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.
Throughout our days, we all have tiny things that give us a persistent undercurrent of irrational anger that is at least one of the root causes of the nightly teeth grinding that led to our TMJ. For me, one of those things is the “Tired SpongeBob” meme.
I’ll explain the meme to you. It’s a still of SpongeBob exhaling, typically accompanied by a description of the meme participant “after” completing an insignificant task, or after doing something slight but personally insurmountable. “Me after rinsing out my coffee mug”; “me after clicking ‘unsubscribe’ on a spam email”; “me after saying ‘good morning’ to a neighbor.” It serves to exhibit either laziness or the meme version of crippling anxiety and depression. The unremarkable image doesn’t by itself elicit any sort of emotional response, and the accompanying captions suit it too well. SpongeBob is exhaling, not in a particularly dramatic way, and the meme participant is tired, not in a particularly dramatic way.
And it stinks!
It’s fittingly lazy, more emojilike than meme in its function. It’s representative of the least thoughtful form of modern humor — “this is the joke” humor: undemanding, shallow, and not at all befitting of SpongeBob SquarePants, which is a show I never watched but hear is quite good. Jack Handey talked about this type of modern humor on a podcast one time, saying, “A lot of the stuff now is … just the first step you think of.” That’s this meme, and it’s also a lot of what passes for humor elsewhere lately, and it’s possible I’m projecting a much larger anger about the state of things onto this SpongeBob meme, and that’s something for me to think about privately, but it is true that the meme stinks, and it is the worst of the SpongeBob memes, and I’m definitely right!!!
Know Your Meme says the meme began gaining popularity after Twitter user @DJJVMZ posted a popular tweet with the Tired SpongeBob image and caption “Me after I take my strap off” on March 22, 2018. I have to trust Know Your Meme on this one.
SpongeBob is naked during the meme. This is not the point of the meme, nor is it something particularly glaring about the meme, but it’s worth mentioning that in this particular meme, SpongeBob is nude. The nakedness is because the still comes from an episode called “Nature Pants” wherein SpongeBob decides that he wants to live in the wild and, I guess, he takes off his clothes to become closer to nature. (According to Encyclopedia SpongeBobia, “Upon his return to the pineapple, he is greeted with a massive ‘Welcome Home’ party by his friends. All is forgiven, SpongeBob puts his clothes back on as a favor to Squidward and Mr. Krabs gives SpongeBob back his Krusty Krab employee hat.”)
The fact that SpongeBob is naked in this meme, save for his shoes, and that it is not referenced in the meme captions at all, is another aspect of this meme’s unremarkability. Its participants aren’t interested in reaching for a very specific commonality — a time when you are both naked and exhausted, or naked and relieved. There isn’t a second step. The nudity is ignored, and you are asked to disregard it. The meme participants have instead settled for a lazy, bottom-level relatability. The same lazy, bottom-level relatability that got — oh my god — Donald Trump elected? Hmm. It’s certainly something to think about …
What’s even more infuriating about this meme is that its image is also used in another, better SpongeBob meme: Money Problems SpongeBob.
See??? Do you see how this one has a story???? How it has a format the participant has to think about for at least two seconds before deciding to participate??????
SpongeBob exhaling with force is not an interesting enough image to accompany a caption about mundane exhaustion, and mundane exhaustion is not an interesting enough experience to accompany an image of SpongeBob exhaling with force. I feel like for this meme to work — even its current, simple sense — the photo of SpongeBob would have to be something like SpongeBob flat on the floor, near death, due to exhaustion (an image that must surely exist somewhere in a SpongeBob episode). Then you can say, like, “Me when I pick up one sock,” or whatever, and it’s like — haha.
Maybe the argument Tired SpongeBob apologists have for the meme is, “That’s the point — it’s about being tired and lazy, and it’s a tired and lazy meme.” I don’t disagree that a good meme can be made of something simple (in fact, the best one is: “Don’t talk to me or my son ever again,” paired with an image of a small thing and a larger, identical thing). But if this is the argument, it seems disingenuous. “Isn’t it funny how it’s all so minor?” could be funny, but the image and captions here just do not work. (I think to work in this anti-comedy way, the image would have to display even less exhaustion. Though even that is probably not right. The combination simply fails, and the joke wouldn’t be particularly funny even if it succeeded.)
In conclusion, Tired SpongeBob is not funny or enjoyable.
(Though I am glad if it brings you happiness; we have to take happiness wherever we can get it.)