Fact Check

SpongeBob SquarePants Death

Did a child drown after jumping into ocean to see SpongeBob SquarePants?

Published Jan 3, 2003

Claim:   A child drowned after jumping into the ocean to see SpongeBob SquarePants.

Status:   False.

Examples:   [Collected via e-mail, 2002]

We heard this week that Sponge Bob Squarepants was cancelled because a child thought she saw a pineapple in the water and jumped off a boat to find Sponge Bob and drowned.

I just heard a rumor about Nickelodeon cancelling SpongeBob SquarePants because a child drown in the ocean while looking for him.

My children have all heard rumors about a little boy who watched spongebob (on nickeloen), then went into the ocean to see him and drowned. They are all in 3 different schools. I also heard it from the interns at work.

Following is a rumor making the kids rounds lately. My daughter - 09 yrs old, in Nassau County, NY verifies it's truth as the story was corroborated by her cousin 11 from the Boston, MA area-reports:

Sponge Bob Square Pants is being cancelled. A three yr old, on a cruise ship w/ his parents, finishes breakfast and announces he is going to see "Sponge Bob". His parents, thinking that he is going down to the cabin to watch TV agree that that is a good idea. The child proceeds to jump over the rail and drown in his attempt to visit Sponge Bob's who "lives in a pineapple under the sea".

Origins:   Parents


concerned with the pernicious influence of television on children could hardly find more innocuous children's TV fare these days than the Nickelodeon cartoon SpongeBob SquarePants, the animated adventures of a bright yellow sea sponge who dwells in a pineapple within the subterranean city of Bikini Bottom, works as a fry cook at the Krusty Krab, and pals around with his starfish friend, Patrick — usually to the general annoyance of Bob's cranky neighbor, Squidward. SpongeBob SquarePants is the top-rated show on broadcast or cable among youngsters 2 to 11 (even though an estimated 22% of its audience is 18 or older), the program is light-hearted and funny, the main character "has an unending bounty of innocence and old-fashioned ethics," and the themes employed could satisfy even the most TV-cautious parents. (In one installment, Bob and Patrick order a big-screen TV because they want to play with the large box it's packaged in, but the irascible Squidward is too incredulous to believe they could be having so much fun disdaining the large television and using nothing more than an empty box and their


So why did rumors of the drowning of a SpongeBob SquarePants-obsessed child begin to circulate in September of 2002, even though no such tragedy occurred? (The rumor didn't spring from a cancellation of the series; SpongeBob is slated to make his feature film debut in 2004, and Nickelodeon has stockpiled a cache of unaired episodes to dole out until then.) Parents have long been cautious, even fearful, of challenges to their authority and influence over their children, and most anything — particularly the new, unfamiliar, and faddish — that seems to occupy an inordinate amount of their children's time and attention is generally viewed with skepticism and suspicion. Television was a locus of these fears in the mid-1950s:

From mid-decade on, the baleful effects of television on American life became a national obsession. Polls, surveys, and experts all agreed that something terrible was happening. People stayed in the house more and read good books less. Kids were glued to the set for three or four hours a day. The content of programming aroused "morbid emotions in children," stirred up "domestic quarrels, . . . loosed morals and ma[de] people lazy and sodden." The Kefauver Subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee issued a report late in 1955 suggesting that TV caused juvenile delinquency by inuring teenagers to lawless and violent behavior.

The mechanism whereby clean-cut teens suddenly turned into blue-jeaned mobsters while watching TV was not specified in the report; perhaps moving pictures induced criminal restlessness in unformed characters . . . At issue was the change from an accepted style to something unfamiliar, from the Saturday matinee to weeknight TV, from crew cuts to ducktails and sideburns, from Dean Martin and Charles Van Doren to Elvis Presley.

From Superman's leading kids to jump out of windows in attempts to fly to Beavis and Butthead's spurring a spate of adolescent fire-starting, television has spawned its own collection of rumors demonstrating its supposed ability to prompt dangerous behavior in youngsters — as well as reinforcing the notion that television itself is to blame. These rumors are not reflections of real events; they're cautionary tales expressive of adult fears and concerns. Several familiar "parental nightmare" elements can be identified in the Spongebob Squarepants rumor:

  • Parents must be aware of where their children are and what they're doing at all times. Kids can wander off and get into trouble in the blink of an eye, and very young children, especially, lack the requisite knowledge and judgment to enable them to distinguish between the real and the pretend and to avoid harmful situations. A small child might not possess the mental acuity to understand the difference between a real pineapple and Spongebob's cartoon home or to understand that falling into water is dangerous. (The dangers of letting children wander out of sight are driven home in a familiar kidnapping legend, while the "Mother's Little Helper" legend illustrates what can happen when young children confuse the literal with the non-literal.)
  • Parents must monitor their children's interests and activities. Books, television, movies, music, and video games can all influence impressionable young minds. Those who passively abandon their kids to the care of electronic babysitters like television and video games don't know what ideas their children might be absorbing and what behaviors they might be learning. (SpongeBob has already been the subject of claims that the show is gay-influenced, and the hysteria over the satirical Onion article about Harry Potter books sparking a rise in adolescent Satan-worship was an apt demonstration that children are not the only ones who can confuse fiction with reality.)
  • Parents are ultimately responsible for their children's safety. Parents are the main (and last) line of defense in protecting children from harm. Lifeguards and other monitors cannot keep every child out of the water, and blaming the influence of television will not fish a drowning child from the sea. Parents who abdicate ther roles as protectors of ther children must bear the consequences (as another familiar babysitting legend reminds us, nothing can be assumed when it comes to child care, and parents who take shortcuts do so at their children's peril).

Of the four examples of the SpongeBob SquarePants drowning rumor cited above, only the last one even hints at the presence of responsible adults who should have prevented this apocryphal tragedy from occurring. Perhaps that point reflects the true horror of this rumor: parents who leave a three-year-old child to wander the decks of a cruise ship unattended and drown are the ones directly responsible for his death — not television, Nickelodeon, or cartoon characters.

Last updated:   11 September 2006


  Sources Sources:

    Beatty, Sally.   "Something About 'SpongeBob' Whispers 'Gay' to Many Men."

    The Wall Street Journal.   8 October 2002   (p. A1).

    Kinkaid, Lucinda Dillon.   "Spongebob SquarePants."

    Deseret News.   12 December 2002   (p. E1).

    Marling, Karal Ann.   As Seen on TV: The Visual Culture of Everyday Life in the 1950s.

    Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1994.   ISBN 0-674-04882-2   (p. 186-187).

    Moore. Frazier.   "'Spongebob SquarePants': From the Bottom of the Sea to the Top of the Ratings."

    Associated Press.   17 October 2002.

David Mikkelson founded the site now known as snopes.com back in 1994.

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