10 Fishy SpongeBob SquarePants Fan Theories

Nickelodeon
Nickelodeon

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 viewersSpongeBob'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.

Save Up to 93 Percent on 8 Gaming Accessories and Enter to Win a Free Nintendo Switch Bundle

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Stackcommerce

The Nintendo Switch is one of the hottest video game consoles of the past few decades, with worldwide sales topping 55 million (that's more than the Super Nintendo and Nintendo 64, and it's only a few million behind the original NES). The problem with a console being so popular is that it's not always easy to spot one on store shelves. If you haven't had luck finding one in recent months, you can enter this contest to win your very own Nintendo Switch, along with a copy of Animal Crossing: New Horizons, a pair of Switch-compatible Logitech wireless headphones, and a $300 Nintendo gift card. Head here for more details.

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Take Two: When Kim Jong-il Raised North Korea's World Cinema Profile By Kidnapping Two South Korean Stars

Kim Jong-Il, Choi Eun-hie, and Shin Sang-ok in a scene from Ross Adam and Robert Cannan's The Lovers & the Despot (2016).
Kim Jong-Il, Choi Eun-hie, and Shin Sang-ok in a scene from Ross Adam and Robert Cannan's The Lovers & the Despot (2016).
Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

Choi Eun-hee knew there was trouble even before the needle sent her into unconsciousness.

It was 1978, and Choi, one of South Korea’s most prominent actresses, was struggling to regain the success she had achieved earlier in her career. A promise of a possible film partnership by a man claiming to be from Hong Kong had lured her to Repulse Bay, a waterfront locale in the southern part of Hong Kong Island, where she exited a vehicle and noticed a group of men standing near a boat. Choi sensed something wasn't quite right, but before she could consider it any further, she was grabbed, sedated, and thrown onboard.

When she awoke, Choi found herself in the captain’s quarters. Above her was a portrait of Kim Jong-il, then the chief of North Korea’s Propaganda and Agitation Department. Kim’s father, Kim Il-sung, was the leader of the country, a communist regime that had now seemingly absconded with Choi—for reasons the actress couldn't imagine.

Roughly eight days after being kidnapped, Choi found herself in Pyongyang, where Kim greeted her not as someone who had been forcibly subdued and delivered to him, but as an honored guest. In a way, she was. In Kim’s mind, Choi and her ex-husband, award-winning film director Shin Sang-ok (who would soon join them, also involuntarily) were the very people the country needed to spearhead a new era in North Korean filmmaking, one that would make the entire world sit up and take notice.

That both Choi and Shin would be captives of the state was of little concern to those in charge. Regardless of how their guests got there, they were there. And Kim had no intention of letting them leave.

 

Kim, who eventually succeeded his father as leader of North Korea and ruled from 1994 until his death in 2011, was a movie buff. He reportedly owned more than 30,000 films—including a great deal of pornography—and ordered traveling diplomats to bring back copies of international films for his enjoyment. Kim even authored a book, 1973’s On the Art of Cinema, that was intended as an instructional guide for filmmakers in the country. He preached a devotion to a singular, unified vision and bemoaned that North Korean films had too much ideology and crying in them. All but ignored by the rest of the film world, Kim wanted the North producing features that would be embraced by film festivals.

Kim Jong-il loved movies so much he decided to abduct some talent.Getty Images (Kim Jong-il) // JurgaR/iStock via Getty Images (Movie Theater). Photo composite by Mental Floss.

At the time, it was not uncommon for North Korea to fill a need for trained workers simply by kidnapping them. It had worked for the country when they wanted to learn more about South Korea; between 1977 and 1978, they abducted five South Korean high school students who became instructors for future undercover Northern operatives. They also once attempted to kidnap a concert pianist, who grew wise to the situation when he arrived for his private appointment and heard several people speaking with North Korean accents. (He fled.) Even so, Kim used a similar strategy when he decided that kidnapping an actor and director would be the most effective way to achieve his movie aspirations.

Choi was only one part of the plan. Once she was grabbed, Shin began a desperate search for her. The two, who had once been considered a “golden couple” in South Korea, had divorced in 1976 following Shin's affair with a younger actress, but they remained close.

Of course, Shin was a cinematic superstar in his own right. Though his career had also recently cooled off, he was a celebrated director who had once been referred to as "the Orson Welles of South Korea." Though there are different stories as to how Shin ended up in North Korea, the official version is that he wanted to help locate his missing ex. And when that trail eventually led him to Hong Kong, Shin, too, soon found himself with a bag over his head, being hustled to Pyongyang. While Choi had resigned herself to some acceptance of her fate—she was living in a luxurious villa surrounded by guards—Shin was more combative. After numerous escape attempts, he was sent to prison.

For four years, Shin subsisted on a diet of grass, salt, and rice, never once seeing Choi or getting any update about her safety. As far as Shin knew, she was dead. Finally, in 1983, Shin was released and “invited” to a reception. To their mutual shock, the former couple was reunited, neither one knowing the other had been there the entire time.

Kim apologized for the delayed meeting, saying he had been busy. On the subject of Shin being imprisoned for four years, he dismissed it as a misunderstanding. It was only then that Kim explained why the two were there: North Korean filmmakers had no new ideas, he explained, so he wanted Shin and Choi to make films that would establish North Korea in the movie business.

None of it was presented as a choice. That same year, the couple remarried—also reportedly at Kim's suggestion.

The filmmakers spent years trapped in North Korea.NatanaelGinting/iStock via Getty Images

There was discussion of escape, particularly when the couple was allowed to travel to Berlin to scout locations for productions, but Shin dismissed it.

"What's the matter with you?" Shin recalled telling Choi in his 1988 memoir, Kingdom of Kim. "I will not make an attempt unless it's 100 percent certain. If they caught us, we'd be dead."

Instead, Shin pondered the opportunity. Kim gave him the equivalent of $3 million as an annual salary, for both personal and professional use. His production offices grew to more than 700 employees. Aside from some firm edicts—Kim wanted to project an image of North Korea as a political titan, while somehow softening its image as a totalitarian terror—Shin had a large degree of creative freedom. He filmed North Korea’s first onscreen kiss. He made Runaway, a 1984 film about a wandering Korean family in 1920s Manchuria, that Shin believed was the best film of his career.

Most famously, he directed Pulgasari, a monster movie clearly inspired by Godzilla that featured an oversized monster aiding an army of farmers looking to overthrow a cruel king. Kim even convinced several filmmakers who worked on the Godzilla films to come to North Korea to assist with the production by guaranteeing their safety. Kenpachiro Satsuma, who was the second person to wear the Godzilla suit, performed as Pulgasari. Thousands of North Korean soldiers were used as extras.

 

Kim was very happy with the work Shin and Choi were producing, which grew to seven films. Some had even made it to festivals in the Eastern Bloc. Gradually, he gave them more and more freedom to travel, eventually allowing them to take an escorted trip to Vienna in 1986 to help stir up a possible European distributor that would make a North Korean film easier to circulate. As they were preparing to leave for Austria, the two decided to act.

"To be in Korea living a good life ourselves and enjoying movies while everyone else was not free was not happiness, but agony," Shin wrote.

Choi Eun-hee and Shin Sang-ok in The Lovers & the Despot (2016).Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

The two got in touch with a Japanese film critic they knew and met him for lunch. With North Korean guards in pursuit, Shin and Choi took a taxi to the American embassy and explained their eight-year ordeal as creative captives of Kim. Within a week, they were telling their story to reporters in Baltimore, Maryland, as well as the CIA.

North Korea denied that the two had been there against their will, arguing that they simply wanted to escape the restrictive nature of South Korean filmmaking. But Choi had seen to it that they came back with evidence. She had snuck an audio cassette recorder into her handbag during one meeting with Kim, who advised that if they were ever asked what they were doing in North Korea, to say that they were there voluntarily. She had even managed to have the tape smuggled out of the country before escaping, a stunt that could have resulted in her death if the betrayal had been discovered. For those in the U.S. government gathering intelligence on North Korea, it was the first time Kim’s voice had ever been heard.

Shin and Choi remained in the United States, where they had been granted political asylum. Shin even directed the 1995 film Three Ninjas Knuckle Up and produced several more movies under the pseudonym Simon Sheen. They eventually returned to South Korea in 1999, though some South Koreans believed Shin had gone to the North and pledged allegiance to communism voluntarily and treated him with suspicion.

"I could not dare return [to South Korea] without evidence that I had been kidnapped to the North," Shin said in an interview. "If [the Seoul government] charged me with entering the North on my own and cooperating with the North Koreans, I would have had no evidence to deny it."

Shin and Choi's story was explored in depth in Ross Adam and Robert Cannan's documentary The Lovers & the Despot, which was nominated for a Grand Jury Prize at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival.

Shin died in 2006, Choi in 2018. In a 2015 interview with Korea JoongAng Daily, Choi said that she still had nightmares about being pursued by North Korean agents. "Even though [Kim Jong-il] did not use the right means to get what he wanted, I understood his desire to develop the North Korean movie industry," she said. "He mentioned that he wanted to bring about change to North Korean movies, all of which were similar in terms of directing and acting. But please don't misunderstand that my forgiveness of him means that I agree with the North Korean system, because I don't."

Though North Korea never did admit to abducting the pair, in 2002 Kim Jong-il did come clean about snatching several Japanese tourists in the late 1970s and 1980s, and issued a formal apology.

When it finally received a wider release, Pulgasari was dismissed as silly. Now under the leadership of Kim Jong-un, North Korea has yet to make any impact on the international film scene.