Many people know SpongeBob SquarePants from their childhood, whilst others still relish in the meme material that the show unintentionally generates. The Nickelodeon show provided plenty of pop culture, with its riff on Batman & Robin with Mermaid Man & Barnacle Boy, as well as its two (soon to be three) box office entries. SpongeBob’s “pineapple under the sea” adjacent to Squidward and Patrick’s houses may be the most memorable location, but there’s a place that features just as much: The Krusty Krab. It may appear as just another parody of a fast-food chain, where minimum wage and long contracted hours are a regularity, but if you dive deeper you can see Spongebob’s workplace is a conglomerate nightmare ala Amazon or Disney.
First of all, look no further than the owner. Mr. Krabs is Bikini Bottom’s very own Jeff Bezos. His personality is centred around only one thing: money. In the episode ‘Sleepy Time’, his dream is a Moby Dick style fantasy where he is fishing for a ginormous dollar bill that spits out pennies. He tells his employees he doesn’t know “the meaning of that horrible word” when someone suggests a day off in ‘Imitation Krabs’. Furthermore, he treats the Krabby Patty secret formula as his own property and will not allow it to be shared or copied. Mr. Krabs is a man with no morals or ethics; his obsession with money resonates onto his working conditions and the treatment of his employees – SpongeBob and Squidward.
It’s important to know that having only two employees for an establishment such as ‘The Krusty Krab’ makes it ridiculously understaffed. It’s never made clear if someone else works there or if it ever shuts, but from the large catalogue of episodes we can assume that the restaurant is open eight hours a day, seven days a week, placing SpongeBob and Squidward on 56 hours a week, minimum wage, without a day off. There’s no mention of holiday pay or requests for time off, and even if there was that would leave only one employee to maintain EVERY single task whilst Mr. Krabs sits at his desk counting his pennies. These tasks include preparing the food, cooking the food, cleaning the kitchen, taking the orders, serving the orders, cleaning the tables, cleaning the windows, managing deliveries, taking out the trash and so forth – jobs that would fill any nine-to-five shift and that is before the inclusion of customers is even considered.
There’s a divide in SpongeBob and Squidward’s opinion on their treatment at work. Squidward represents most minimum wage retail or fast-food employees, where there’s a lack of empathy for the customer and most of his time working is spent daydreaming of an artistic dream, this for Squidward is becoming a famous clarinet player. SpongeBob is a brainwashed yet eager, younger employee, one that is just thrilled to receive a paycheck, firmly believing that his employer cares for him. This is fabricated in SpongeBob’s head though, as in the episode ‘Welcome to the Chum Bucket’ Mr. Krabs bets SpongeBob’s contract with his competitor Plankton, showing he sees SpongeBob as just another commodity. The Chum Bucket provides no better alternative to The Krusty Krab, it is a fast-food chain that threatens its employees with the possibility of removing people’s brains in order to replace them as a robot. This is something that not only Mr. Krabs may consider, but other one percent-ers like Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk might be happy to introduce if it wasn’t for those pesky human rights and code of ethics.
The brainwashing doesn’t just affect SpongeBob, however. The episode ‘Employee of the Month’ makes a severe case in how these larger companies manipulate their employees to care about meaningless awards rather than wages. SpongeBob believes that “having pride in your work is the only thing worthwhile” after winning hundreds of consecutive ‘employee of the month’ awards. Mr. Krabs threatens SpongeBob with the possibility of Squidward winning in order to maintain SpongeBob’s non-stop working, as well as provoking SpongeBob’s insistence to bug Squidward, so he tries to one-up his colleague. They end up becoming mindless drones, a scenario which leaves SpongeBob shouting to himself to go faster in order to please his boss.
His treatment of employees may be the worst imaginable under the sea, but Mr. Krabs still thrives on new ideas to try and gain a quick buck, whether through a free salad bar as in ‘Culture Shock’ or a reconstruction of the menu to cook and deliver pizza in ‘Pizza Delivery’ – an episode where the customers treat SpongeBob as poorly as his employer when the customer is enraged that they forgot his drink, a Diet Dr. Kelp. Mr. Krabs is dealt serious danger in ‘Patty Hype’ when SpongeBob starts a small successful company that sells ‘pretty patties’: a colourful burger that has a personal touch to the customers, dealing them each their favourite colour. So, Mr. Krabs does what any successful conglomerate would when he buys them out and then runs that smaller company to the ground. He is more than happy to commercialise the personal touch, so it erases completely, as well as place customers at risk after their tongues and bodies start to turn the colour of the patties they have eaten. It doesn’t stop there though; Mr. Krabs even supports nepotism in the workplace, promoting his daughter – a teenager with no managerial or fast-food experience – to revamp The Krusty Krab into ‘The Kuddly Krab’. The idea doesn’t last long, the elaborate décor and redesign appear to be losing Mr. Krabs money, causing him to fire his own flesh and blood to prioritise his green-papered friend.
A lot can be said about SpongeBob SquarePants and its many episodes that touch upon other serious subject matters, yet The Krusty Krab is nothing but a running gag, one that finds the humour in SpongeBob and Squidward being forced to work 24 hours a day, seven days a week in episodes like ‘The Graveyard Shift.’ Although sometimes Mr. Krabs has his own adventures outside of his work, his mindset is always very evident whenever he speaks: a customer is nothing but a source of income, and if they leave, “that’s his money walking out the door”.