SpongeBob Turns 3.16227766-Squared – or 10

This week the world  reached a cultural landmark – or maybe watermark is more appropriate – as a lovable if slightly annoying cartoon character who lives in a pineapple under the sea turns 10.

Yes, SpongeBob SquarePants will be 10 on Friday and to kick off festivities in his honour, VH1, the sister channel of Nickelodeon, which gave the world the nasal-voiced yellow cartoon character, aired a documentary called Square Roots: The Story of SpongeBob SquarePants on Tuesday.

At that hour, SpongeBob’s original target audience – little kids – should have been curled up in their beds.

But that’s not a problem, because the porous, wide-eyed, buck-toothed character who hangs out with a starfish, squid and crab has in the space of a decade made the leap from cartoon star to international pop culture icon, or so Viacom, the parent company of Nickelodeon, says.

SpongeBob, according to Viacom, impacts “everyone from President Barack Obama, kids across the globe and San Quentin inmates,” who reportedly like to break into their own rendition of the show’s theme song.

Tuesday’s one-hour documentary featured an opening song from Canadian pop star Avril Lavigne and commentary from Steve Hillenburg, the man whose drawing board spawned SpongeBob.

And the documentary is only the beginning of a marathon celebration of the animated character.

Starting on Friday – the actual anniversary of the airing of the first SpongeBob episode – and running through Sunday, Nickelodeon will air 50 hours of SpongeBob shows, including 11 premieres and a top-10 countdown of celebrities’ favourite episodes.

Nickelodeon’s celebration will continue in the autumn with the grand premiere of Truth or Square, which features celebrity guest stars such as comic actors Will Ferrell and Robin Williams.

It might seem like much ado about an animated sponge who wears pants that look like Y-fronts.

But knowing that 70 million viewers watch SpongeBob SquarePants every month in 171 markets and 25 languages, and that his 700 license partners around the world generate about US$8 billion annually in retail sales, puts the fuss over him into perspective.

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