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
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
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
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
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?