SpongeBob's Firing Sparks Political Debate (Exclusive Video)

As if there's not enough for liberals and conservatives to argue about, now they're duking it out over the Nickelodeon children's show SpongeBob SquarePants.

In an episode to air Nov. 11, the hardworking sea sponge is fired from his job at the Krusty Krab in the undersea city of Bikini Bottom after his boss figures out he can save "a whole nickel" from his payroll.

One day later, SpongeBob is already a disheveled, wrinkled, unshaven beggar, and his friend Patrick is determined to show him the ways of "glorious unemployment," which includes free stuff and lots of spare time.

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"Being unemployed is the best gig I know," Patrick tells SpongeBob.

But at a no-charge, all-you-can eat meal, SpongeBob has an epiphany: "Unemployment may be fun for you, but I need to get a job," he tells Patrick. At that moment, he's instantly transformed into a sparkly clean, enthusiastic and energetic sponge again.

The episode subtly introduces a couple of hot-button issues, including the worth of social services, labor laws that caused SpongeBob's boss, Mr. Krabs, to fire his best employee, and more. When the New York Post and Fox News Channel remarked on the episode, the progressive group Media Matters for America pounced.

What seemed to particularly irritate Media Matters was a line from the Post story: "Lest he sit around idly, mooching off the social services of Bikini Bottom, a depressed SpongeBob sets out to return to gainful employment wherever he can find it," Andrea Morabito wrote. "No spoilers -- but it's safe to say that our hero doesn't end up on food stamps, as his patty-making skills turn out to be in high demand."

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Fox & Friends weighed in on Friday with Heather Nauert parroting the Post: "The harsh economic climate has hit the underwater community … but instead of mooching off social services at Bikini Bottom, that's the town, SpongeBob sets out to return to the work force."

This was too much for Media Matters, which posted an analysis at its site headlined, "Right-wing media use SpongeBob SquarePants' firing to attack social safety net."

According to the Media Matters article, "Right-wing media have a long history of attacking the social safety net. Recently, Fox attacked low-wage workers in the fast food industry who have to rely on necessary federal benefit programs because they earn below subsistence wages."

It's not the first time SpongeBob has waded into social commentary, though usually when it does, it bugs the right and supports the left. In episodes dubbed "SpongeBob's Last Stand" and "Selling Out," for example, environmentalism is glorified and large businesses are demonized.

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And two years ago, Glenn Beck on Fox News asked if the education department was "indoctrinating children" by offering free copies of the book SpongeBob Global Warming Tale. Fox News hosts Steve Doocy and Gretchen Carlson also bashed SpongeBob for pushing the dangers of man-made global warming back then.

See an exclusive 90-second clip of the firing of SpongeBob above.

"Like all really great cartoons, part of SpongeBob's long-running success has been its ability to tap into the zeitgeist while still being really funny for our audience," said Russell Hicks, president of content, development and production for Nickelodeon. "As always, despite this momentary setback, SpongeBob's eternal optimism prevails, which is always a great message for everyone."

E-mail: Paul.Bond@THR.com

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