SpongeBob SquarePants, the wacky cartoon character who sparked a gay alert warning by Christian conservative groups, is neither gay nor straight. He is asexual, says his creator. At least two Christian activist groups said the innocent and hugely popular cartoon character SpongeBob and his best mate Patrick Starfish are being exploited to promote the acceptance of homosexuality. SpongeBob's creator, Stephen Hillenburg, 43, said the allegations are far-fetched and his agenda does not go beyond fun and entertainment. "It doesn't have anything to do with what we're trying to do," Hillenburg told Reuters in an interview on Friday, two days before the Asian premiere of the SpongeBob SquarePants Movie in Singapore. "We never intended them to be gay. I consider them to be almost asexual. We're just trying to be funny, and this has got nothing to do with the show."
Naive SpongeBob, who lives in a pineapple under the Pacific Ocean, was "outed" by the media in 2002 after reports that the Nickelodeon TV show and its merchandise were popular with gays. Influential U.S. radio evangelist James Dobson, among whose top political issues are opposition to same-sex marriage and abortion rights, said last week SpongeBob had been included in a "pro-homosexual video." "Their inclusion of the reference to 'sexual identity' within their 'tolerance pledge' is not only unnecessary but it crosses a moral line," said Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family.
SpongeBob is one of the stars of a music video due to be sent to 61,000 U.S. schools in March. The makers--the nonprofit We Are Family Foundation--say the video is designed to encourage tolerance and diversity. Hillenburg, a marine-science-teacher-turned-animator who lives in Hollywood and is married with a 6-year-old son, says he thinks there are "more important issues to worry about."
"I really don't pay much attention to this," Hillenburg noted, adding that such allegations were common in the history of cartoon and children's entertainment. "Just think of Laurel and Hardy or Ernie and Bert," he said, referring to two popular American comic icons--the former from the 1930s and latter from the television series Sesame Street. In 1999, Britain's Teletubbies were cast into sexual controversy by a U.S. religious leader who warned parents to be alert to subtle messages from Tinky Winky, one of the four androgynous characters, singled out for his purple color and a triangular antenna on his head, both symbolizing gay pride. Nickelodeon, part of global media firm Viacom Inc., has made 60 episodes since SpongeBob's birth in 1996 and is working on another 20. It says the series is a big hit in Indonesia and has been translated into Hindi, Korean, and Japanese.