Analphabetic Analysis: Life on the Outside
Start writing a post

Analphabetic Analysis: Life on the Outside

When you read too much into a scene in Spongebob Squarepants.

Analphabetic Analysis: Life on the Outside

A tired saying goes along the lines of “A picture is worth a thousand words.” If we assume that proverb is true, what does that say about animation, a craft utilizing thousands of pictures to create moving art? With a word count that high, one can create a relatable comedic satire of life as we know it. All in 11 seconds of a throwaway joke in an animated cartoon (which ironically consists of no more than possibly a dozen frames).

The scene appears in Episode 45B (“Doing Time”) of Season 3 in the Nickelodeon animated show, Spongebob Squarepants. In this episode, Mrs. Puff, Spongebob’s boating school teacher, gets thrown in prison for an accident Spongebob was responsible for. Spongebob, feeling guilty, brings along his best friend, Patrick Star, on a quest to break her out. However, Mrs. Puff, who has been tormented by Spongebob’s dismal lack of competence in driving, isn’t as thrilled about returning to her job. When Mrs. Puff soundly refuses Spongebob’s offer to help her escape, Spongebob claims that “she has lost it! She's completely institutionalized. She's forgotten what it's like to live in the outside world. To not be in prison.”

We then cut to a series of still frames of a fish named Frankie Billy going through a regular day of his “life in the outside world.” He drives in the morning, works in a cubicle during the day, and looks out the window at night with the same bored expression on his face. The joke is that Billy’s life seems even more monotonous than Mrs. Puff’s time in prison, sharply contrasting with Spongebob’s optimistic assumption of what independent life outside bars can be. It’s a quick gag that, on the surface, seems to reinforce Stephen Hillenburg’s (the show’s creator) vision of Spongebob as “the eternal child.” Spongebob misunderstands why Mrs. Puff doesn’t want to escape for the same reason he misunderstands what adult life is really like. He “could see only the bright side of even the most oppressively punishing situation.”

But the work put into the storyboarding and composition of this scene reveal another layer to this throwaway joke, which relates more to the older audience of the show. By way of just imagery, the storyboard team in charge of the episode, headed by Aaron Springer and Carl Harvey Greenblatt, manages to portray Frankie Billy’s “oppressively punishing situation.”

Billy himself is almost always a static image, never changing expression or position in the frame. The only movement he makes is a little mouth animation and a blink. A character like Spongebob, on the other hand, is capable of fluid animation and absurd gestures or poses. But whereas Spongebob’s average day is highly unpredictable and eventful enough to fill a 11-minute episode, Billy’s morning, day, and night can be encapsulated in just three still frames, which together encompass his “life.” Billy doesn’t even need to be animated, because his life is utterly uneventful. From the lack of motion and Billy’s bored expression, it’s implied that nothing ever changes in this everyday routine. The artists convey to us the idea that Billy’s life is static, and he’s immobile within it. His “life on the outside” is ironically very much like life behind bars, a comparison which extends into the composition of the scenes.

Throughout his day, Billy is always surrounded by some sort of prison: the frame of his car (and his car is surrounded by traffic), the walls and pillars of his enclosed cubicle, the frame of his house window. He couldn’t change his position in the still frame if he wanted to. It’s telling too that Billy’s eyes are always focused on the things that are acting as his prison. He doesn’t look at the road (he’s not even on the road), at his computer, or at the woman in his house (as she is credited in the transcript). Billy just stares straight ahead at the bars holding him back. Even if he’s outside, he’s still trapped by the routine life he lives.

But it’s easy to just see Frankie Billy as a cartoon fish with a bland job and write off any deeper relation to reality. However, this fish shares more similarities to the average white-collar American than one might perceive at a first glance. Billy has essentially achieved the materialistic ideal of the American Dream: the car, the home, the family (assuming the woman heard offscreen in Billy’s house is his wife). But for all he has, Billy still wears this bored expression and speaks in a monotone voice to the woman. He’s unsatisfied with the life he lives, and for good reason, given that he can’t even enjoy his work enough to focus on it or hope for mobility.

If this scene embodies “life on the outside,” then Billy embodies the everyman. And with all the connections to life in prison, it’s clear the storyboarding team intended to satirize American white-collar life as one lacking change and purpose. Billy’s immobility in the frame is a metaphor for lack of social mobility; his lack of focus is a lack of passion for his work; his fixed expression shows dissatisfaction with his life despite achieving the materialistic goals of the American Dream. This scene is very much a caricature of white-collar life in the vein of Arthur Miller’s famous play, Death of a Salesman.

While the message isn’t exactly original, the presentation is bold, especially since it’s packaged in a kid’s cartoon. This 11 second scene manages to express through information density multiple meanings, which relate to both to the episode and to the wider audience. But the quality worth praising the most is the versatility of the joke, which hits home for different audiences for different reasons for different interpretations. Although it’s meant for kids, this cartoon’s satire of “life on the outside” just gets better the older one gets.
Report this Content
This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
Robert Bye on Unsplash

I live by New York City and I am so excited for all of the summer adventures.

Keep Reading... Show less

The invention of photography

The history of photography is the recount of inventions, scientific discoveries and technical improvements that allowed human beings to capture an image on a photosensitive surface for the first time, using light and certain chemical elements that react with it.


The history of photography is the recount of inventions, scientific discoveries and technical improvements that allowed human beings to capture an image on a photosensitive surface for the first time, using light and certain chemical elements that react with it.

Keep Reading... Show less
Health and Wellness

Exposing Kids To Nature Is The Best Way To Get Their Creative Juices Flowing

Constantly introducing young children to the magical works of nature will further increase the willingness to engage in playful activities as well as broaden their interactions with their peers


Whenever you are feeling low and anxious, just simply GO OUTSIDE and embrace nature! According to a new research study published in Frontiers in Psychology, being connected to nature and physically touching animals and flowers enable children to be happier and altruistic in nature. Not only does nature exert a bountiful force on adults, but it also serves as a therapeutic antidote to children, especially during their developmental years.

Keep Reading... Show less
Health and Wellness

5 Simple Ways To Give Yourself Grace, Especially When Life Gets Hard

Grace begins with a simple awareness of who we are and who we are becoming.

Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

If there's one thing I'm absolutely terrible at, it's giving myself grace. I'm easily my own worst critic in almost everything that I do. I'm a raging perfectionist, and I have unrealistic expectations for myself at times. I can remember simple errors I made years ago, and I still hold on to them. The biggest thing I'm trying to work on is giving myself grace. I've realized that when I don't give myself grace, I miss out on being human. Even more so, I've realized that in order to give grace to others, I need to learn how to give grace to myself, too. So often, we let perfection dominate our lives without even realizing it. I've decided to change that in my own life, and I hope you'll consider doing that, too. Grace begins with a simple awareness of who we are and who we're becoming. As you read through these five affirmations and ways to give yourself grace, I hope you'll take them in. Read them. Write them down. Think about them. Most of all, I hope you'll use them to encourage yourself and realize that you are never alone and you always have the power to change your story.

Keep Reading... Show less

Breaking Down The Beginning, Middle, And End of Netflix's Newest 'To All The Boys' Movie

Noah Centineo and Lana Condor are back with the third and final installment of the "To All The Boys I've Loved Before" series


Were all teenagers and twenty-somethings bingeing the latest "To All The Boys: Always and Forever" last night with all of their friends on their basement TV? Nope? Just me? Oh, how I doubt that.

I have been excited for this movie ever since I saw the NYC skyline in the trailer that was released earlier this year. I'm a sucker for any movie or TV show that takes place in the Big Apple.

Keep Reading... Show less

4 Ways To Own Your Story, Because Every Bit Of It Is Worth Celebrating

I hope that you don't let your current chapter stop you from pursuing the rest of your story.

Photo by Manny Moreno on Unsplash

Every single one of us has a story.

I don't say that to be cliché. I don't say that to give you a false sense of encouragement. I say that to be honest. I say that to be real.

Keep Reading... Show less
Politics and Activism

How Young Feminists Can Understand And Subvert The Internalized Male Gaze

Women's self-commodification, applied through oppression and permission, is an elusive yet sexist characteristic of a laissez-faire society, where women solely exist to be consumed. (P.S. justice for Megan Fox)

Paramount Pictures

Within various theories of social science and visual media, academics present the male gaze as a nebulous idea during their headache-inducing meta-discussions. However, the internalized male gaze is a reality, which is present to most people who identify as women. As we mature, we experience realizations of the perpetual male gaze.

Keep Reading... Show less

It's Important To Remind Yourself To Be Open-Minded And Embrace All Life Has To Offer

Why should you be open-minded when it is so easy to be close-minded?


Open-mindedness. It is something we all need a reminder of some days. Whether it's in regards to politics, religion, everyday life, or rarities in life, it is crucial to be open-minded. I want to encourage everyone to look at something with an unbiased and unfazed point of view. I oftentimes struggle with this myself.

Keep Reading... Show less
Facebook Comments