Spongebob Squarepants: From TV Show to Media Giant

Henry Jenkins describes transmedia storytelling as “a process where integral elements of a fiction get dispersed systematically across multiple delivery channels for the purpose of creating a unified and coordinated entertainment experience,” with each medium making a “unique contribution to the unfolding of the story” (Jenkins). My favorite childhood show, Spongebob Squarepants, distributes important parts of its narrative amongst numerous delivery channels. These channels, which include character Twitter accounts, mini games, and additional online video content, carry the experience of Spongebob from the classic television set to smart phones, tablets, and computers. Spongebob Squarepants has proven itself as a media franchise, generating billions of dollars in merchandising revenue (Wikipedia), and although each medium brings a unique portion of the Spongebob narrative to life, I will focus on the medium I found especially intriguing: the character Twitter accounts.

I was able to find character Twitter accounts for both Spongebob Squarepants and Patrick Star. Links to the show’s main site are found in the Twitter bios and blue checkmarks next to the names certify that these accounts are actually run by the folks at Spongebob (as opposed to fan-generated). As the main character of the series, Spongebob Squarepants tweets at a rate of around once per day:

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Patrick Star, Spongebob’s best friend and partner in crime, also averages around one tweet per day:

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Game designer Neil Young uses the term “additive comprehension” to “refer to the ways that each new texts adds a new piece of information which forces us to revise our understanding of the fiction as a whole” (Jenkins). Let’s focus on the second tweet from the Spongebob Twitter account screenshot:

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The scene described in the tweet doesn’t occur in any of the television episodes. New narrative content is created with this tweet, allowing followers to envision the zaniness that they’ve come to expect from Spongebob and Patrick. This new text creates a new form of communication with the beloved character of Spongebob. Fans can now tweet directly at Spongebob (@SpongeBob). With this new means of online communication and the new scenes depicted by the tweets comes a new understanding of the Spongebob world as a whole.

These character tweets also add cultural attractors and cultural activators to the transmedia world of Spongebob Squarepants. Levy describes cultural attractors as content that can be linked to “drawing together like-minded individuals to form new knowledge communities”. On the other hand, he describes cultural activators as textual elements responsible for “setting into motion the production, assessment, and archiving information” (Jenkins). The screenshot above from Patrick’s Twitter account contains a prime example of a cultural attractor and activator:

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This tweet functions as a cultural attractor because it appeals to a certain type of humor. Moreover, followers who find the joke humorous can retweet, respond to Patrick, or respond to other users and form a kind of online community. Additionally, the tweet serves as a cultural activator. Content stemming from the Spongebob Squarepants television narrative is archived online for followers to review. The tweet has the ability to inspire followers to create content of their own, perhaps in the form of a witty response based off events in the series. Here’s an example of a tweet that encourages such a response:

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To which a follower cleverly responds with a reference from a TV episode, generating engagement (in the form of retweets, favorites) from other Spongebob followers:

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The ability to interact with the two main characters of the series, Spongebob and Patrick, adds a new dimension to the narrative of Spongebob Squarepants. The character Twitter accounts add fresh, humorous content and a new mode of communication with the characters.

Sources:

Jenkins, Henry. “Transmedia Storytelling 101.” Confessions of an Aca-Fan. Henry Jenkins, 22 Mar. 2007. Web. 21 Feb. 2015. <http://henryjenkins.org/2007/03/transmedia_storytelling_101.html>.

“SpongeBob SquarePants.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 22 Feb. 2015.

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