Even though Stephen Hillenburg passed away on Monday, Nov. 26 at the age of 57, his ageless work and great legacy will remain forever. According to the National Public Radio, Hillenburg, who is originally from Oklahoma, started his career teaching marine biology at the Orange County Marine Institute in Dana Point, Ca. He later switched gears to focus on animation, earning a degree from the California Institute of the Arts and working on Nickelodeon series “Rocko’s Modern Life” for about four years in the mid-1990s. It was at Nickelodeon that his interests in marine biology and animation combined to create “SpongeBob SquarePants.”
Nickelodeon issued a statement on his death, saying “Steve imbued ‘SpongeBob SquarePants’” with a unique sense of humor and innocence that has brought joy to generations of kids and families everywhere. His utterly original characters and the world of Bikini Bottom will long stand as a reminder of the value of optimism, friendship and the limitless power of imagination.”
Clancy Brown, who plays Mr. Krabs, also gave his remarks regarding Hillenburg’s death in a tweet: “My moment of silence had to be at least a whole day. Steve’s passing is so very sad, but ALS is brutal, unrelenting. He was a sweet, humble dude. Happy. Funny. In love with his family. A faithful friend. A pure heart. He is also a legitimate genius, he never thought so, but I do.”
The show has been running for over twenty years, receiving the title of the longest-running animated series on Nickelodeon. “SpongeBob SquarePants” has seen more than 250 episodes to date, two full-length movies (with a third one scheduled for 2020), and an award-winning Broadway musical.
However, “Spongebob” isn’t just a kid’s TV show — it’s a celebrated work of art that influenced generations. Its unique sense of humor has appealed to both children and adults, its characters completely diverse, and it gives us limitless lessons of friendship and optimism. Spongebob has never failed to encourage the power of our imaginations, even after we left the cartoons nest years ago. Look at all the memes that show enabled us to conjure up.
Spongebob himself, with his overly bubbly and innocent personality, taught us the value of gratitude (he even wrote a song about it) and how, despite the difficult and unpleasant situations we encounter in life, we have the power to completely turn it into our favor. His life is literally a mess: He works underpaid in a dead-end job, continuously fails his driver’s exam and is often the subject of scrutiny. But that doesn’t stop him from making the most out of these basic and lifeless situations, a feature we especially need at this point.
By encouraging the power of imagination, the show taught us to battle skeptics or people who bring down our imagination (Squidward, but we still love the guy). Sure, every kid’s show always presents this idea into an out-of-world experience, but Spongebob does this in a ridiculous, somewhat realistic sense such as ordering a TV and playing inside its cardboard box or building a bubble stand to make a quick penny. It shows us the beauty of thinking like a child and how it can make any day better.
Also, who could forget the soundtrack that one could still recite to this day? The show not only provided us with the aforementioned lessons on life, but also a groovy soundtrack that shaped our childhood with songs like “Ripped Pants,” “Sweet Victory,” and “Goofy Goober.”
So, thank you, Stephen Hillenburg, for creating a pineapple and putting it under the sea because not only did you influence more than one generation, but you also created a culture like no other.