Wednesday, September 24, 2014
Man and Mermaid Man
The social significance of a cartoon character can either be grossly overblown, or discounted to the point of missing the obvious. Those who have scrutinized the show Spongebob Squarepants in the past have focused so much on the titular character and his sidekick, Patrick, that they've missed what is surely one of the strongest feminist statements ever to emerge from cartoonland: Mermaid Man. Not Merman, Mermaid Man. Cast as a semi-retired superhero, Mermaid Man and his sidekick, Barnacle Boy, sometimes foist themselves out of their rocking chairs to fight crime and right wrongs in Bikini Bottom.
When, if ever, has a male character, especially a hero male character, had such a female component attached to their name? A mermaid is a mythical temptress of the sea, a creature of beauty and mystery, a seductress who lures unsuspecting sailors unable to resist her charms, to their doom in her watery Queendom. To call Mermaid Man, Mermaid Man, is the equivalent of referring to Batman as Batgirl Man. Can you imagine? It's certainly exciting to ponder. So, what was the creator of Spongebob, Stephen Hillenburg's, intention? Many aspects of the show do turn norms on their head, was it nothing more than that? Perhaps just a joke? If it was meant as a joke it's a darned sly one because for all of the groups who railed against Spongebob because he was perceived as gay, along with Patrick, and the show was also accused of promoting a pro-climate change agenda, never has there been a peep of discord about Mermaid Man. The internet is a huge, oftentimes angry place, you'd think that some crank would've spewed hate by now. But no. Mermaid Man in his teeny bra-top worn over his leotard remains unscathed, and a champion of gender identity, whatever form that may take. He is both maid and man, now and forever.