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Postcards from Plankton

February 18, 2005
Satire by Dennis Hans

Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings is right to be concerned about the subtle and not-so-subtle messages in TV programs aimed at children. I leave it to others to debate Spellings' decision to press PBS to cancel the episode of "Postcards from Buster" that included in the background a family headed up by two moms. What has me flabbergasted is why no one is talking about the animated character whose perverse lifestyle should offend all parents and cabinet secretaries, straight or gay.

Sheldon Plankton, a.k.a. "Plankton," is the villain of the SpongeBob SquarePants show. Nothing wrong with that. Some of the most beloved cartoons in history have featured an evil character. Where would Popeye be without Bluto? Would a generation of kids have eaten their spinach if Popeye had turned to the muscle-building leaf to gain strength for an afternoon of gardening?

If Plankton wants to devote most of his time to stealing the secret formula to the delicious, mouth-watering Krabby Patty sandwich, that's his business. But when he flaunts his bizarre lifestyle in front of America's children, that's our business.

Plankton is a technosexual. The apple of his one and only eye, Karen, is a computer.

A technosexual is someone whose most significant loving relationship is with a piece of technology. Right now, it's an "alternative" lifestyle. But it'll be mainstream by mid-century, for if technosexuality maintains it's alarming growth rate it will surpass heterosexuality as America's lifestyle of choice in 2023.

Not every technosexual chooses a computer for a mate. Some love their TV or iPod, others their sports car, Harley or SUV. Regardless of the machine, appliance or gadget, technosexuals receive from their "special something" the stuff that's missing from their interactions with humans (or in Plankton's case, sea critters). Maybe it's responsiveness, cheap thrills, visual or intellectual stimulation or unconditional companionship. Typically, it's a combination of two or more of these factors.

Parents and Secretary Spellings should be particularly concerned with Plankton's influence for this obvious reason: Because of his tiny stature - Plankton is a specimen of plankton - he more than any other resident of Bikini Bottom is likely to appeal to tiny viewers and shape their choices as they mature.

If the SpongeBob creative team presented the Plankton/Karen marriage as the sick, society-destroying relationship it really is, I would have no problem. After all, negative role models can teach, too. Young viewers can learn how not to act and how to distinguish uplifting lifestyles from those that will only bring pain, humiliation and regret.

Unfortunately, the Plankton/Karen relationship is depicted as normal and healthy, and as comfy as an old shoe. Karen is a traditional, stay-at-home computer wife, and she's always there to greet her hubby with kind words and a home-cooked virtual-meal when he returns from yet another long, fruitless day trying to steal that secret formula.

Sure, Plankton would prefer that Karen serve up "holographic meatloaf" a tad less frequently. And yes, when he's on the losing end of an argument he's likely to snap, "Can it, Computer Wife." For her part, Karen sometimes needles him about his first name, particularly when his hick relatives are in town. But such playful joshing is a sign not of discontent but a happy, committed coupling. As the saying goes, "To kid is to love."

Young viewers see that Plankton has benefited enormously from technosexual matrimony, for it has provided him the one honest relationship in his life. In his dealings with SpongeBob and Mr. Krabs (proprietor of The Krusty Krab, where SpongeBob is the fry cook), he routinely lies and cheats in his efforts to discover the secret formula for the Krabby Patty. But he's a faithful straight-shooter when it comes to Karen; his one and only eye has never wandered.

If you think nothing could be worse than this rose-colored window on the technosexual world, think again. The SpongeBob braintrust uses contrast to make that appalling lifestyle seem all the more appealing by painting in the most depressing hues the lives of the show's only two regular characters who are heterosexual adults. A child who grows up associating the heterosexual lifestyle with Mr. Krabs and Mrs. Puff will, upon maturity, look long and hard for an alternative.

Mr. Krabs is a penny-pinching crab, while Mrs. Puff leads a life of quiet desperation as boating instructor to the dumbest fish and sponges in the sea. Both are widows, but with many years of loving left, if they could just find the right mate.

Mr. Krabs, a single parent of a girlie-girl teenage whale who is said to take after her mother (and how exactly do parents explain to their kids that bizarre biological outcome?), expressed scant interest in the opposite sex until the "Krusty Love" episode in the show's third season. That's when he spotted an attractive, Rubenesque puff fish sitting alone in The Krusty Krab.

"Get a load of that curvy cutie," he told SpongeBob, unaware that the lady in question was his boating instructor. When SpongeBob offered to introduce him to Mrs. Puff, Mr. Krabs nearly had a cow. The show's sole representative of hot-to-trot, adult-male heterosexuality blubbered in her presence like a humpback, unable to remember his own name.

After Mr. Krabs mustered the courage to ask her out, impressionable young viewers witnessed the most hapless courtship in underwater history, with Mr. Krabs torn between love for his money and his fevered desire to shower Mrs. Puff with expensive gifts and wine and dine her at Bikini Bottom's five-star restaurant, Fancy. His torment grew so great that he brought SpongeBob along on a date to guard his wallet and prevent him from spending one additional dime - a decision which brought Mr. Krabs to the edge of a nervous breakdown.

So here is the barely subliminal message from SpongeBob's insidious creators: The heterosexual lifestyle is for cheap, clumsy fools and hard-up honies who punctuate long stretches of loneliness with an occasional "date from hell," while the technosexual lifestyle means bonding forever with your one true love.

Which will your child choose?

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