By KERRY TINGA
Hundreds of thousands of netizens all over the world could not stop talking about Nickelodean’s latest tweet. “Celebrating Pride with the LGBTQ+ community and their allies this month and every month,” wrote Nickelodeon in a tweet with a rainbow emoji and coloful images by artist Ramzy Masri of three Nickelodeon characters: Schwoz Schwartz from Henry Danger, Korra from The Legend of Korra, and Spongebob Squarepants.
Celebrating #Pride with the LGBTQ+ community and their allies this month and every month
(: by @ramzymasri) pic.twitter.com/pENmTaQB0h
— Nickelodeon (@Nickelodeon) June 13, 2020
Much of the discussion online has been about the anthropomorphic sponge who lives in a pineapple under the sea and has been entertaining viewers since 1999. As expected, many are questioning whether it is “okay” for a children’s network to be alluding to a character’s sexuality. Some, however, have been debating whether the tweet is even meant to allude to sexuality, and, if it does, where across the LGBTQIA+ spectrum does Spongebob identify.
Nickelodeon’s tweet arguably brings to the forefront this Pride Month the often overlooked fact that the umbrella term LGBTQIA+ does not refer to a series of hard categories but is a spectrum of sexual and gender identities.
While many have been quick to label Spongebob as “gay,” many netizens have pointed out that Spongebob creator Stephen Hillenburg said of Spongebob and his best friend Patrick, “We never intended them to be gay. I consider them to be almost asexual.”
Asexuality is, of course, part of the LGBTQIA+ community.
The American non-profit organization The Trevor Project describes asexuality as an umbrella term that exists on a spectrum: “Asexual people–also known as Ace or Aces–may have little interest in having sex, even though most desire emotionally intimate relationships. Within the ace community, there are many ways for people to identify.”
Given that Hillenburg also added in that same interview with People that they were “just trying to be funny and this [sexuality] has nothing to do with the show,” some online commenters have referred to Nickelodean’s tweet as ‘queerbaiting,’ suggesting that the network was simply capitalizing on Pride Month without any of the intentions of depicting or representing the community in a substantial way. Nickelodeon has yet to confirm in exact words whether Spongebob identifies as gay, asexual, or any part of the LGBTQIA+ spectrum.
Meanwhile, the other two characters shown can at least be spoken for.
Schwoz is played by actor Michel D. Cohen, who was misgendered at birth and has had a transgender journey, as he has referred to it in a Time interview. The finale of The Legend of Korra, shown back in 2014, alluded to the show’s protagonist being in a same-sex relationship, which has since been confirmed by co-creators Bryan Konietzko and Mike DiMartino.
It makes sense for Nickelodeon to include actors and characters that are publicly known to be part of the LGBTQIA+ community in their Pride Month tweet. But the fact that Spongebob is thrown into the mix without any confirmation to complete the rule of threes arguably suggests that the representation of the community is minimal on the network.
This Pride Month is the perfect opportunity for companies and corporations to not simply celebrate the LGBTQIA+ community, but to also reflect on ways to improve. As much as I enjoyed watching Spongebob as a child and would never ask for it to be taken off the air over this, now is not the time for vague tweets, but accurate and fair representation throughout the year.