A Media Literacy Analysis

One of my favorite shows growing up was the hit Nickelodeon cartoon Spongebob Squarepants. The silly, yet captivating show was very popular with my generation, and some of its best lines became staples in everyday conversation. One of the most well-received and memorable episodes is “Chocolate with Nuts,” in which the two protagonists, Spongebob and Patrick, go door-to-door selling chocolate bars in an attempt to become rich and live the “fancy life.” Before long, the two friends resort to lying about the candy’s effects in order to sell more chocolate bars. For me, the episode had some of the show’s most hilarious jokes and punch lines and really illustrated how a children’s show can address important ideas through silly humor. In critically analyzing the episode, I now understand that it reflects several cultural, economical and social ideas that are very evident with some thought but exist discreetly amid the show’s standard characters, plotlines and humor.

The “Chocolate with Nuts” episode is very significant on a cultural level. An important aspect of culture is food, and the episode centers on Spongebob and Patrick selling chocolate bars. The fact that they choose chocolate bars as their merchandise points to the candy’s high demand and irresistibility. Spongebob and Patrick know chocolate is a very popular food item, though chocolate bars contain high levels of sugar and fat and are considered junk food. Another food item featured in the episode is “barnacle chips,” which is a play on potato chips. Because the show takes place in the ocean, the show often combines our culture with aspects of marine life. Spongebob and Patrick see a billboard advertising barnacle chips and note the product’s success, despite its high salt and fat content. Thus, both food items featured as successful products are junk food, highlighting the domination of unhealthy food in American cuisine. Coupled with food, fashion is an important aspect of culture. This episode uses fashion as a symbol of social class and intelligence, much like American society. Spongebob wears a dress shirt, tie and pants, and he is hardworking, ambitious and middle class. On the other hand, Patrick simply wears tropical shorts with no shirt, and he is lackadaisical, dimwitted, and low class. The character that repeatedly scams Spongebob and Patrick into buying useless products wears a suit and tie, and he is high class and astute. Also, most of the customers wear casual shirts and pants and are middle class. After selling all their merchandise, Spongebob and Patrick use the money to rent out a fancy restaurant, wearing top hats and suits to dinner. Thus, their wardrobes now represent high class. These visual cues are symbolic of American culture, which often links formal attire with high class and intelligence, casual attire with middle class, and little attire with low class and stupidity. The episode highlights the notion in American society that fashion is a symbol of wealth, class and intelligence.

In addition to culture, the “Chocolate with Nuts” episode is significant on an economic level. An important aspect of economy is consumerism, and this episode satirizes the inane materialism that pervades American culture. The plot fixates on Spongebob and Patrick’s fascination with the fancy lifestyle and all of its luxuries. They read a Fancy Living Digest magazine in awe, which features high-priced, silly products, such as a swimming pool in a swimming pool. In selling chocolate bars, they desire to become rich and purchase similar luxuries. Throughout the episode, Spongebob and Patrick go door-to-door selling their candy and are easily tricked into purchasing merchandise from the same guy. He persuades them to buy candy bar carrying bags at two houses in a row, which pokes fun at the American habit of buying things you do not need. Spongebob and Patrick end up selling the majority of their chocolate bars to just one customer, who has an intense and frightening craving for chocolate that sends him chasing and screaming at the two chocolate bar salesman throughout the episode. The customer’s crazy and barbaric attitude satirizes the chaos and insanity that consumerism incites, often on Black Friday. At the end of the episode, after succeeding in selling all of their chocolate bars, Spongebob and Patrick immediately spend all of their money to rent out a fancy restaurant for one night. This absurd purchase mirrors many people’s impulsivity, lack of frugality and materialistic values. Thus the episode makes fun of several aspects of consumerism. Coupled with consumerism, capitalism is also an important aspect of economy. This episode pokes fun at the deception and lies that the free market allows advertisers and salespeople to employ in their marketing strategies. Spongebob and Patrick do not have success selling chocolate bars until they see a false billboard advertisement of a successful product. They decide to emulate that strategy and start telling outrageous lies about the effects of consuming the chocolate bars, including the abilities to fly and walk through walls. The guy, who sold Spongebob and Patrick the candy bar carrying bags, deceives them again by donning a full body cast, pretending to have been born with paper skin and glass bones. His nonsensical guilt trip succeeds in convincing Spongebob and Patrick to purchase crates of his own chocolate bars to help pay his medical bills. All of these silly lies symbolize the unethical and deceitful practices that free market competition encourages. Thus the episode satirizes capitalism’s corruption and lies and the senseless materialism that dominate the American consumerist economy.

The American consumers that control the economy also make up the social atmosphere in the country, and the “Chocolate with Nuts” episode has much significance on a social level. An important aspect of social relationships is social class, which is the central theme of this episode. In society, wealth is power and outlines a social hierarchy that grounds many social relationships. People typically associate with those who belong to the same social class but many inherently desire to climb up the social ladder and be among the wealthy. This hierarchy is showcased in this episode among the show’s three main characters: Spongebob, Patrick and Squidward. They all live on the same street and are among the middle and lower classes. But Squidward bemoans his state of living and despises his association with Spongebob and Patrick. He desires to be part of the upper class and heavily enjoys reading the Fancy Living Digest magazine. In this episode, the magazine is accidentally delivered to Spongebob, who spends enough time reading it with Patrick to develop an itch for wealth before Squidward angrily snatches it from them. When Spongebob and Patrick become wealthy, they end up simply renting out a fancy restaurant with two old women as their dates. The episode thus mocks the notion that the rich and fancy lifestyle is the ideal life, and Squidward’s hostility towards Spongebob and Patrick demonstrates how social class can characterize social relationships. In addition to social glass, gender is an important aspect of social relationships. The masculine gender is dominant in American society, and the show and this episode emphasize that dominance through its majority male ensemble. The show’s three main characters are males, along with the majority of the customers, whose wacky personalities drive their characters. However, the one female customer’s old age drives her character, and she is referred to as a “young lady” by Spongebob to flatter her. These personalities represent society’s double standard in judging men and women. Men are typically judged on their characters, whereas women are judged on their appearances. Thus the episode represents both social class and gender hierarchies, which underline and characterize many social relationships in society.

In conclusion, the “Chocolate with Nuts” Spongebob Squarepants episode is very memorable and meaningful to me personally, and it is highly significant on cultural, economic and social levels. The episode addresses the dominance of junk food, symbolizes fashion as a symbol for wealth and intelligence, satirizes the corruption of capitalism and the absurdity of consumerism and highlights the social class and gender hierarchies that outline social relationships in society. I have thus furthered my understanding of this episode as both a media text and cultural item by closely examining and critiquing it through cultural, economic and social lenses. In addition to enhancing my media literacy, I found it incredible that a simple children’s cartoon covered so many essential ideas and issues through farcical and outrageous humor. “Chocolate with Nuts” is hence one of my favorite episodes of Spongebob Squarepants, which was a huge cultural phenomenon throughout my childhood. The episode takes me back to my childhood and reminds me of how silly, fun and carefree life is as a child. Now, I can couple my feelings of nostalgia with a critical analysis and better media literacy.

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