It’s funny, just like the genre of the show itself, how our childhood appreciation of ‘Spongebob Squarepants’ – our once giddy adoration for the animated protagonist – is, in adulthood, bewitched to that of an antithesis, where we find more temperamental solidarity with its bitter antagonist, Squidward Tentacles, than we do with show’s eponymous hero, of whom we may retrospectively view, in our more cynical and adult moments, as an idealistic Pollyanna of epic, fictive proportions.
When it came to the matter of employing that childish conception of rigid moral binaries – who was good and who was bad – we invariably sided with the fun-loving, yellow optimist, while simultaneously fostering an aversion for the tentacled misanthrope. Squidward, by our juvenile perception, was nothing more than a surly pseudo-villain who spent his days, begrudgingly, labouring away as a cashier at the Krusty Krab.
Years on, however, you need only look to the abundance of Squidward-centric memes and videos to discover that our millennial cohort have, in their maturity, developed a strangely sincere kinship with the once detested cephalopod.
Instagram is riddled with the sort – posts that depict a still frame of Squidward from an iconic episode, along with the correspondingly dismal quote (“I knew I shouldn’t have gotten out of bed today”), and a heading of text that relays the user’s worn sensibility (“Growing up is nothing more than going from hating Squidward to becoming Squidward”).
It’s only in our maturity that we can relate to Squidward’s peevish nature, and recognise that life – adult life – serves to blunt our once cheery and youthful dispositions through a tedious daily-grind. We have, to a palatable degree, become the curmudgeon we silently, reactively, vowed never to be.
Just as philosopher Albert Camus wrote in his exploration of Sisyphus – the Greek myth of a man, eternally damned to roll a boulder up a mountain only to have it roll back down when he reaches the top – Squidward represents “The workman of today [who] works every day in his life at the same tasks, and this fate is no less absurd.”
The tragedy of Sisyphus, Camus contended, is revealed in his descent from the mountaintop, where, in that brief period of “lucidity”, Sisyphus realizes the “whole extent of his wretched condition” – that he is bound to an absurd and inescapable fate. But this awareness “at the same time crowns his victory” – for it is only by acknowledging and accepting his fate that he may surmount it; embracing the idea that “His fate belongs to him”, and “His rock is his thing.”
Squidward, for all his resentment and discontent, shares in this ilk of existential clarity – conveying his embodiment of the Sisyphean virtue in the course of lecturing SpongeBob in season three:
“In case you’ve forgotten, here’s how things work: I order the food, you cook the food, then customer gets the food. We do that for forty years, and then we die. Sounds like a pretty good deal to me.”
With this, it renders transparent that the true resonance of Squidward’s pessimistic persona stems from a point of nihilistic unity – the fact that he, like Sisyphus, and like us, are jointly freighted with the absurd struggle that is life; tasked to trudge through a relentlessly taxing existence.
The problem, however, is when we neglect this “crushing truth” that we give way to bleak, abrasive and despondent temperaments. Like Sisyphus, like Dostoevsky’s Kirillov, and, indeed, like Squidward Tentacles in his more lucid moments, we must always keep sight of our fate – our inevitably arduous existence – if we are to rise above it and claim an “absurd victory.”