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The Cultural Absorbency of SpongeBob SquarePants

If SpongeBob SquarePants were an actual person, he’d be in high school at this point.

Airing in 1999, SpongeBob SquarePants has become not only one of the longest running animated cartoons in TV history, but he has also established himself as a cultural phenomenon. Children and adults alike know he lives in a pineapple under the sea, having become the darling of both the twilight of ’90s Nickelodeon cartoon fans and kids born in the 21st century. In short, SpongeBob has been around for a while.

In the 15 years SpongeBob has been on the air, we’ve since seen a dramatic change in computer technology. Youtube wasn’t even around when SpongeBob first aired, but now his escapades span the video service in more ways than one. Since the advent of the online video remix, SpongeBob and his friends have served as fuel for countless comical remixes of popular songs, mostly derived from a selection of the show’s most memorable scenes.

The season 2 episode Band Geeks, which aired September 7, 2001, introduces us to one of the show’s earliest musical performances. In Band Geeks, SpongeBob’s neighbor, Squidward Tentacles, reignites his clarinet-dueling rivalry with his arch nemesis, Squilliam Fancyson. To prove to Squilliam that he possesses more musical prowess, Squidward bets (on a bluff) that he can conduct a knockout musical ensemble to open the Bubble Bowl, the underwater equivalent of the Super Bowl. The only problem is: Squidward doesn’t actually have any musical talent, let alone a band to conduct for the opening ceremony. He enlists in the denizens of Bikini Bottom to take up instruments and practice for the big show, but, predictably, their quirky personalities thwart his efforts.

It’s now the night of the Bubble Bowl, and Squidward’s band still hasn’t practiced a single note. But, rather than play horrendously on brass and wind instruments, SpongeBob and the gang surprise him with rockin’ percussion and electric guitars, performing Van Halen’s Sweet Victory in a haze of fog machines and neon lights.

One of Squidward’s few shining moments, the scene has since become one of the show’s most memorable. So much so, that fans have taken the source video and remixed Squidward’s band to pantomime playing many songs (mostly nu metal) that were popular in the early aughts. For example:

The shot begins with again with Squidward nervously expecting a complete debacle, an embarrassment that will haunt him for the rest of his life. Instead, Linkin Park’s hit single “Numb” begins, with villain Plankton playing the opening ditty on synth, followed up by Patrick’s drum playing when the heavy riff and percussion come in. The creator then splices in scenes from outside of the Band Geeks episode to more accurately mirror the song playing: we see speakers thumping and SpongeBob scratching a record. The characters’ expressions perfectly reflect the quiet verse/loud chorus nature of Linkin Park’s music: Plankton is expressionless as he strikes each key, and SpongeBob has a blank gaze on his face while singing the opening lyrics. But once Chester Bennington begins injecting more emotion just before and during the chorus, SpongeBob begins using his arms as part of his performace, pointing at the crowd in a sweeping motion during the lyric “But under the pressure of walking in your shoes.”

This remix works so well because, as Chuck Tryon writes in “Pop Politics: Online Parody Videos, Intertextuality and Political Participation:”

“Most parodies reiterate elements of the original video if only to create a point of departure from the original, but the primary techniques are inversion, in which the video maker inverts the meaning of the original by adding new elements, and exaggeration … (Tryon 210).” One could argue exaggeration is a central tenant of both cartoons and nu metal, so the two fuse here so naturally, it’s hard not to laugh. The chorus, in particular, when the amps come in and the guitars explode, syncs with the stage lights and fog machines splaying over the stage, as SpongeBob delivers emotional vocals with his eyes closed. Sandy shreds on her guitar in the background while SpongeBob laments how Numb the recipient of the song has made him feel. At the bridge, in particular, beginning at 2:10, the song and the visuals combine in a way that summarizes the conceit of the entire episode.

And I know

I may end up failing too

But I know

You were just like me

With someone disappointed in you

Squidward, after recovering from the aftershock, finally gets invested in the song. Squilliam is so crushed from seeing his rival outperform him, he faints from the awesomeness unfolding before him. He is carried away on a stretcher as Squidward’s grinning face enters the frame, waving goodbye to the pressures of trying to live up to another’s expectations, the theme of “Numb.”

In another (NSFW lyrics) example, we have another seminal nu metal song, Disturbed’s “Down With the Sickness,” played over the same scene.

Again, the editing is so tight, with Patrick’s drum playing looping over to match the cadence of the song. Ms. Puff and Sandy back him up on guitar, the anger in their faces leaving you anticipating the big drop. The editor takes some more liberties with the source materials though, distorting certain images (like the live action shots of the crowd, which do appear in the original, and the shots of the guitar and keytar before the first verse) and also adds in fade-to-black transitions before and after SpongeBob utters the first few growls in the intro (0:50), adding to the dramatic tension.

New to this interpretation of the scene, the editor departs from the Bubble Bowl scene to one of SpongeBob serenading the surly Squidward with a ukelele in the second verse. From the first verse, the language shifts from the lead singer describing his own struggle with “the sickness” to the second person. As SpongeBob sings to Squidward (at 2:02):

I can see inside you, the sickness is rising
Don’t try to deny what you feel

and

It seems you’re having some trouble
In dealing with these changes
Living with these changes (oh no)

SpongeBob has gone from his empassioned performance onstage to the lowkey acoustics of a ukelele, with a sly smile on his face, as if he has already accepted “the sickness” and is now trying to coerce Squidward into doing the same. Finally, at the breakdown (3:07), the lyrics take a VERY dark turn, the lead singer yelling at his abusive mother for a full minute, swearing at her and wishing she were dead. When SpongeBob is finished with his tirade, Squidward’s surprised face comes on as the music turns quiet once again, as if to give both him and the audience a moment to absorb and recover from what we just heard the kid-friendly yellow sponge say. By extending and rearranging a few shots here and there, the meaning of the original scene inverts from one of celebration to one of lamentation and anguish.

But I can’t leave SpongeBob hanging on such a dark note. Here you go, buddy. Have some more upbeats remixes.

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Relatable Themes: Texts of Movie Posters

Text in movie posters tells us important information.  The title of the movie, the names of the main actors, positive reviews…all are things that may be revealed on a poster.  These texts work to frame the images into a certain state of mind for the viewer, indicating that the image they are looking at, the layering of characters and scenes and objects, is going to create this central movie idea.

Sounds plausible, right? Like a good semiotic argument for the way iconic text fonts inspire meaning in what producers hope will be similarly iconic movies.

Except that everyone has done it. Turn now to Kirby Ferguson for what he thinks about Trajan fonts.

 

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  Instead of meaning being made by an origin that nobody except font junkies would recognize, meaning is made simply through being a movie.  Our eyes have seen so many similar fonts that now all we think is “we are about to watch a movie”.  Cutting out the middle man of the Trajan column, we associate Trajan font to an epic movie.  The Trajan font itself is an icon for a “about to watch a movie.”  Even if it causes frustration for the people who are accustomed to looking at these types of things.

So the image of the titles of movies on movie posters, before you can even analyze the words themselves, try to reinforce what the movie is going to be about.  Like other elements in the movie posters, the creator of the image tries to cram as much information as possible into the small space so the viewer will know what to expect.

 

Sources:

http://scifimoviefilms.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/godzilla-poster.jpg

http://movieswallpapers.net/wp-content/uploads/frozen-movie-poster-2.jpg

http://www.tearaway.co.nz/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/Unknown-9.jpeg

http://fontmeme.com/titanic-font/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trajan%27s_Column

http://coastguard.dodlive.mil/2010/04/how-the-sinking-of-the-titanic-changed-the-world/

http://www.environmentalhistory.org/revcomm/features/radio-and-the-titanic/

http://www.unrv.com/five-good-emperors/dacian-wars.php

http://wellmedicated.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/10/maniac_poster.jpg

http://images2.fanpop.com/images/photos/6500000/Alice-Sweet-Alice-movie-poster-horror-movies-6554635-407-600.jpg

http://www.impawards.com/2009/orphan_xlg.html

http://www.empireonline.com/images/uploaded/backtoback1.jpg

http://www.culturefeast.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/03/27_dresses-poster.jpg

http://images.moviefanatic.com/iu/t_full/v1364991090/sweet-home-alabama-movie-poster.jpg

http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_305_hGb3mnk/TP909t-z5aI/AAAAAAAADYQ/fho1uSOaWhs/s1600/harry-potter-and-the-deathly-hallows-part-i-movie-poster-1020540376.jpg

Othering Mashup: At First Glance

 

Reflection 1: On Video Composing and Writing

Creating a message within new mediums always creates new and unexpected challenges.  I have been writing all my life, honing and crafting the various ways to create meaning for audiences.  Composing a mashup took me out of this comfort zone as I learned to make meaning in new ways.  Through my struggles I learned the specific ways that creating a mashup was like writing and the ways that a mashup was a unique medium.

First, the process of composing is very similar to the process of writing.  My video editor of choice, MAGIX Movie Edit Pro, needed to become another type of tool just like the pencil.  The video editor was only a method of composition, but I couldn’t depend on it to make a message for me.  I needed to be fluent in knowing how to use the editor, until I could use it without thinking about it, just like I could use Word processor without thought.

This was the first time I had used a complex video editing program to compose, but MAGIX offered a relatively user-friendly alternative.  I first resisted the new technology but soon realized that I needed at least some of the new features, like manipulating time in clips or mirroring an image.  I allowed time to just learn the software, cutting and merging clips, rearranging them, and adding effects.  I didn’t create anything that made sense but I had a good handle on the things that MAGIX could do.  Working without goals first gave me time to enjoy the medium for all that it could accomplish.

In creating the mashup, I sometimes couldn’t find how to create a specific effect.  If I couldn’t find it in MAGIX itself, I would simply describe what I desired in Google.  Someone, somewhere was more knowledgeable.  For example, this tutorial showed me how to create ending credits after I struggled with the speed.

All in all, MAGIX wasn’t frustrating.  Most of my trouble came from intellectual problems rather than technical ones.  I can’t say that I have a mastery of the program, but I know how to find the answers that I need.

Elements of video creation also parallel the writing process.  I gathered my sources by watching clips, similar to searching through books or academic articles for the perfect quote.  It was more difficult in searching for the videos.  Images aren’t processed on search engines the same ways that words are, and my keywords had to be on point for any success.  I found myself recalling the videos I had watched for something that would be useful, like “when have I seen swarms of bugs?” I simply had to remember, or ask around, until the answer was revealed.

One of the images I knew I wanted to employ from the beginning was a child playing alone on a playground.  This spoke to me as a clear message of isolation: innocence should not sit alone in public.  YouTube search brought me to the short film “Awake,” where a teenager played alone on the swings.  This wasn’t particularly useful because he wasn’t innocent and seemed to prefer isolation.  However, the discovery wasn’t useless because it led me to two very relevant short films that I used extensively in my mashup: “Identity” and “Plastic.”  Just like a list of sources can lead to more relevant articles, the YouTube related videos brought me to images that I could use.

I needed to revise as I continued through the mashup as well.  Just like when, in writing, I realize one of my arguments is weaker than the others, I realized that I needed more footage to make a sufficient point.  For example, images of being excluded through family didn’t appear until the third draft of my mashup, but was a necessary contrast to home deconstruction.  Finding the Harry Potter footage was like finding the new, perfect source that should have been in a written composition all along: once it was there, the rest of the composition fell together nicely.  I did more research and kept revising until my mashup, like my writing, felt succinct.

When it came to making meaning, however, creating a mashup was vastly different from writing.  In writing, I chose each word and sentence carefully to argue my point.  Each choice, and most importantly, the thesis, are meant to guide the reader into my own opinion.

The mashup, however, left the meaning in the reader’s hands.  The viewer doesn’t know what my intentions were in including a section of video, so my argument is muted.  I have the swarm of bugs as a symbol to show that these creatures, in parallel to the problem, survives in various environments.  The viewer make read it differently: maybe they are disgusted by bugs and become uneasy about the rest of the video, or maybe they read the swarm like there is no containment to the problem.

In a mashup, the viewer determines what they take away from my work, and their interpretation makes the difference, like reading a poem.  Yet I definitely wanted to get a point across. I began to think of the mashup as creative writing: we argue for a feeling and an overall message rather than a strict way of thinking.  Just as a poem can be read in many ways with vastly different moral outcomes, the mashup can be interpreted in multiple directions.

For example, T.S. Eliot’s poem “The Waste Land” has one famous line, “these fragments I have shored against my ruin.”  Readers interpret this line as either he is protecting himself with the fragments that he has collected, or that the fragments are a showcase to his downfall.

My mashup can be read in the same style: in many ways.  Viewers may see it as the community gives you a place of respite when all others abandon you, or that each person is hiding their identity no matter what.  This may not be my point, but in using incorporating juxtaposition I have created something for them to see.  My message doesn’t matter because viewers will still have formed some conclusion about othering that they didn’t have before.  I only wish I could hear the interpretations.

Creating a mashup, therefore, was a form of creative writing for me, in which I used a tool to create meaning left open to the interpretation of the reader.  It is a tool I hope to employ in academic projects and personal life in the future.

Reflection 2: My Mashup, Semiotic and Remix Theories

Othering Mashup: At First Glance reveals the ways that people are othered, both from their respective communities and from each other, by enhancing the isolation of each individual in and among specific communities.  This meaning is created by the interpretation of the reader.  More importantly, the mashup can be read in light of many semiotic theories about how meaning is made.

A majority of the meaning in mashups is made through juxtaposition, or the intentional placement of two images next to each other to create meaning.  As Jason Palmeri, in his article The First Time Print Died: Revisiting Composition’s Multimedia Turn, explains, mashups must be read in a associative manner, “looking not just at how everything on one page or in one chapter is connected but rather looking at how fragments from diverse pages might be reassembled to create new compositions” (101).  The message of the mashup becomes dependent on how the reader determined that each clip related to the others.

In my own mashup, I carefully juxtaposed clips to give the audience a specific message.  At 1:26, the image of a bug burning under a magnifying glass is juxtaposed with the image of a girl covering her face with a mask.  The message to the reader is that the intentional harm to another creature is a reason to cover your true identity: letting anyone past the mask you present to society will become dangerous if they do not value your life, like they do not value the life of the bug.

In order to completely understand the juxtaposition, the viewer must first consider the various semiotic theories at work.  The mask itself is a metonym, or, according to Sean Hall, in his book This Means This, This Means That, “when one thing is substituted for another” but that the reader can interpret based on associations made in their society (56).  The mask is a metonym for identity: when people try to create a new identity, they put on a figurative mask of the new person that they want to be.  With this image, I brought in the idea that the way a person identifies him or herself depends on how they believe society thinks of them.

The viewer then must also consider how the bugs act as a symbol.  According to Hall, a symbol is “any sign where there is an arbitrary relationship between signifier and signified” (32). Each image recalls another larger idea that may or may not be obvious.  To me, bugs are a common symbol of perseverance and outliving all modes of destruction.  In this specific clip, the bug squirms, but lives, under the heat of the focus of the magnifying glass.  Even with the specific intent to burn the bug, the bug never dies.

If the viewer also considers the intratextuality of the image of the bugs, the idea of survival is reinforced further.  Intratextuality, according to Hall, is the way an image relates to itself when it appears multiple times in the same work (126).  The image of the bugs transforms from being uncontained at :31, to withdrawn from at 2:50, to studied and scrutinized at 3:21 and 3:18.  No matter what environment they are placed in, the bugs still survive.  Even though the bugs appear weak when being burned, isolated and vulnerable, they are surviving just like in any other image.  The fact that the magnifying glass appears to dominate makes no difference when compared to the rest of the images.

In between these two images is a gutter, what Scott McCloud, in his book Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art, explains as a place that the “human imagination takes two separate images and transforms them into a single idea” (66).  The image of a bug burning and a mask do not have an obvious relationship to each other.  But because the human mind wants to create meaning where we believe there should be meaning, we relate the two images together into one whole unit.  Even if the viewer does not understand the various forms of meaning like the metonym of the masks or the symbolism of the bugs, they can still understand that the violence done to the bug – by killing it, by burning it – is a reason for a person to be afraid and hide who he or she really is.

At another moment in the mashup, at 3:48, each of the faces that have been seen throughout the mashup, looking in different directions, come together to all look at each other.  A young boy alone on a playground looks left and begins an exchange of glances in which each person in each clip looks in the proper direction to return the glance.  The message behind this selection of glances is that the communities of each of these individuals, while outcasting them, also forces them to outcast each other.  In other words, the othering that is developed in a community reaches farther by othering anyone that is not exactly like you.

The looks of each of the individuals is an example of Hall’s idea of center and margin.  In this theory, the object in the center is the most idealized, but creates a margin of things that are not the focus and therefore have less importance and less status (98).  Because none of the individuals are the central focus in this montage, each one of them becomes marginalized.  Their juxtaposition allows the reader to see each of the individuals looking at the next one in a circle, where no one is happy and no one has found a true sense of community.

These glances depend upon their intertextuality, when the context of the original clip adds a new level of meaning to the clip itself.  Chuck Tryon, in his article Reinventing Cinema: Movies in the Age of Media Convergence, notes that “movie remixes, through a complicated renegotiation of intertextuality, illustrate the degree to which texts work in constant dialogue not only with other texts but also with audiences themselves” (173).  In other words, when the audience understands the context they will be able to pull more meaning from the mashup.  For example, the young boy, Ben (at 3:47), is a clip from Daddy Day Care.  In this moment in the movie, other children are playing on the playground beside him, but not with him.  He isn’t necessarily discontent with his loneliness in the movie, even though he does want friends.  Knowing this context would add to the sense of isolation: Ben is more lonely because he cannot connect with others, no matter which direction he looks in trying to find friends.

Other glances can be read in the same way: each of the individuals is outcast from his or her original social circle.  Harry Potter (at 3:54), from the Harry Potter franchise, is othered by his foster family, the Durselys.  Castiel (at 3:50), from Supernatural season 7, episode 1, is othered by members of a church group.  The young girl wearing a mask (at 3:52), from the short film Identity, is othered by the other students at her school.  If the viewer can understand the intertextuality of all of these moments, he will have a true sense of the isolation and othering created when all of them look at each other.

However, as an example of noise, in which the message is not transmitted with the writer’s original intentions, the reader is likely to not understand the context of all of the clips.  Luckily, they will only need to read so far as interpretation of gesture to create the same meaning that the intertextuality defines.  In western society, a frown is generally a closed gesture which does not welcome others into a conversation.  When all of the characters share similar expressions, all of them are excluded from each other, highlighting the ways that they are each marginalized.  The prominence of each of these faces throughout the mashup leads the reader to this moment, to the epitome of loneliness.  The girl with the mask, in particular, even draws the reader back to the symbolism of the bugs and survival under all conditions, so that they don’t have to know the context of the original image at all to understand her purpose in the mashup.

As a final point for this moment in the mashup, the glances also reflect Hall’s concept of sameness and difference.  In this theory, Hall argues that the only thing that separates one face from another is the viewer’s own perception of difference (74).  We can chose to see one as different because she is a woman, or because one is wearing a mask, or because one is significantly younger than the others.  At the same time, we can also choose to see no difference at all, relating each person because they are human.  With this theory in mind throughout the mashup and exemplified in this moment, I urge the viewer to see that there is no need to other people that are different because there is always at least one similarity that links two people together.

These are a scarce few examples of how Othering Mashup: At First Glance can be seen through semiotic and remix theories.  The associations and theories are endless in application, but I hope that the few examples of specific moments that I have outlined here create a clear picture of the thought process behind the clips in my mashup and the complicated way meaning is created in mashups in general.  These associations argue for the general acceptance of all people, and the careful consideration of the communities that build identity.

Youtube Poop: Perverting your favorite cartoons since 2007

Disclaimer: Please note that the videos here are actually some of the cleaner Youtube Poop videos I could find. Though they contain some NSFW language and bizarre images, they are relatively tame compared to some of the other videos of their ilk. Should you choose to search for more videos like these, please be warned that many contain racist, homophobic and misogynistic language and imagery.

The Internet is wonderful place where you can connect with friends, learn anything about anything and find entertainment with the click of a button. The Internet is also the home to dark, weird and sometimes horribly offensive content, the kind that makes you question the nature of existence. Youtube Poop is one such place, the corner of the world’s most popular video service that serves as nightmare fuel.

A Youtube Poop is a video that remixes animated cartoons into clips through sound distortion and video editing, creating a new, unusual, and usually unsettling story. The source material for the videos consist mostly of shows like The Super Mario Bros. Super Show and Spongebob Squarepants, but the other popular shows have since made their way into the Youtube Poop lexicon. Take, for example, this remix of King of the Hill called Boggle Crunch.

See? I told you it would get weird.

The crux of any Youtube Poop video is to subvert our expectations of the PG rated source material to the extreme with a host of different techniques: layering dialogue from other shows, distorting the color saturation, increasing the volume at particular moments for shock value, introducing vulgarity and jumbling the most innocuous of frames into a confusing mess.

In this particular episode, the school nurse diagnoses Bobby Hill with ADHD, prescribing him medication to help him focus in school. When he first takes his drugs, he feels … different. User durhamrockerZ highlights Bobby’s mental state, slowing down the frames of animation and increasing the size of his eyes to show us how strongly Bobby is reacting to his pills (followed shortly after with a shot of his face melting at around 2:05). Zoom-ins of characters faces in slow motion highlight the moment-to-moment focus of Youtube Poops.

This video features common Poop techniques, including looping sounds and finding ways to make the characters say “shit,” which, when you think about it, is pretty easy, given you just need to find an audio clip of the character making a “sh” sound and saying “it” and put them together. In addition, we hear characters speaking their dialogue backwards and stammering at random points in their lines. By adding a simple sound clip of a fart into Peggy’s scenes, the creator has betrayed our expectations of her character and completely changed our interpretation of her.

Next, we have one everyone’s favorite yellow sponge doing … God only knows.

… Right.

We have characters getting hit by unexpected trains, random explosions and a whole lot of uncomfortably loud screaming. The highlight of this video, for me, is when Hurricoaster superimposes the shot of Spongebob skiing over Mountain performing “Mississippi Queen.” “I’m listening to you, mountain!” he yells before careening down the slope, bringing together a ’70s rock band and a Nickelodeon cartoon through our familiarity with two seemingly disparate ideas. We create the closure in our minds, and suddenly Spongebob rocking out to heavy metal seems totally reasonable.

Finally, let’s take a look at a staple in the Youtube Poop community, Sonic the Hedgehog.

This video is the king of the non-sequitur. First, Sonic begins by singing the national anthem, while later his face randomly turns into a transformer. The sounds clips from Big Daddy and Looney Tunes also come from nowhere, but their absurdity probably got a laugh from you anyway.