The Spongebob Effect: Immorality and Commercial Children’s Television Programming

I spent the weekend with a gang — yes, a Gang! — of rowdy nine-year-olds from the Midwest.  I was shocked — yes, Shocked! — and disappointed by their crassness, overt sarcasm and apt insensitivity to those around them, and I blame antisocial, for-profit, children’s television programming for the damning result.

When I asked one of the parents why these kids were so nonchalantly, but heavily, insulting each other throughout the day, I was told, “It’s the Spongebob Effect.”  The kids watch Spongebob Squarepants all day long and that’s what they take away from the show:  Cruelty and insult.

I looked at the parent in question and asked, “So why do you let your kids watch Spongebob if it is leaking immorality into their lives?”

“I think it’s a funny show,” was the dead-faced, deadpan, reply, “I can’t stand the purple dinosaur, but Spongebob, I can watch, too.”

“So it’s about your convenience and not you child’s socio-psychological welfare?”

“It’s just a TV show,” was the scolded retort.  Conversation over.

It is dangerous to mix adult humor for reception by young minds because it creates a confusing devil’s brew for the young, the immature, and the inexperienced.  What is real?  What is appropriate?  Do we really want Spongebob teaching our children how to interact with the world around them?

“The Simpsons” is another anarchic, human anathema of a for-profit “children’s show” that actually preaches immorality enrobed in “humor” for easier kid consumption.  Do we really want Bart Simpson’s morality to be the morality bred in the home?

The current staple of immoral children’s programming is only following what was broadcast before, and I know “The Three Stooges” is just as confusing to the child’s mind of proper behavior today as it was when the movie shorts first appeared in the 1950’s.  Real life “Stooges” Eye-gouging was such a big problem back then that Moe Howard had to go on television to teach kids it wasn’t real, it was more like a movie “magic trick.”  Even then, sixty years ago, the parenting of children was left to television stars.

When I was a kid, professional “wrestling” was really big on Saturday morning television.  We admired and imitated the moves of good guys Jumpin’ Jim Brunzell and Greg Gagne as well as baddies like The Iron Sheik and Baron “The Iron Claw” Von Raschke and, of course, meanie manager, Bobby “The Brain” Heenan:

One weekend, we were having a slumber party at my house, and we all started playing AWA — The American Wrestling Association — and wrestled each other.

We put each other in headlocks that actually choked, scissor leg locks that actually squeezed you hard enough to vomit, and pile drivers where bare heads were impaled against concrete floors.  It was dangerous.  It was stupid.  It was immoral — and yet we were only imitating what was set before our eyes on television.  It took one kid actually getting his head cracked open to wake us up to the fact that what we were doing was real, and had severe consequences, and that what we were watching on television was fake.  We were all of ten years old.

If we hope to raise moral children, we need to teach them the difference between reality and realism and comedy and comity.  If we abandon our children to the Boob Tube, then we are only asking for what we get in return:  Mocking, uncivilized behavior, and contempt for the adult world swirling around them encapsulated in flashes of confusing memes, random advertising memos and directed, but unrealistic, expectations of behavior based on their unlimited exposure to commercial children’s television programming.