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  • Writer's pictureKirby Clark, MMT

Pop Culture Fridays: SpongeBob SquarePants

Sometimes coming across a depiction of massage therapy in popular media can be about as rare as coming across a character with my first name...

I am Kirby Clark Ellis, MTI, BCTMB and this is Pop Culture Fridays!

Spongebob Squarepants is an animated comedy that aired on Nickelodeon in May 1999. 25 years ago!

I know that massage is gaining some degree of respect in the wider public eye because massage has started to make its way into children’s programing (and not as the butt of a joke), this month, we’re looking at a couple instances of massage in SpongeBob!

On a Sunday morning in Season 4, Squidward is hard at work to salvage his day off and relax as much as he can with a schedule full of self-care.

His Sunday Relaxation Kit (a cardboard box with Sunday written across the front) has a pillow for foot elevation, a vase flower to brighten the room and flower fragrance (which causes the flower to wilt), a box of bon-bons, and the final touch the “Sunday Special”- a pedicure and foot massage house call. 

But Squidward’s plans are infringed upon in short order by the annoying antics of Spongebob and Patrick. Including taking advantage of Squidward’s appointment of the Sunday Special, when the nail tech/massage therapist shows up and Squidward is out. 

When Squidward demands an explanation, SpongeBob tells him they’re checking to make sure the practitioner really is a “certified foot masseur” and not an assassin. When Spongebob goes so far as to show off his set of French tips on his toes- Squidward pushes himself in front of the technician and demands his relaxing foot massage pronto. But the tech checks his watch, informs Squidward that his hour is up, and packs up to leave. Poor Squidward laments, “there’s only three hours left of my Sunday, they took it all away”. 

In an absurdist twist, Squidward’s home is made sentient and runs off to destroy the town of Bikini Bottom. With only a half hour left of “me time”, Squidward is defeated by the fact that SpongeBob and Patrick have took off with his house. But Squidward quickly realizes the silver lining that his neighbors won’t be around to disturb him. He decides to make the most of the situation and drags a bolder over declaring “I am gonna relax IF IT KILLS ME!” before reclining back against the sharp ridges of the rock. 

And while I can't in good confidence recommend the lengths to which Squidward goes to squeeze in some self care, I do admire this passion and dedication to taking care of ourselves. It's something I wish more clients would emulate between their massage appointments.

In a different episode, SpongeBob & Patrick find a lot of fun making strange and sometimes grotesque faces despite Mr. Krabs’ warning that if they keep making faces, they’ll freeze in place. Convinced that Mr. Krabs has just told them a myth, they challenge each other to keep their funny faces in place overnight. When they wake up they are distressed to discover their faces actually have frozen in their disfigurement. 

Admitting that they need help, they seek the skills of their good mammalian friend, Sandy, the squirrel. Sandy insists that it may be tricky to relieve their symptoms but that they definitely need to relax their facial muscles with a massage! 

SpongeBob checks, “you’re a licensed masseuse, right?” 

Sandy takes issue with the word “licensed” putting it in air quotes insinuating she’s an amateur or untrained in massage or bodywork. She should instead take issue with the use of the word "masseuse" (see my previous posts talking about why that's an antiquated and inappropriate word) But she insists they sit back, relax, and let her gentle mamailan hands melt away that tension.

Sandy’s techniques include some acupressure/shiatsu jabs at SpongeBob’s face, broad compressive strokes below Patrick’s eyes, petrissage of SpongeBob’s eyes (“you seem to be carrying a lot of stress in your eyeballs”), stretching of SpongeBob’s nose, and postural adjustments to Patrick’s temporal/eyes and shoulders. 

“Them shoulders look waaaaaaay outta line”, “I can feel them knots just meltin’ away”, and “let’s see if I can just fennes that jawline back into place”. When she’s finished, Sandy declares that their wicked case of face freeze isn’t going anywhere, but that both SponeBob and Patrick are looking much more relaxed. 

Obviously, Sandy is displaying the overconfidence of a non-professional. Many of her techniques are out of the scope of practice for massage therapy and are too aggressive, leading to over-treatment. There are professionals out there who make boisterous claims and end up doing more damage and maltreatment than actual good for their clientele.

In another episode, Patrick decides to take a staycation – at Squidward’s house! When Squidward demands him to leave, Patrick thinks it’s a good idea and that he’ll head to the spa (in Squidward’s house) because he could use a massage. Defeated, Squidward tries again to explain that his house isn’t a resort, that there is no spa, and that Patrick can’t get a massage. But to Squidward’s amazement, SpongeBob has set up a table and is giving Patrick a massage featuring effleurage and tapotament strokes. 

Patrick tells Squidward he should get a massage too. Squidward dismisses the suggestion at first, but then feels a crick in his neck and decides “what the heck”, telling SpongeBob, “I want a deep tissue treatment and don’t forget the feet.” Of which Squidward actually has four!

The voiceover French narrator reads the time card, 5 Hours Later… where SpongeBob has worked Squidward’s four feet into complete relaxation and slumber. And SpongeBob is looking exhausted. 

Don't do this to your therapist! At most massage offices, the maximum duration of a service is capped at a 2-hour appointment. Which is typically more than enough for even the most challenging concerns. I have known of client's who try to book two 2-hour sessions back to back with the same therapist- and unless you actually have 4 feet yourself, it's unnecessary in my opinion.

In a more recent episode, SpongeBob and Squidward take on the task of giving Mr. Krabs his physical without his knowing which results in many shenanigans. 

The last of which include SpongeBob impersonating a massage therapist offering Mr. Krabs a free massage in order to administer his “cold blooded test”. SpongeBob dons a Rastafarian disguise (including seaweed locks and mustache, psychedelic uniform, and crystal necklace). SpongeBob entices Mr. Krabs into a massage using an affected accent and laid back attitude. In fact, the entire massage office is an homage to the 1960s counterculture (“hippie”) movement, with candles, hearts, smileys, and more psychedelic artwork. Perhaps Spongebob is imitating the office owner- an energy worker perhaps?

That same massage office makes an appearance again two seasons later, when SpongeBob and Patrick’s favorite band have broken up and gotten jobs in various places across town. One member, the drummer, has gotten a job at that massage place downtown. SpongeBob and Patrick disguise themselves as a husband and wife interested in a couples massage. The drummer insists that “I don’t even like music, I just give massages.” Patrick tells him not to forget to work his glutes. But as the drummer begins providing Tapotament treatment for both of them simultaneously, a rhythm to the percussive strokes get him to admit that he misses his former job in the band. A reference to a client with lumbago (lower back pain) is made. 

I do consider SpongeBob Squarepants and the way they include and treat massage therapy as a sign of the times. Even as far back as season two, in a montage of ridiculous requests, Squidward is seen giving a massage to SpongeBob’s friend Bubble Buddy at the Krusty Krab. 

But what about you, what are some of your favorite, or Least Favorite representations of massage therapy in popular media? Let me know in the comments below!

Peace and Healing,

Kirby Clark Ellis, MTI, BCTMB

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