Beloved Nickelodeon cartoon series SpongeBob SquarePants might be the internet’s most fertile soil for memes. This week, we’re examining some of our favorites.
“Who would win in a fight?” is an argument at least as old as the Book of Genesis (the answer is Cain), and, thousands of years and millions of replacement fighters later, it is still ongoing. As long as people have egos, they’ll continue to be competitive. Disney and Marvel have literally spent billions of dollars and over a decade scientifically determining the ultimate answer (the answer is apparently “CGI Josh Brolin”). The only thing that’s changed, really, is how we talk about putting two things head to head. In ancient times: Holy Scripture. On the internet: the Krusty Krab vs. Chum Bucket meme.
Lots of memes thrive on incomprehensibility — on the need for viewers to belong to a certain group, and have the necessary in-group context, to get the joke. The Krusty Krab vs. Chum Bucket meme, almost uniquely, requires absolutely no context, and can be applied to an infinite number of situations. All you need to know is that, in the canon of SpongeBob, the Krusty Krab is a good restaurant and the Chum Bucket is a bad one. Which is to say that the Krusty Krab vs. Chum Bucket meme is yet another entrant into the canon of SpongeBob memes, but it’s also the latest in a long line of memes that exist as a way to compare two things.
Beyond the Old Testament, this type of simple comparison has long been a staple of nerdy conversations, and eventually a crucial part of early internet message boards. But in the past couple of years, memes have expanded from simple comparison to do all sorts of things. You can use these to track the passage of time (“me in 2012 vs. me in 2017”), pile onto an especially bad thing (“Obamacare vs. Obamacare replacement”), or posit a comparison from the perspective of a third party, who may not have their own best interests at heart (jealous girlfriend).
Within this ecosystem, the closest relative of Krusty Krab vs. Chum Bucket is probably “You vs. the guy she told you not to worry about.” This meme likewise engages in a simple, two-party comparison by presenting “you” as a watered-down, pale imitation of the guy she told you not to worry about (and who, presumably, she is going to leave you for soon). You are the Chum Bucket, a lesser version of the Krusty Krab — owned by a bitter, reclusive Plankton and forever chasing the elusive secret ingredient of Krabby Patties. Meanwhile, the guy she told you not to worry about is Mr. Krabs — a very sensual and mustachioed man who does have the secret ingredient of Krabby Patties and employees SpongeBob and Squidward.
Still, there’s one big difference between the Krusty Krab and the guy she told you not to worry about: YVTGSTYNTWA is generally aimed at an approving audience, making a joke at the expense of the presumed “you.” (Including SpongeBob.) The Krusty Krab vs. Chum Bucket meme is designed, in essence, to start shit. Lots of the most popular instances of the meme are presented as bold truth-telling (which is to say, trolling), whether it’s comparing different versions of Cheetah Girls, cop shows, or types of juice. Removing any semblance of context beyond the presumption that the Krusty Krab is similar to but ultimately better than the Chum Bucket means that people making iterations of the meme can engage in the purest, most condensed version of running into a crowded room and shouting your opinion.
In this light, the lack of content in the Krusty Krab meme, the laziness of the photo editing — it’s a meme that could’ve been made in MS Paint ten years ago — are features of the meme rather than bugs. They are the elements that make telling all of your followers “I prefer pancakes to waffles” palatable, rather than terminally annoying. The lack of effort in stating a controversial opinion lets the reader know you’re in on the joke. If someone wants to respond and get into an argument with you, so much the better — it’s basically the whole point. In this respect, then, Krusty Krab vs. Chum Bucket resembles a meme that explicitly invites engagement like the “one gotta go” polling mechanism, but where you’ve already decided which one gets the ax.
What kind of argument comes out of this type of comparison? Most of the popular iterations of the Krusty Krab vs. Chum Bucket meme are what you would expect: movies with comparable release dates and loose thematic similarities (Tomb Raider vs. Black Panther), various tech giants that demand lifestyle allegiance in addition to usage (Spotify vs. Apple Music), a seemingly unending supply of DC vs. Marvel comparisons. But where are these arguments supposed to go? Does anyone ever see a Krusty Krab vs. Chum Bucket meme, engage in a healthy debate, and eventually decide that they were wrong? (It’s a debate on the internet so, take a wild guess.)
The provocation at the heart of the Krusty Krab vs. Chum Bucket meme is intended to go on ad nauseam without ever actually resolving itself, since the posting party is at all times 100 percent totally convinced that they are right. The meme signals that there is no need for debate or audience input. That type of trollish glee, existing solely as a way of pissing off people who don’t share the same opinion as you, is a common enough thread of internet conversation — maybe as old as the concept of comparison itself. An early iteration added to the database Know Your Meme captures that use case perfectly: a comparison between the Krusty Krab and the Chum Bucket —respectively, then-candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.