“I’M READY!” For the past decade that has been the resounding motto of the undersea Nickelodeon superstar SpongeBob Squarepants, an anthropomorphic sea sponge that grills burgers for a living. Most of the time this phrase is shouted with pride as he rushes out the door of his pineapple home towards his dream job at the Krusty Krab, the number-one fast-food joint in the underwater town of Bikini Bottom, famed for serving the delicious, unrivaled Krabby Patty.
To most adults, this premise may appear ridiculous, and for the most part, it is. It’s a creative and silly show meant primarily for children, filled with bright characters, humorous storylines and a clever setting. For the most part, despite some inside jokes adults will catch here and there, they will probably feel there isn’t much more to the series than something to entertain their kids after school in between homework and dinner. On closer inspection, that simply cannot be true. No matter how you feel towards SpongeBob, whether he may be annoying or irresistible, there is an unmistakable pattern in the show regarding his character’s enduring optimism and innocence set against stark pragmatism and negativity, specifically when it deals with his job. Like it or not, SpongeBob has a lot to teach us when it comes to Work Ethics.
In a “you gotta do what you’ve gotta do” world, it’s refreshing to see someone in the media, even if it is a talking sponge, who takes real, genuine pride in his work and isn’t just in it for the money. According to the episode “Best Day Ever,” SpongeBob’s “perfect job starts (his) perfect day,” and on numerous occasions he will refer to his job flipping burgers (an occupation that’s usually seen as degrading) as his lifelong calling. During evaluations he will not accept a perfect score and will insist he needs improvement (“The Algae’s Always Greener”). And when it comes to the customer, he will go to unseen lengths to provide quality service, including remembering all of the customers’ names (“Good Ol’ Whatshisname”), and traversing through the elements to deliver food just to “see the look on the customer’s face,” (“Pizza Delivery”). But, the question remains, is SpongeBob’s occupational enthusiasm an admirable example, or just blind fervor?
As far as the blind fervor argument goes, the Krusty Krab is not exactly a place to worship. SpongeBob’s foil is his disgruntled neighbor and coworker Squidward, who has an absolute abhorrence for work. His view of the job goes as follows: “I order the food. You cook the food. The customer gets the food. We do that for 40 years, and then we die” (“My Pretty Seahorse”). More often than not he will tell customers who ask for recommendations that he hates everything on the menu, and will even go as far as to tell everyone he hates them. Even the stingy manager Mr. Krabs is too penny-pinched to worry about taking care of his own establishment. When an old employee, Jim, comes for a visit, he encourages SpongeBob to move on to bigger and better things, calling the Krusty Krab a “dump.” SpongeBob, of course, is horrified. Mr. Krabs assures him however, that the latter is true: “Oh, this place is a dump, all right. But it’s my dump” (“The Original Fry Cook”).
So, SpongeBob puts the Krusty Krab on a pedestal, but why? Does he just love the job that much? I think there’s more to it than that. SpongeBob handles a lot of everyday situations with zeal and enthusiasm. When he gets up in the morning, he is sometimes known to shout happily, “I’M AWAKE!” Some of his favorite things to do are menial, like catching jellyfish then letting them go, and making to-do lists on his days off from work. He sees the world through rose-colored glasses.
If optimism is SpongeBob’s bread, than consideration is his jellyfish jelly. The importance of the needs of his fellow man (er, fish?) goes way beyond the doors of the Krusty Krab and into his daily life as well. Take for instance, a very important episode concerning Ethics, “Walking Small.” Plankton, a fast-food rival of Mr. Krabs, is trying to build a second site of his restaurant, the Chum Bucket at the beach to bring in more customers. He runs into SpongeBob, and tries to trick him into helping. In doing so, he tries to convince SpongeBob to be more assertive and to take things from others so he can have what he wants. When all of SpongeBob’s friends leave the beach, SpongeBob becomes disheartened. However, Plankton informs him, “Nice guys finish last! Only aggressive people conquer the world!” SpongeBob replies, “Well, what about aggressively nice people?” Following his unshakable sense of morality, SpongeBob goes on to right his wrongs and brings everyone back, much to Plankton’s dismay.
Let’s get back to the whole Work Ethics thing. SpongeBob, a generally enthusiastic and compassionate creature, brings these values to work with him, and makes do with what he has. He’s a good worker because these values shine at work in the excellent quality of his love-labored food, and his diligence at maintaining a clean, happy atmosphere for everyone. Bringing optimism and the will to work hard to the table may not make the job more glamorous but they certainly help to boost confidence, improve work habits, and illicit a positive emotional and financial response from clientele, something even a money-hungry Mr. Krabs can appreciate.
Not all of SpongeBob’s antics should be imitated, but his work ethic is a true lesson to be learned for all of us. It’s teaching us to take a more innocent view of the world and to be a little more absorbent of what life has to throw at us. Of course, I guess it’s easy to see the glass as half-full when you’re always living in water, but in spite of that, now and then it couldn’t hurt for us to have the attitude that nothing’s better than “serving up smiles.” What? Is it Monday already? I’M READY!