“SpongeBob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical” first made its premiere in 2016, three years before the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite it predating this world-changing event, the musical left a scarily accurate portrayal of the pandemic and people’s responses to it. Businesses were figuring out how to thrive during lockdown, doomscrolling became the new trend, and the government was scrambling and slow in making any kind of progress or initiative while constantly butting heads with the mainstream media. As time continued to move forward, everyone was panicking and already giving up.

In the SpongeBob musical, SpongeBob lives his usual, normal day in his hometown of Bikini Bottom. That is until the town begins to shake! The long dormant Mount Humongous has awakened, and thus becomes a threat of apocalyptic proportions to Bikini Bottom. The mayor scrambles to find a solution, the media puts on pressure, and citizens are advised to stay indoors. While everyone agrees with Plankton’s plan to build a rocket that can send everyone out of Bikini Bottom, SpongeBob remains adamant in protecting his home and the community it embodies. Thus, SpongeBob makes a team to stop the volcano from erupting. The members of this team represent three prominent kinds of people during the pandemic: Sandy, the outgroup to blame, Patrick, the misinformed, and SpongeBob, the rare and elusive optimist. They aren’t just simply representations of the pandemic, but each character also offers something that can be learned in case another pandemic were to ever arise.

The first of the bunch is Sandy, and her arc constantly emphasizes a theme of xenophobia. Sandy, a “land creature,” finds comfort in her new home of Bikini Bottom, as she didn’t fit in back at her home in Texas. Everything appeared to be fine, as she had friends who supported her and cared for her, until it was announced that her home would soon be drowned in lava. Despite her willingness to help save everyone and provide useful knowledge in the matter, the people of Bikini Bottom needed someone to blame. Because of Sandy’s outlying characteristics, she became the target. All the citizens of Bikini Bottom used her as a scapegoat for their hatred and decided to “blame the squirrel.” With the hatred overwhelming her, Sandy doubts her capabilities as a scientist and her right to be a citizen of Bikini Bottom.

During the pandemic, rumors spread about the fact that COVID-19 originated from China, thus, people began to call it the “China Virus.” Because of the frustration of being locked inside and being required to wear masks, it began to turn into hatred towards the virus itself. People began blaming the Chinese for causing the pandemic in the first place. Even Asian Americans that weren’t Chinese and who lived in the United States their whole life were tormented by the bigotry and hatred of those who wanted someone to blame the pandemic on. Despite how hard those of Chinese heritage attempted to do their part for their community by staying indoors and wearing masks, it seemed like they’d experience resentment no matter what they did. Both Sandy and those of Chinese heritage just wanted what was best for their home. They both were lost in where they belonged. They both began to question their life choices, who their friends were, and even their own identity. What Sandy needed was a friend to tell her how important her skills were to her home. What people needed were friends and family who appreciated them for who they were.

Although hatred is never warranted, it always comes in a crowd. Before Mount Humongous threatened Bikini Bottom, Patrick lived a simple life of watching TV and taking naps in his rock while also spending time with his friends. When it came time to stop Mount Humongous from erupting, Patrick was happy to help SpongeBob achieve his goal at first. However, throughout this story, Patrick is constantly pushed to the sidelines and would often be cut off when attempting to propose an idea. He’s disregarded because of his simplemindedness and “stupidity.” Although it may not seem like much to his friends, it doesn’t stop Patrick from feeling frustrated. When a group of people become available and willing to listen to Patrick, his horizons suddenly open up. He doesn’t need to stick around with a “friend” who will cut him off before he can even open his mouth. With his frustrations turning into hatred, he resorts to name calling his best friend, which upsets him, and thus both their resentment piles up until their arguing becomes so heated that they don’t want to interact with each other anymore. Making up his mind, Patrick turns to the sardines which listen to everything he has to say and boosts his ego. However, just because they support him, doesn’t mean they could be called his true “friends.” Although they revolved their entire culture around him, the sardines prevented Patrick from making the right decisions. It prevented him from seeing the glaring, fiery issue that was looming over his home. Although his ideas may not be the greatest, in the end, he just wanted to feel cherished and heard, even if it meant going down a path of poor decisions.

Throughout the SpongeBob franchise, Patrick has always been considered stupid, dumb, and close-minded among other things, both by the characters and viewers of the show. Sound familiar? You may frequently hear these names in comments on social media or maybe even family arguments. However, no matter which side may be in the right, many arguments often descend into shouting, name calling, and sometimes even death threats. Many family relationships and friendships fell apart during the pandemic because of the political heat surrounding it. Despite how many times we say we hate the person for their drastically opposing opinions, there’s always a part of us that wants to keep that relationship. Their opinions get in the way of that relationship. The issue however, is that despite us wanting them to listen to us, we often don’t listen to them. If we don’t listen to them, they will find ways to find people who will, which will further their ideals. Just like our ideals make sense to us, their ideals also make sense to them. Although parents may refuse to vaccinate their children to prevent them from getting autism or being tracked by the government, their intentions of wanting to protect the ones they love are still there — in their own weird way. And people can change — some anti-vaxxers changed their beliefs after being impacted by the virus. Just as much as Patrick had listened to SpongeBob, SpongeBob needed to give Patrick the chance to speak, as conversations are a two-way street. If we give our loved ones the attention and care that they desperately want, although we may not always agree, it gives them the chance to listen to a different perspective and not having to rely on people who reinforce their uninformed views.

Meanwhile, as everyone else in Bikini Bottom had already given up without viewing all their options, SpongeBob throughout the musical remained optimistic and attempted to seek all possible ways to protect his community. He tried his best to block the falling rocks that nearly crushed the citizens of Bikini Bottom, he cheered up his friends who were screaming and in panic, and he stubbornly attempted to brainstorm solutions even when everyone told him that there were none. As everyone was stuck inside with not much to do, doomscrolling and watching the news became commonplace during the pandemic, which caused a noticeable rise in depression and anxiety. Everyone was on edge and getting restless. It seemed as if there wasn’t much hope. Although optimists were often considered uninformed, they held an important role during the pandemic. Instead of putting down others, SpongeBob focused on lifting up his friends and looking for the best positive outcome with the resources he had. Eventually, because their only plan of building a rocket to leave Bikini Bottom failed, the citizens became so panicked and pessimistic that they caused havoc, nearly destroying the very town they were trying to save. On the other hand, Spongebob kept his head high and was able to see things objectively. He recognized Sandy’s skills as a scientist. He appreciated Patrick for being his best friend. He called the citizens out on their self-destructive behavior and showed them that the sun was still shining, that there was still a chance to fix things and save their town.

Although the SpongeBob musical may be marketed towards children, it holds a complex and mature message that we should all listen to. With fears of a new wave of COVID on the rise, we need the SpongeBob Musical’s message now more than ever. Instead of scrambling, attacking others, and rushing to a solution of hatred, we need to band together and do whatever we can to inform others, uplift those who are down, and take the proper precautions to keep ourselves and everyone else safe from a pandemic of volcanic proportions.