The hit American animated TV series from 1999, Spongebob Squarepants is easily recognisable even today thanks to the wildly popular title character.

Spongebob resonated with both adults and children, because the show had scores of underlying messages. According to a new theory, Bikini Bottom and its colourful residents predicted that meme culture was on its way, much before it actually arrived on the Internet. As internet reviewer Quinton from Quinton Reviews wrote, this can been traced to one particular episode, titled Ripped Pants which aired in July 1999.

In the episode, Spongebob tries very hard to impress Sandy but ends up embarrassingly tearing his pants instead. This leads to him becoming a bit of a legend and he is widely regarded as a hilarious sensation post the incident. This is what Quinton says about the episode:

“The first wave is where people laugh at the viral clip or image on its own standalone basis. The second wave is where people reappropriate the humor in some new context. The third wave comes when the joke is recognizable enough that the punch line is a reference to the original joke itself. After that, the humor will continuously devolve further and further until it eventually ends up on the Ellen show”

Essentially, everyone wants to join in and share the joke. Unfortunately, the more we share it, the less funny it becomes.

“It’s like trying to watch a one-hit wonder try to write their second song,” Quinton says. In the episode too, Spongebob repeats the joke about his ripped pants until everyone gets sick of it.

This is a great parallel to meme culture. In the episode, the subject of the meme, Spongebob, manages to use his viral fame to launch his music career, letting him build something more lasting and artistic than a temporary meme.

There’s hope for all of us then, including the faces of the most absurd memes floating around on the internet.