This article originally appeared on VICE Indonesia.
The Indonesian Broadcasting Commission (KPI) is now going after the Nickelodeon hit SpongeBob SquarePants for depicting what it deems to be violent and sexual situations.
The KPI sanctioned network Global TV for airing The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie on Aug. 22 because SpongeBob is shown throwing a tart at another character’s face. The commission also called out the airing of Rabbids Invasion, another Nickelodeon show, during a SpongeBob time slot on Aug. 6 because it contained cartoonish violence.
Global TV received a written warning and must comply with a censorship order. It’s still unclear whether SpongeBob will disappear entirely from Indonesian TV.
In a press release, KPI Deputy Head Mulyo Hadi Purnomo said that he found violations related to violence, demonic possession, “horror” scenes, “spirit summoning,” sensual dialog and movements, and abuse of certain groups in various SpongeBob broadcasts.
“The Commission must pay attention to the conditions of violations and the limitation of programs with sexual content. Broadcasts may not contain content that pushes teenagers to act inappropriately or justify such behavior as being acceptable,” Purnomo said.
The KPI’s statement was immediately met with backlash by Indonesian netizens, but this isn’t the first time the Commission attacked SpongeBob; at one point, they blurred out Sandy the squirrel’s bikini.
SpongeBob, which celebrated its 20th birthday in May, has been the target of moralists worldwide long before the KPI got involved. For instance, in 2005, American conservative Christian group Focus on the Family attacked the show and called it a “pro-gay propaganda tool,” which led to speculation on SpongeBob’s sexual orientation. Two years later, creator Stephen Hillenburg declared the character to be asexual.
A study published in 2011 by the University of Virginia found that after nine minutes of watching SpongeBob, the cognitive abilities of 4-year-olds were significantly disturbed compared to kids the same age who watched other programs. Nickelodeon was quick to denounce those findings, saying children weren’t the target audience of the show. They also claimed the study relied on “questionable methods.”
SpongeBob has continuously been accused of countless outlandish things, including demonising large corporations and supporting left-wing ideas. But those critics are probably forgetting why millions of people love the character: he radiates optimism in an increasingly pessimistic world. After all, what else is SpongeBob known for if not his “imagination?”
The KPI has been criticised for its censorship in the past. In 2016, it banned all depictions of LGBTQ characters on TV. More recently in August, the KPI announced plans to monitor Netflix and YouTube content, even though they’ve admitted they don’t have the right to monitor online content. This, even though Indonesian “charity” shows like Bedah Rumah (House Operation) and Uang Kaget (Cash Surprise), which exploit poverty for views, have evaded KPI sanctions.