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torstar news service
IT’S SPONGEBOB’S WORLD: If you’re a college educated professional or a member of the media, you might assume that either David Chase or James Gandolfini are the biggest names in television, even after The Sopranos has left the air. If you’re almost anyone else over the age of ten, you’d say it’s Simon Cowell, Ryan Seacrest and anyone who made the final five of American Idol.
If you’re a parent of children under 8, however, you know the truth; none of these people mean a thing, and if the cultural camera could pull back for a wide shot, everyone will see what you already know – that they’re cowering in the long shadow of Spongebob Squarepants. Eight years after it debuted, the Nickelodeon show is still the biggest thing on the network, and for its hardcore fans, it’s basically a combination of The Simpsons, Friends, Sex & The City and Law & Order.
In an interview with The Onion’s A.V. Club web site, the voice of Spongebob, comic Tom Kenny, an alumnus of the cult comedy series Mr. Show, talks about the voiceover job that’s come to consume his life. Nickelodeon’s corporate parent is notorious for their aggressive licensing deals, but Spongebob in particular has a ubiquity that will, nonetheless, come to a surprise to anyone who doesn’t have to buy clothes, toothpaste, lunch bags, backpacks, potty seats, hair clips, sunglasses, cutlery, sandals, computer games, furniture, colouring books, night lights or consumer electronics for a child.
By far the strangest item Kenny says he’s ever seen available with his character’s likeness on it was a nipple ring, which at some point had to pass the scrutiny of Viacom chief executive Sumner Redstone. “That was actually official merch,” Kenny recalls. “That was actually licensed. So the nipple-ring/belly-button-ring piercing company came and made their pitch to Viacom. ‘Mr. Redstone, I don't know if you have pierced nipples or not, but they're big.’ So that was a weird one.”
“Who could keep up with the flood of SpongeBob products?” Kenny wonders – as do parents, almost weekly. “I always picture, in the far future, some decimated Earth and some guy in a Hazmat suit, like the last guy on Earth, just wondering what all this shit is with this square yellow thing on it. Like in the Forbidden Zone, like the baby doll in Planet Of The Apes. ‘This must have been some square god that they worshipped. This image is everywhere, Dr. Zaius.’”