Ethics Quiz: The SpongeBob Headstones

SpongeBob Gravestone Removed

You can’t make stuff like this up.

Apparently I was last one in the nation to learn about the surreal dispute between the parents of the late Kimberly Walker, a 28-year-old Iraq War vet who was  found murdered in a Colorado hotel room eight months ago, and the owners of Cincinnati’s historic  Spring Grove Cemetery, concerning the headstones erected over her grave on October 10.

The cemetery reversed its official approval of the twin monuments, apparently bestowed by someone who had momentarily been possessed by the spirit of Chuck Jones, saying that it would be inappropriate for a traditional and historic 19th Century pastoral cemetery that serves as the final resting place of Supreme Court Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase, several Civil War generals including “Fighting Joe” Hooker, who lost the Battle of Chancellorsville, the Hall of Fame manager of the 1927 Yankees, Miller Huggins, and many others, to sport not one but two hideous 6-foot-high, 4-foot-wide, 7,000 pound slabs of granite lovingly carved to depict SpongeBob Squarepants in military gear, one of which displays Kimberly’s name on his uniform. (For those of you who are hopelessly estranged from popular culture, SpongeBob is a fictional deep sea yellow sponge who stars in a popular Nickelodeon cable TV children’s cartoon show. Kimberly, we are told, loved the show. SpongeBob is an idiot, by the way.)

The family is outraged, and feels abused. “I feel like, and we all feel like, SpongeBob should stay there. We bought the plots, all six of them. We put the monuments there, we did what we had to do and they said they could provide that service to us,’ said Walker’s twin sister Kara, who was looking forward to eventually being buried under the second headstone. “I thought it was the greatest thing in the cemetery. I even told the people there that I think this is the best monument I’ve ever seen. It’s the best headstone in the cemetery and they all agreed. It came out really nice.”

Yyyyyyyeah.

Still, putting considerations of taste aside—-and what American these days doesn’t do that daily?—the Walkers duly purchased the plots (they have four more…and just think of what might end up on them) and properly cleared the monuments.

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz for this lovely Fall day is this:

Does fairness dictate that the Walkers be allowed to erect whatever monuments they choose, including giant, garish sculptures of a cartoon character, to honor the memory of their daughter?

Hmmm, let me think about my answer to this. There, that’s enough time:

NO.

Cemeteries like Spring Grove, which include Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Mass,, not far from where I grew up, were lovingly designed as parks, and giant SpongeBob statues are about as appropriate to the classic and dignified surroundings there as Miley Cyrus, her giant finger and her Teddy Bears in full twerk. The fool who granted permission to erect these monstrosities needs to be fired and perhaps institutionalized, and the cemetery is quite correctly undertaking (no pun intended) to reimburse the family for the cost of the stones, which I’m sure was inflated by the extra effort it took someone  to carve the things while laughing himself sick. Still, it is doing the family a favor. It is guaranteed that if the monuments remained, a century or so from now, when nobody remembers who or what SpongeBob was, the headstones will be regarded as a famous oddity and the family who erected them as classless wackos. (It is also better than even odds that when Kara is nearer to being buried next to her sister, she will not be so enthusiastic about spending eternity under a moronically grinning giant sponge.)

The ethics dunces here are the Walkers, who are willing to mar the surroundings and upset scores of families who chose this ultra-traditional burial place for a reason, just to please their dead daughter, who may not have wanted to be forever remembered for her taste in children’s TV programming above all, and who, unlike the rest of us, won’t have to look at the damn thing on top of her. Their position is disrespectful to the sensibilities of those, including the buried, who chose Spring Grove in the belief that its traditional setting would be maintained. It is the equivalent of a family of hillbillies that moves into a lovely neighborhood and immediately erects nude statues of Elvis on their property and paints their mansion pink.

The counter-argument, I suppose, is this: who is to say that SpongeBob is more offensive than, say, angels, or over-sized, ostentatious monuments to people who hardly deserve it, or more solemn horrors like this, titled “Grief,” which presides over the grave of the wife of historian Henry Adams, John’s great-grandson (she killed herself by drinking photographer’s development fluid) in the District of Columbia’s famous Rock Creek Cemetery?

Observe:

Grief

Creepy, no? But still more fitting to a cemetery and less likely to be regarded as a blot on the landscape than a huge headstone modeled after this:

spongebob

You don’t agree?

That’s perfectly fine.

Stay out of my cemetery.

_______________________

Pointer: Althouse

Facts: Daily Mail, Fox News

Graphic: Fox News

39 thoughts on “Ethics Quiz: The SpongeBob Headstones

  1. Someone follows protocol and receives approval to proceed has every expectation that their plan will be allowed to be implemented. What was considered absolutely strange and sometimes illegal 50 years ago (say for example interracial marriage) is now widely accepted and practiced. Who knows what the future of cemetery displays will bring.

    If these headstones drew more people to pay respects to their lost loved ones, even if its only to see the funny headstones, then I say why not?

    Expect the cemetery to cut the Spongebob owners a check for their materiallosses and a little extra for the insult.

  2. If the approval came from someone far down the totem pole, then it’s perfectly reasonable for the top tier of management to overrule them. If the bosses were the ones to OK it and are going back on their approval because of complaints, I have some problems with it.

    Either way, reimbursing the family isn’t doing them a favor. If the cemetery gave them approval and they sunk a significant sum into the stones based on that approval, the cemetery then reneging and saying “sorry, you’re SOL, buy a new one” would be absolutely unacceptable.

    • I should read links first. The first article you link to says that the stones violate cemetery guidelines, which implies that it was an employee screwup and the stones should come down. The second says that the approval was a mistake and “we have decided” the stones are inappropriate, which smacks of post-hoc rationalization becuase someone complained.

      • I misread that and connected “doing the family a favor” to the previous part, about reimbursal, rather than to the latter part, about saving them from embarassment. Sorry ’bout that.

  3. The only thing worse than a family putting up a spongebob gravestone is figuring out who should have veto power over a family’s fully compliant desires.

    Who you gonna put in charge of assessing cemeterial political correctness? I don’t like any of the possible answers to that question.

    • Wait until someone DOES want a gravestone of a middle finger sticking up (the 60’s counterculture people are starting to die off, it will happen). If you don’t want to have any standards, you don’t want to have ANY standards. Just because something can’t be done perfectly doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done. Watch the first 20 min of Idiocracy (I wouldn’t ask anyone to watch any more, it probably violates some international agreement against torture).

    • Who you gonna put in charge of assessing cemeterial political correctness?

      whomever is in charge of the cemetary , that’s who. This is, I assume, a private cemetery, and thus under no obligation to allow anything.

      I understand that the idea of private action by private parties terrifies you, but we still retain some measure of freedom.

    • This the Dress Code Effect again. The system was fine for more than a century, and then one tasteless, selfish, clueless, wealthy and none-too-swift family hits it right in a loophole. The objection goes well beyond political correctness, don’t you think? (Though future controversies could hang on that–what about a Redskins logo on the stone? A giant Redskins helmet? A giant Redskin? A naked John Riggins?

      This why co-ops end up with regulations on every detail, and have fascist boards telling residents what kind of Christmas lights they can put in their windows—because there are always, lurking, tasteless people who abuse the privilege of free choice, ruin the community for everyone else, and require oppressive rules that are only necessary for the.5% who don’t have the sense God gave, well, a sponge.

      You can’t have gaudy monuments in Arlington any more, though it was once allowed. How would a SpongeBob headstone go down there, I wonder? Actually, I don’t wonder at all, and it’s not political correctness.

      This is fat men wearing tank tops in airplanes; it’s theater-goers taking cell phone calls and movie-goers talking through the movie. It’s Britney Spears going to church dressed like a hooker, and David Ortiz saying “this our fucking city” at a baseball game.It’s Miley Cyrus twerking on TV with kids watching; it’s the naked teachers, and the unmarried member of Congress proudly proclaiming that she needn’t wait to get married before having kids. It’s called rudeness, bad manners, and a lack of respect for others, with the standards lowered constantly by the self-centered, poorly socialized, disrespectful, illiterate, ignorant and foolish.

      So someone has to make rules, and yes, if they are reasonable, it’s an impossible job. Or, if they love ordering everyone around and making gratuitous limitations, it’s fun.

      • It’s immaterial.. If a design is submitted and approved it is up to the competency of whoever is awake at the admin office.. .Maybe in the future they would require a detailed drawing.

        Why do people always point to the extreme poor taste to make a point, when it is the drones who don’t bother doing their job in the first place?

        • No. The conduct proposed was selfish, inconsiderate, tasteless and wrong, whether it was approved or not. Approval, mistaken or intentional, doesn’t change the nature of the proposed marker, which is inappropriate. Eventually the cemetery got it right—it owes compensation for not doing so in a timely fashion.

      • Try googling “humorous gravestones.” You get things like “Finally found a parking place in Georgetown;” a stone PC and monitor; a stone-carved scrabble board; lines like “Shit happens.” And many more.
        Do they make it up there with SpongeBob? Well, they kind of move in that direction.
        And on a related note, how about the guy in Alabama who got in a fight with the township because he buried his wife in his front yard, and the town didn’t think that was a good idea and sued him. Who should decide what’s politically correct there?
        I’m not trying to posit an alternative point of view here, I think it’s really hard to do. Defining “taste” is wildly subjective. I think we’re thrown back on things like MeatShield’s “If I own the cemetery I can do any damn thing I want.” But then there’s who writes the regulations about what constitutes a cemetery.
        Feels like turtles all the way down…

  4. A couple of more serous thoughts…

    1) As private actors, the cemetery is free to allow or disallow whatever markers or memorials they choose. You have no special right with regards to even being buried there, and as such you have no special right to have whatever fuckwittery you choose over your grave. If the family is so insulted it would be, I suppose, appropriate to require the cemetery cover the cost of exhumation and reburial at another cemetery, and of course return whatever monies had been paid, but no more.

    2) This is pure speculation, but I think I can hazard a guess as to why a 26 year old was so obsessed with a cartoon about a moron and his mildly retarded friend… SpongeBob is very, very popular in the drug culture, especially potheads.

    • Patrick is a lot worse than “mildly retarded.”

      I also think your surmise about the reason for the SpongeBob love is unduly kind. Based on the quality of the though evidenced by the comments from the deceased woman’s twin, I think…well, you know what I think.

  5. Jack,

    Doesn’t this illustrate another facet of the Ethics Incompleteness Theorem?

    The cemetery certainly has its guidelines, but inevitably guidelines require a certain element of good faith reasoning because guidelines can’t anticipate EVERYTHING. Although in this specific instance, the tombstone does apparently contradict the guidelines, it won’t be long before someone will scrutinize the guidelines and find a way to make a horribly distasteful monument that *technically* fits the guidelines. Obviously in the case of a private cemetery, the guidelines are just that: here’s a general idea of what is acceptable, but we are the final judges on appropriateness.

    Bad faith rule nitpickers will always find GOTCHA ways to say “Ha, you HAVE to allow this because it follows the letter of the law” (never mind the spirit of the law).

    • During the ensuing lawsuit, the following exchange needs to happen…

      Family’s Lawyer: “Can you show us any other time you have rejected a similar monument?”

      Guy from the Cemetery: “No. No I cannot because…”

      FL: “Ah-ha! You admit to singling my clients out!”

      GftC: “No, because as I was about to say before you cut me off, no one had ever been stupid enough to have sought to put a huge statue of a cartoon character that is only popular with small children, the developmentally disabled, and pot-heads…”

    • It’s also a likely example of the Dress Code phenomenon. A perfectly good self-regulating system works until someone—someone selfish who does not care about the community— takes advantage of its lack of specific prohibitions to break it.

  6. I could see an embossing of spongebob or small decal. People now have portraits and talking headstones in places. That might have been what was okayed, but the family thought they could go whole hog. It looks like one or both sides did not specify what they wanted and expected.

    As the cost of that many plots is probably more than the headstone, or they are just upset to be forced to change this late, I think they probably be allowed a refund on the plots and they can try to find a cemetery, that allows this. I hope they can’t, as it’s not as likely people will pay respects to their adult daughter, when the symbol and monument for her accomplishments is a foolish sponge for children. That belittles her choices.

    Sponsor a spongebob piece of equipment in a park, where children can enjoy him anew every year and set a gravestone that respects the adult who died.

  7. Thinking as cynically as possible: Such an avant garde headstone, and any other similarly non-conformist monument (like the middle finger that was mentioned), would be a magnet for vandals and thieves, as much as for curious visitors. I may be thinking “too Japanese” about ethics here, but it seems like, in a place where memories of deceased are to be honored – a “signature site” for “behaving respectably toward others” – it is fair for those with authority over the aesthetics of the cemetery to make sure that no single grave site is disproportionately flamboyant in its marking.

    Otherwise, we may as well expect the Brothers Gibb to have all their graves flanking a cozy disco floor that lights up, with one of those big, twirling reflector spheres, and plays their songs for dancing, anytime anyone approaches their graves. Disgusting!

    That said, again, Jack, I agree with you but with some exceptions about naked teachers, plus about pregnant unmarried Congresscritters. And a naked John Riggins IN HIS PRIME (WITH a Redskins helmet), in the right cemetery, might look just fine.

    • Well, now I am remembering when I was a young lad, and had the opportunity over several days to prowl and explore an old cemetery in Richmond, Kentucky…

      That is where I discovered the obelisk over the grave of Cassius Clay. It was a Eureka moment that propelled me into a journey of learning much more about, and much more fully appreciating, a great number of people who lived before me.

      There was much variety in grave markers in that cemetery, I recall. It wasn’t the obelisk, though, that stayed in my memory as much as the name on the grave. But, honestly, the relative size of the monument did influence my wanderings, and I am grateful for my experience which I probably would not have had, if not for that obelisk.

  8. “Let’s make death cute. That way we don’t really have to deal with our grief.” Never mind the other family members who have lost loved ones and who honor them by erecting tasteful and appropriate grave markers in the cemetery.

    • I’m not sure that’s a serious question.

      Here’s a fixed link: Maila Nurmi gravestone image

      That one is obviously appropriate. The 1st noticeable thing about a monument is it’s size and shape. This headstone is so conventional as to escape passive notice.

      Of course, rule nitpickers will then say “AH HA! Then a Middle Finger of small conservative size will pass muster!” No, it won’t.

  9. Why is there any discussion of this? C’mon, guys — you know the real reason for desecra..uh…removing the headsponge. We all know Squarepants is gay. Just like Bert ‘n Ernie, and that Teletubby whatsisname oh yeah, Tinky Winky.

  10. Wrong again, Sir Ab. See the precis of the seminal theses on the subject: http://spongebobsux1.tripod.com/id3.html. This is #2. “While some fags says he likes Sandy this isn’t true because he shows absolutly NO affection when around her, but while Spongebob is with PatrickFat he shows over abundance of affection towards him.” This will remain in your mind As Long As I Want It To ….
    . . . .
    Jack’s question is pertinent, however. (His questions are always pertinent; its the answers … oh, never mind.) And of course all sponges are by nature gay. The reason why, if you think about their function, is too crude for print in this polite, mature, legitimate and intelligent discussion.

    (sponges are among my very very best friends)

    The first post was just one of those responses to a situation that was so idiotic, from all angles and participants, that it demanded a like reaction.

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