Memes are the spice of online life. They make us laugh, they make us feel like insiders, and just when you find yourself sliding into a pit of despair about the state of the Internet, they make it seem generative and democratic. So why are Spongebob Squarepants and his kooky friends the starring characters in so many of them? We have a theory–namely, that Spongebob‘s sensibility is tailor-made for the Internet. The show is surreal, nonsensical, frantic, slapstick, phantasmagoric. Sounds a lot like life online, doesn’t it? For anyone who’s been living under a rock (hey, if Patrick can do it, so can you), we’ve done a deep dive into the weird world of SpongeBob memes to celebrate the beloved cartoon’s 20th anniversary.
Are you ready, kids? (That’s the part where you say: “Aye-aye, captain!”)
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Confused Mr. Krabs
Where it Comes From: In Season Two, Episode 25, “Patty Hype,” Mr. Krabs is confronted by an angry mob of 46,853 customers, each of them demanding refunds for the defective Pretty Patties Krabs sold them.
When to Use It: When you’re confused, frightened, out of step with the world, or put on the spot.
Where it Comes From: In Season Nine, Episode Four, “Little Yellow Book,” it comes to light that whenever SpongeBob sees plaid, he acts like a chicken as pictured.
When to Use It: When you want to taunt someone, but in only the most juvenile way possible. Mocking SpongeBob is the visual equivalent of, “I know you are, but what am I?” This meme has come under fire for the problematic context in which it’s sometimes used.
Where It Comes From: In The SpongeBob Squarepants Movie, SpongeBob and Patrick sit shocked after losing the Patty Wagon over the edge of a cliff.
When to Use It: One of the OG SpongeBob memes, Surprised Patrick has been floating around the Internet for almost a decade. Use this one as a reaction .gif, or better yet, superimpose Patrick into another context, whether it’s shocking or quotidian.
Where It Comes From: In Season One, Episode Nine, “Nature Pants,” SpongeBob gives up his modern life to live in Jellyfish Fields among the jellyfish. When Patrick and Sandy attempt to lure him back, SpongeBob’s maneuvers to avoid capture leave him breathless.
When to Use It: When the minutiae of daily life is exhausting.
Where It Comes From: Remarkably, Evil Patrick debuts just seconds after Tired SpongeBob in Season One, Episode 9.
When to Use It: When you’re feeling diabolical or deranged. Channel your inner Plankton!
Squidward Looking Out Window
Where It Comes From: In Season Seven, Episode 144, “That Sinking Feeling,” Squidward sits indoors fuming when SpongeBob and Patrick dig underground tunnels between their houses.
When to Use It: When you have FOMO.
Where It Comes From: In Season One, Episode 14, “SB-129,” Squidward experiences a time machine mishap that sends him back in time to the prehistoric era, where he meets SpongeBob’s ancestors. Best known as the “all alone” episode that gave kids everywhere their first existential crises.
When to Use It: When you’re in fight or flight mode during a dicey situation, or when you’re ready to pounce into action.
Where It Comes From: In Season One, Episode Five, “Home Sweet Pineapple,” Squidward has a sleepless night when SpongeBob and Gary move in with him due to a nematode invasion at SpongeBob’s house.
When to Use It: When you remember something important in a flash of terrifying clarity.
Krusty Krab Vs. Chum Bucket
Where It Comes From: The enmity between the Krusty Krab and the Chum Bucket is well-established, appearing as early as Season One, Episode 3, “Plankton!!!,” when Sheldon J. Plankton first opens the Chum Bucket for business.
When to Use It: When one thing is clearly superior to another.
Spongebob Traveling in Drag
Where It Comes From: Debuting in summer 2019, the newest of the memes on this list sees a standard image of SpongeBob contorted into all kinds of foreign garb.
When to Use It: When you’re feeling cosmopolitan, or when you want to mock a poser.
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