SpongeBob SquarePants’ ‘coming out’ tweet sparks discussion on Chinese social media

By Ji Yuqiao Source:Global Times Published: 2020/6/15 16:28:40

A sculpture of SpongeBob SquarePants is showed in Shenyang, Northeast China's Liaoning Province. Photo: VCG

 Nickelodeon, the home of popular animated show SpongeBob SquarePants, tweeted a photo of the titular character alongside the channel's other major LGBTQ+ characters on Saturday to celebrate Pride Month. The show of support has been seen as a "coming out" of sorts, which in turn sparked discussion on China social media. 

June is the Pride Month for the LGBTQ+ community. On Saturday, Nickelodeon posted the photo on Twitter along with the message: "Celebrating Pride with the LGBTQ+ community and their allies this month and every month." 

In the photo, SpongeBob wearing a rainbow striped-tie and with a rainbow tint drawn on his body, is shown alongside transgender actor Michael Cohen as Schwoz Schwartz from Henry Danger and bisexual heroine Korra from The Legend of Korra.

Some Chinese media including the magazine Vista and Life Week reported the tweet on China's Twitter-like Sina Weibo with the hashtag "SpongeBob comes out." Thousands of netizens joined in on the discussion of the topic.

Some Chinese netizens were opposed to having the cartoon character involved in what they consider a complicated social issue. 

"SpongeBob is just an adorable virtual character for children, why does he have to be politically correct?" one of netizens commented on Sina Weibo.

Many netizens holding this view said they were afraid a cartoon character targeted at children could end up misleading young minds if it introduced such a controversial issue too early. 

Those who disagreed with this stance said that supporting gender diversity through animation works is beneficial.

Peng Yanzi, founder of LGBT Rights Advocacy of China, noted that the tweet did not confirm SpongeBob was a member of the LGBTQ+ community, but "no matter if this was a coming out or a support tweet to the community, it can allow more people, including teenagers, to see differences in the world and guide them to understand and accept gender diversity," he told the Global Times on Monday.

Peng emphasized the importance of sex education among teenagers. He said he supports cartoons including SpongeBob SquarePants and Disney works displaying LGBTQ elements as they can allow young people to see diversity so that it becomes a part of their common knowledge, which can help avoid teenagers hurt themselves or others as they grow. 

SpongeBob SquarePants, which first aired in 1999, is a US animated comedy television series created by marine science educator and animator Stephen Hillenburg for Nickelodeon. The series tell the adventures and endeavors of the title character and his aquatic friends in the underwater city of Bikini Bottom.

All 13 seasons of the animated series have a more than 9.0/10 rating on popular Chinese media review platform Douban.


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