who makes his burgers with crab meat. He has killed and served up all his crab friends for the business, which is why he’s seemingly the only crab in town, and some even speculate that the long-absent Mrs. Krabs was a victim of his scheme.
6. The patties are actually vegan.
But what if Mr. Krabs only serves burgers that taste like crab? One counterargument claims that he engineered a convincing imitation crab meat, and that is the true key to his success. Crustacean customers get all the great seafood taste, without the soul-sucking guilt of eating their best friends. It’s why they prefer the Krusty Krab to the rival Chum Bucket, which serves actual “chum”—non-imitation fish parts.
7. The main characters are each addicted to a different drug.
SpongeBob’s quirks can be explained by personality, or hallucinogens. This theory posits that at least five SpongeBob SquarePants characters are addicted to a specific drug. SpongeBob takes shrooms, since he has a hyperactive imagination and the capacity for both joy (i.e. a good trip) and panic (i.e. a bad trip). Patrick prefers weed, as evidenced by his slow speech, carefree attitude, and frequent bouts of the munchies. Squidward’s moodiness and poor job performance could be attributed to heroin abuse, while Mr. Krabs’ and Mrs. Puff’s ill tempers and paranoia might be signs of a cocaine problem.
8. SpongeBob is a veteran suffering from PTSD.
Some fans have picked up on strange similarities between SpongeBob SquarePants and military veterans. He wears the same thing every day, wakes up at the same time (with a horn!), and addresses his boss with vaguely militaristic terms, like “yes, sir!” If SpongeBob is a veteran struggling with PTSD, he might have some weird verbal tics—and seek stability in a full-time fry cook gig and quiet neighborhood.
9. The show is a metaphor for pre-WWII Germany.
Like so many discussions on the internet, this theory begins with Hitler. The logic goes that Squidward—a failed artist and kind of a jerk, with a squid superiority complex—represents Adolf Hitler. He wants to get rid of SpongeBob, who embodies the Jewish people. Patrick stands for German ignorance; he lives alongside SpongeBob and Squidward but seems totally oblivious to their toxic dynamic. Sandy Cheeks is America, trying to free the Jews (SpongeBob) from Hitler’s (Squidward’s) tyranny. Finally, Mr. Krabs represents the rest of Europe, which looks down on Hitler and Germany for its role in WWI.
10. SpongeBob and Squidward’s homes are remnants of a tiki bar.
What do you usually see at a tiki bar? Paper lanterns, flaming cocktails, pineapples, coconuts, stone tiki heads, and a bunch of faux flowers. And what do SpongeBob and Squidward’s houses look like? A pineapple and a stone tiki head. This Reddit theory argues that a sunken ship with a tiki bar onboard brought these items to the bottom of the sea, and SpongeBob and Squidward decided to make them into homes.