A Comparative Analysis of the Usage of Pants in “SpongeBob SquarePants” and “Jimmy Neutron”
By Jake Levine
As key elements of what I consider to be “high culture,” the SpongeBob episode where SpongeBob rips his pants and the Jimmy Neutron episode where pants attack Jimmy’s town, are absolute masterpieces that transcend natural levels of greatness, reaching heights considered unfathomable by lesser shows. Moreover, the usage of pants in each episode, besides being hysterically funny, demonstrates a nuanced complexity not initially evident during viewing.
“Ripped Pants” (SpongeBob) and “When Pants Attack” (Jimmy Neutron) emphasize pants in order to highlight the existential struggle of each central character, SpongeBob and Jimmy Neutron, in traversing societal expectations and the consequential effort to ascertain meaning amongst relative meaninglessness – pants act as the conduit for meaning.
Each episode opens with their respective heroes completely content with life. SpongeBob relaxes on the beach at “Goo Lagoon,” cracking jokes with Sandy and enjoying the beautiful atmosphere. Jimmy tests one of his inventions with his friend Carl. Yet, almost immediately, both Jimmy and SpongeBob are torn from the comfort of their respective existences. It is here that pants come into the spotlight as means of combatting this disruption.
Larry the Lobster’s notions of weight lifting isolates SpongeBob and casts him as a social outcast. Initially an accident, the ripping of his pants soon becomes a vehicle for masking his insecurities and failures. SpongeBob soon becomes the talk of the beach, ripping his pants constantly to thunderous applause and laughter. For SpongeBob, this act correlates with societal acceptance – popularity and universal love. He continues to do this, so that he might “fit in.”
Jimmy Neutron follows a similar arch. His mother’s insistence on him picking up his pants is a hardship that he simply cannot endure. As a response, he invents the “Smart Pants,” pants that put themselves away. As a result of this invention, Jimmy overcomes his problem, and finds himself enjoying recess, content and free from worry or stress.
Yet, things sour for both characters. SpongeBob soon wears out his popularity, overusing his ripped pants routine, and drawing the ire of everyone at the beach. Jimmy’s pants invention gains sentience and begins infecting the town’s pants supply, eventually attacking Retroville itself. For both of them, their ideal solutions have transformed into nightmares.
Their respective solutions; SpongeBob’s acknowledgement of his foolish actions and Jimmy’s use of static electricity to deflate the pants attacking the town both provide each character with a sense of uncertainty. SpongeBob gains the acceptance of his friends, but rips his underwear in the process of bending down. He is left completely naked to the world and society. Jimmy saves the town, but is ordered by his mother to pick up the pants scattered around town.
Rather than merely act as comedic displays for their respective audiences, the prominence of pants in each respective episode constitutes a profound articulation of discovering meaning through actions (ripping pants and creating sentient pants). It is through this, that each character finds meaning in a meaningless world where social acceptance is an enigma (SpongeBob’s case) and picking up pants weighs heavily on inherent happiness (Jimmy’s case).
Hopefully I have not pant-omimed the importance of pants in relation to meaning for both characters. Perhaps I’m just demonstrating why my editor Inji Kim stated the following: “Jake you are a good writer, but you write about terrible things.” Regardless of this, the presence of pants in relation to meaning for SpongeBob and Jimmy is ram-pant throughout the episodes.
Jake is a sophomore History major with a double minor in Art History and French