Be a SpongeBob, not a Homer

In the Simpsons episode “And Maggie makes three”, Homer decides he’s fed up with his boring job at the nuclear power plant and quits to go work at a bowling alley. But then Marge becomes pregnant, and he’s forced to beg for his old job back because the bowling alley didn’t pay enough to support the extra child. As punishment, the boss of the plant, Mr. Burns, installs a plaque above Homer’s work station that reads “Don’t forget, you’re here forever”. In the final scene of the episode, in what’s supposed to be a heartwarming moment, we see that Homer strategically taped photos of the new baby over certain letters of the plaque, so that it now reads “Do it for her”.

Compared to Homer’s middle class job as some sort of quality assurance engineer at a nuclear power plant, SpongeBob’s job is much worse. SpongeBob flips burgers. But in contrast to Homer, SpongeBob is stupidly enthusiastic about his job, so much so that he’s made flipping burgers into his own art form. In an episode called “SpongeBob, you’re fired”, SpongeBob gets fired as his boss figures he can save a nickel flipping the burgers himself, but in the end he’s forced to beg SpongeBob to come back because no-one can flip burgers quite like he does.

To me it seems that SpongeBob definitely has his life more figured out than Homer. SpongeBob is always happy, while Homer is often frustrated. Homer seemed to have made a noble gesture by sacrificing his joy at work in order to provide for his child, but such a sacrifice typically turns to feelings of resentment towards the wife and / or children, which the Simpsons is of course careful not to show.

However, to the average Leftist, something doesn’t sit right with SpongeBob. He’s a kind of happy slave, ignorant of his own exploitation, happily toiling away for minimum wage while his boss collects the profits. SpongeBob fails to stick it to the man.

But precisely through his over-identification with his work, SpongeBob achieves a different, higher kind of emancipation. The violence of capitalism lies in how it alienates labourers, turning them into cogs in a machine. But SpongeBob’s stubborn blindness to this fact, and his irrational devotion to flipping burgers, achieves the reversal of this alienation. Through identification with his labour, SpongeBob dis-alienates himself and becomes master of his domain once again. SpongeBob expresses himself in his labour, sees himself reflected in what he produces, and realises he actually gives shape to the world through his labour.

Hegel wrote that “humankind has not liberated itself from servitude but by means of servitude”. Because liberating yourself from servitude would simply mean being enslaved to your own whims, stubbornly ignoring your dependence on the world, but liberating yourself through servitude means realising that you actually create the world you live in.

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