The Bizarre Theory That Links SpongeBob To A Nuclear Weapon Experiment

Any time fans who are well-versed in the minutiae of their favorite books, movies, or shows start picking them apart, they're bound to start developing their own theories about underlying mythology or how it's somehow connected to something else. Even if some of them are a little bit far-fetched, they're still fun to consider, nonetheless.

Take, for instance, the fan theory that members of the eponymous Simpson family are actually geniuses who, aside from Lisa, have all managed to suppress their intelligence for more than 30 years and over 700 episodes in hopes of living more pleasant lives (via Entertainment Weekly). Meanwhile, other fan theories have been so well-constructed that they turned out to be correct. One instance of this was the fan theory that the peddler at the beginning of the animated Disney film "Aladdin" was the Genie in disguise. According to USA Today, the film's director, Ron Clements, even confirmed fans' suspicions.

Another popular fan theory that sounds completely off the wall on the surface but starts to seem more and more plausible the further you look into it involves "SpongeBob SquarePants" and a possible tie to a United States nuclear weapons program.

A quick history of Spongebob Squarepants

"SpongeBob SquarePants" premiered in 1999 and has remained on the air ever since, turning a show about a talking sponge with a nasally, high-pitched voice who lives in a pineapple and makes his money churning out burgers into requisite viewing for multiple generations of kids. Before going on to create one of the 21st century's most beloved characters, series creator Stephen Hillenburg worked on another classic cartoon, "Rocko's Modern Life," where he met the man who has provided SpongeBob's voice ever since — actor, and comedian Tom Kenny, per Entertainment Weekly.

Hillenburg — who died in 2018 a just 57 years old following a battle with ALS — was a marine biologist before his career in animation and used that background to create the cast of characters that fleshed out the show and its primary setting, the town of Bikini Bottom (via The Globe and Mail). Most would simply accept that a bunch of sea creatures can talk, wear clothes, and live in houses on the basis that the show is a cartoon. Still, some fans took it upon themselves to fill in the gaps and developed a weirdly plausible explanation.

The United States nuclear program needed a place to test new weapons

Starting in the 1940s, the United States was one of several nations racing to build nuclear weapons. Of course, as new weapons were developed, they needed to be tested. One of the places the United States decided to do this was a small chain of islands in the middle of the Pacific Ocean between the Philippines and Hawaii called the Marshall Islands.

According to the United States Department of Energy, the military was still curious to learn more about nuclear weaponry and especially the effects they could have in naval battles. The United States had acquired the Marshall Islands toward the end of World War II, and by 1946, approval was granted to conduct tests there at the Marhsall Islands' Bikini Atoll.

According to Britannica, an atoll is a coral reef that encircles a lagoon, and it was determined that this would be a good place to test new nuclear weapons.

Operation Crossroads

The ensuing weapons tests were part of what the military called Operation Crossroads (via the United States Department of Energy). It was a fitting name bestowed upon the program by Vice Admiral W. H. P. Blandy. "It was apparent that warfare, perhaps civilization itself, had been brought to a turning point by this revolutionary weapon," he said.

The Marshall Islands became known as the Pacific Proving Grounds as they were the site of multiple tests (via Bikini Atoll). Bikini Atoll's lagoon was is over 200 square miles, making it large enough to handle the Operation Crossroads tests. But its location — far from the United States mainland — caused logistic issues, while the site's humid, tropical climate was a less than ideal place to be running complex and expensive electronics.

The second bomb tested at Bikini Atoll was called Baker, and it was detonated 90 feet beneath the water's surface. Baker produced a spectacular explosion but also released large amounts of dangerous radiation. According to the United States Department of Energy, the ships that were placed in the vicinity as test subjects turned into "radioactive stoves, and would have burned all living things aboard them with invisible and painless but deadly radiation."

The Bikini Bottom Theory

The fan theory that tries to explain the world of "SpongeBob SquarePants" by pointing to the Operation Crossroads tests and the radiation that was released by the bombs — like the notorious Baker. According to Comic Book Resources, the theory asserts that the show's primary setting, Bikini Bottom, is located at Bikini Atoll, the site of the nuclear tests. The names alone make that a pretty reasonable theory, but the additional evidence to support the theory can really get you thinking.

Proponents of the theory point to the idea that radiation released by nuclear weapons tests turned a run-of-the-mill sea sponge into a walking, talking, square-pants-wearing sea sponge. It has also been argued that aspects of the show's aesthetic, namely characters' clothing, are similar to what was common in the 1940s, the same time as the Operation Crossroads tests. According to NickALive, other evidence has come in the form of an image used in the episode "Dying for Pie" that is thought to look like a mushroom cloud and an as-yet unverified, unproduced script that allegedly features references to the tests at Bikini Atoll.

Is the theory accurate?

According to Screen Rant, after it first surfaced on Reddit, the Bikini Bottom theory was a pretty common fixture on "SpongeBob SquarePants" fan message boards for years. And while those who firmly believed that the theory explained the show's origins, it seemed unlikely that it would ever be verified.

In 2021, those championing the Bikini Bottom theory got about as much validation as they're likely to find on the subject when an anonymous "SpongeBob SquarePants" staff member seemed to confirm the veracity of the story in an interview with Cracked. "Within my team, it's generally known about but not often talked about — mostly because we promote all the shows and don't have much time for enjoying ourselves at all," the unnamed staffer said. However, when Cracked reached out to Nickelodeon, the show's longtime network, they denied the theory. However, the network denial is unlikely to ever completely do away with fan speculation.

"I think every strong fan base comes up with their own explanations for things that are left open-ended, either intentionally or through negligence," the staff member told Cracked. "'SpongeBob' has one of the most loyal and wide-ranging fanbases around — I'm sure there are tons of theories we've never heard about."