Paul McNamee: SpongeBob’s wisdom wipes Brexit fears away

We mustn’t be sniffy about diverting, absurd brilliance

“F is for fire that burns down the whole town, U is for Uranium… bombs! N is for no survivors!”

While you may read this as the negotiating position for either (or both!) sides within the Brexit fandango, it is, surprisingly, not.

These are the words of SpongeBob SquarePants. For those of you unfamiliar with SpongeBob SquarePants (shame on you) he is a yellow sponge who lives in a pineapple at the bottom of the sea.

He works in a fast-food burger joint and wears brown shorts and a red tie. He has a friend called Patrick who is a starfish and not hugely bright. He is always joyously, unbreakably, happy. I’ll be straight with you. SpongeBob is not actually real. He is a cartoon. He features in a TV show of the same name, and in a number of big screen movies too.

Last week SpongeBob’s creator Stephen Hillenburg died from motor neurone disease – that vicious, cruel, unstoppable horror. He was just 57. It is sad news.

Like a lot of people, I became aware of SpongeBob through my children. They were entranced. After sitting down to watch it once, so was I.


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It is very, very funny, and at its centre is a big, glorious heart.

The heart, hot diggity! I challenge you to watch the Best Day Ever sequence and not want to punch the air and wipe away a tear. It’s a show that has subtle sophistication beyond gags about a jazz-sax playing squid. It captures the wide-eyed innocence of childhood that passes too quickly and nods at how we know it passes.

Most of all, it’s really funny. Laugh-out-loud, knockabout funny.

There’s a line in absurdity to it that can be easily traced back to the Marx Brothers: “You don’t need a licence to drive a sandwich!” This is not mere cultural ephemera.

David Bowie knew this. One of the few things he did in the early years of his Noughties New York exile was to appear in SpongeBob. In the episode Atlantis SquarePantis he played the Lord Royal Highness, the emperor of the Atlanteans of Atlantis.

I became aware of SpongeBob through my children. They were entranced. After sitting down to watch it once, so was I

“What is art?” he asked. “Art is what happens when you learn to dream,” he answered. Preach, David!

Last week, during the interminable argument about the details of the TV debate between May and Corbyn on December 9, the Labour leader came out with the most focused thing he has said about Brexit in months. He was reluctant to go head to head with the final of I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here!

I’m with him. I’d rather watch that. And I REALLY like talking about Brexit. I’m a Brexit bore.

But, you know, Noel and ’Arry; the fragile masculinity of Nick Knowles; the brilliance of Holly and Dec as hosts.

The show, ultimately, won’t solve the riddles of the universe, but we mustn’t be sniffy about diverting, absurd brilliance.

At this time of a national nervous breakdown, it’s especially welcome. Watch it, then go and celebrate the genius of Stephen Hillenburg.

SpongeBob – he knows nothing and he knows everything.