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SpongeBob SquarePants Fan Theories That Change The Way You'll Watch

Popular Nickelodeon children's cartoon, "SpongeBob SquarePants," debuted in 1999, and is still running in 2023. The show follows the titular yellow sponge in rectangular trousers, voiced by comedian and veteran voice actor Tom Kenny, whose credits include everything from "The Powerpuff Girls" to "Adventure Time." SpongeBob himself is an eternally optimistic fast food worker who gets into various wacky adventures under the sea alongside his many unique marine companions. This includes his dim-witted but lovable best friend Patrick Star (Bill Fagerbakke), his greedy boss Mr. Krabs (Clancy Brown), and his depressed and cynical neighbor and co-worker Squidward (Rodger Bumpass).

Over the years, "SpongeBob SquarePants" has had a massive impact on pop culture at large and has spawned three blockbuster movies (and a fourth on the way, via Deadline), spin-off shows, tons of video games, toys, theme park rides, and even a highly-successful Broadway musical featuring music from David Bowie, Brian Eno, The Flaming Lips, and more. The show is also the source of out-of-context images for some of the most popular memes right now (via Know Your Meme).

So, due to its undeniable massive impact, it makes sense that the world of "SpongeBob SquarePants" would lead to tons of weird, and intricate fan theories over time. But which ones will most change the way you view the show? Find out below!

Characters' mutations from nuclear testing

One of the most persistent "SpongeBob SquarePants" fan theories is that the reason the underwater denizens of Bikini Bottom — where SpongeBob and his friends live — is they are all being mutated by nuclear tests. This is mainly due to the fact that the name of the aforementioned Bikini Bottom is similar in name to Bikini Atoll, where the U.S. military carried out about two-dozen nuclear bomb test detonations between 1946-1958 (via History.com). Kenny seemed to confirm Bikini Bottom's location at Bikini Atoll in a 2015 interview with Huffington Post (though he does dismiss this theory in general).

However, the "nuclear tests leading to mutation" theory was first popularized by Reddit user antinestio, and there is more evidence from other users that help to solidify its validity. For instance, a deleted user in the same Reddit thread talked about the "pie bomb episode" (Season 2's "Dying for Pie"), where "at the end of the episode ... the pie lands in Squidward's face and you see a nuclear explosion is footage from an actual nuclear explosion at the Bikini Atoll."

And there is indeed truth that exposure to nuclear radiation can change the biological makeup of creatures. According to studies, "low doses [of nuclear radiation] may damage or alter a cell's genetic code, or DNA" (via The United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission). Sure, nuclear radiation doesn't allow sea creatures to begin speaking English, but fire can't exist underwater either, so maybe just relax?

Krabby patties are actually crab meat

Mr. Krabs is SpongeBob's greedy boss at The Krusty Krab fast food joint. The character is inexplicably voiced by actor Clancy Brown, who also provided the sinister baritone for the DCEA version of Lex Luthor — another embodiment of evil capitalist overreach.

The show contains many, many instances of Mr. Krabs' violent cheapness leading to problems in Bikini Bottom, such as when he started charging his own employees unreasonable bills in the Season 2 episode, "Squidward on Strike." However, the fan theory from the "i-was-today-years-old-when" account on Tumblr suggests that Mr. Krabs' greed and selfishness actually go even deeper and darker than what would seem to be at first glance. Basically, the theory suggests that not only are Mr. Krabs' food supplies cheap and unhealthy but is in fact actual crab meat.

Unfortunately, whether this is canonically true or not, there is actually ample evidence to back this assertion up nonetheless. For instance, the shape of the Krusty Krabs restaurant building is the same shape as a literal lobster trap, there seem to be no other crabs in Bikini Bottom besides Mr. Krabs, and his mother, as well as the fact that no one really knows what the secret ingredient of the Mr. Krabby's krabby patties actually is. Most damningly, in the Season 3 episode, "Mid-Life Crustacean," Mr. Krabs eats one of his burgers and he literally states "So that's what I taste like."

Every character has a mental illness

Mental illness is always a touchy subject to broach in media even at the best of times. While there have been many great examples over the years of respectful and nuanced takes in films, TV shows, and animation, there has also been a lot that missed the mark. And, given that "SpongeBob SquarePants" has such a fun, goofy, and irreverent tone, it would seem an unlikely candidate to depict characters suffering from deep mental issues, especially while being geared toward children.

However, a fan theory from Reddit user StrawberryUwUGirl, explains in great detail how all the various marine characters in "SpongeBob SquarePants" actually suffer from some form of mental illness. To be fair, there is actually a decent amount of textual evidence from various episodes that alludes to things like SpongeBob being addicted to co-dependency, Patrick having multiple personality disorder, and SpongeBob's driver's ed teacher, Mrs. Puff, showing signs of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Now, there's a really strong possibility that none of this textual evidence was even purposefully done by the creators. In fact, the reason why there may be a lot of textual evidence may be due to the fact that these characters may have been based on real people in the creator and writers' lives — or even based on themselves in some ways. For instance, "Community" showrunner Dan Harmon realized he may have been on the autistic spectrum while writing for the character of Abed. (via Vulture).

The Krusty Krab is actually a front for a drug operation

Children's cartoons aren't strangers to adding adult themes into them, containing jokes that will only make sense to their parents, but not to the intended audience themselves. This includes, arguably, Shaggy's entire personality in the original "Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!" cartoon as the mystery group's resident stoner (lampshaded in the recent "Velma" reboot). Even Nickelodeon cartoons such as "Rocko's Modern Life" had some pretty risque things in it, such as Rocko working as a telephone sex operator, or "Rugrats," which showed Grandpa Pickles' various porn magazines.

This is all to say that while on the surface Reddit user msgrmdma's "SpongeBob SquarePants" fan theory that The Krusty Krab is being run as some sort of drug operation by Mr. Krabs — ala Gus Fring and the "Los Pollos Hermanos" restaurant in "Breaking Bad" — might seem a bit too "adult" for a kid's show, but that doesn't mean that isn't the case at all.

For proof, msgrmda states that Mr. Krabs is "a jittery, fast talking mess" — symptoms associated with cocaine use (which is a common drug of choice for chefs and restaurateurs, via The Guardian). SpongeBob himself seems to be an amphetamine user, due to being "overwhelmingly happy, [b]ut as soon as even the slightest something sets the character off, he is at the lowest of his low. " Patrick also obviously exhibits stereotypically stoner behavior, like being slow-witted, always laughing, and constantly hungry.

Characters represent Seven Deadly Sins

Human beings are predisposed by thousands of years of evolution to be prone to pattern recognition (via Science Daily). This also means humans can see things — especially spiritual or religious things — where they might not actually be, such as Jesus' face appearing on toast, or people mistaking electronic interference for communicating ghosts (via Time). This is exacerbated when talking about fictional shows, as writers and creators have indeed been known to add Biblical or other religious imagery and or symbolism into their works. This is especially true of anything done by Zack Snyder.

So it makes sense that people, such as Reddit user cucumber_d, would see religious parallels in something as innocuous as a children's show like "SpongeBob SquarePants." However, to be fair, their rationale is more robust than would seem at first glance. For instance, SpongeBob apparently represents lust because of his love of all things. This goes for the other sins as well; Patrick is gluttony due to his constant eating, Mr. Krabs is greed because of how cheap and stingy he is with money, Plankton is envy as shown in his quest for Mr. Krabs' secret recipe and Squidward is wrath due to his hatred for SpongeBob. Even if this theory is not necessarily canonically true (which is probably the case), the various sins seem to still fit these characters quite well nonetheless.

SpongeBob is actually super smart

SpongeBob is known to be many things — optimistic, naive, hard-working, friendly, brave, etc. One thing he is not typically known for is being particularly intelligent, especially not super intelligent. However, that is the basis of the fan theory by a deleted user from Reddit. While, like a lot of these theories, the idea seems pretty far-fetched at first, there is indeed actually a lot of evidence for this theory's validity.

For instance, the Reddit user posts several examples throughout the series to plead their case, like in the Season 2 episode, "Artist Unknown," where we see SpongeBob become an artistic prodigy and create a masterpiece with "one stroke of his hand," with no formal training whatsoever. Other evidence includes conducting a beautiful musical performance in Season 2's "Band Geeks", as well as creating entirely new art forms, like "bubble blowing."

In fact, later on, the original poster even responds to another user in the Reddit thread about the fact that even though SpongeBob constantly fails his driving tests with Mrs. Puff, in one episode he's actually able to drive perfectly blindfolded (though, admittedly later fails when taking the blindfold off). But still!

Squidward is SpongeBob's guardian

One of the most important relationships throughout the entire "SpongeBob SquarePants" series is the tense relationship between the eponymous SpongeBob and his depressed, prickly squid neighbor aptly named Squidward. On the surface, this character dynamic is an old one, similar to a lot of other classic comedies between diametrically-opposed neighbors, such as Homer Simpson and Ned Flanders in "The Simpsons." And, like that previous example, it would appear that the circumstances leading to the two living near each other are purely circumstantial and coincidental. 

However, the fan theory proposed by yet another Reddit user, this one named dirtspp, states that their relationship in fact is anything but coincidental. The theory states that Squidward is actually SpongeBob's secret guardian and is living next to our hapless hero to take care of him. According to the theory, due to SpongeBob's behavior being extremely childlike and accident-prone, SpongeBob's parents had asked Squidward to keep an eye on their special child. This would supposedly explain why Squidward doesn't just move away from Bikini Bottom due to his annoyance with SpongeBob's wacky antics.

Like all these theories, it's unlikely any of this is actually canonical. And, while it potentially adds some dramatic nuance to their relationship, it also cheapens the comedy of their mismatched personalities and makes Squidward a lot less relatable.

Mrs. Puff has a secret and dark past

Mrs. Puff, voiced by actress Mary Jo Catlett, is SpongeBob's constantly put-upon and stressed-out puffer fish driving instructor in many memorable episodes of "SpongeBob SquarePants." In her various appearances, SpongeBob attempts to learn to drive which then often leads to disaster for Mrs. Pearl. However, according to Reddit user Chengweiyingji, Mrs. Pearl's mild-mannered and inconspicuous demeanor (outside of her fretting for her safety at the hands of SpongeBob's reckless driving) might be hiding something dark ... and even murderous.

The evidence is mainly isolated to specific lines in a few episodes — but they are admittedly pretty damning. In fact, this might be one of the most plausible theories on this entire list. This includes her line in the Season 2 episode, "No Free Ride," "I'll have to move to a new city, start a new boating school with a new name! No. Not again. I've got to end this before it begins. Not again!" In another episode in the same season, "Krusty Love," it's revealed Mrs. Puff's husband is dead and turned into a live-action lamp. And, finally, there's her murderous road rage in the Season 8 episode, "Demolition Doofus," where she clearly runs over pedestrians and is angry that SpongeBob is still alive after she enters him into a demolition derby.

Mr. Krabs is acually Pearl's sugar daddy

Despite Mr. Krabs' intense selfishness and narcissism — as we mentioned in a previous entry — he does also seemingly have a softer side as well. This is most emblematic in the way he takes care of his prissy teenage sperm whale stepdaughter, Pearl (Lori Alan). And, despite being a popular blonde cheerleader at Bikini High School, she is actually very sweet and kind.

However, the fan theory proposed by itman290 from Reddit actually states that not even Mr. Krabs' fatherly relationship with Pearl is purely selfless. According to itman290, Mr. Krabs is actually Pearl's sugar daddy, meaning their relationship isn't a father-daughter one at all, but rather a (seemingly consensual) sexual relationship based on keeping her happy with money and gifts in exchange for obvious favors.

The evidence is relatively slim — and gets pretty icky when it's revealed that Pearl is canonically sixteen, (via the SpongeBob Wiki) – but it does make a certain amount of sense when you think about how greedy, stingy, and downright evil Mr. Krabs can be. It honestly seems more out of character for Mr. Krabs to be caring or selfless in that way at all especially considering how even his care towards SpongeBob can be read as exploitative due to SpongeBob being vastly underpaid when compared to how valuable SpongeBob's talent as a cook is.

All the characters are actually dead

Now we've come to it at last, the most ubiquitously dreaded and cliché of all the internet fan theories about any intellectual property: the "everyone is actually dead the whole time" theory. Everything from "Rugrats," to "Ed, Edd, 'n Eddy," to "Winnie the Pooh," and so on, have all had their share of this particular theory and those examples are just barely scratching the surface. So, of course, there is also a fan theory that all the characters in "SpongeBob SquarePants" are dead and living in some sort of purgatory.

One of the more popular versions of this theory is proposed in the fan theories wiki for SpongeBob, which states that the original SpongeBob from the beginning of the series actually died at the end of 2004's "The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie" — where he and Patrick completely dry up in the sun — and the rest of the series from then on is either in his head, or it's not really him. That's because, according to this particular theory, since seas sponges reproduce asexually, the SpongeBob seen after that sequence in the film could be SpongeBob's child (which would also explain how he got less intelligent in the proceeding seasons).