How the Internet Became Shrek’s Swamp

Listen to this episode

S1: I don’t have any. You do now, I call that one Shrek and the other people that Shrek is a rascally devil to do. Oh, look at the time. I guess you better be going.

S2: Hi, I’m Rachel Hampton.

S3: And I’m Madison Malone Kirchherr. And you’re listening to see why am I.

S2: In case you missed it, Slate’s

S3: podcast about Internet culture.

S2: And speaking of the Internet, you can now find it funny because we officially have a Twitter account. Don’t ask why it took us this long to get one

Advertisement

S3: shout out to my friend Kelly, who was like, wait, your show about Twitter doesn’t have a Twitter account. And I was like, well, when you put it that way, Kelly,

S2: we’re never going to make a Tick-Tock account. I’m so sorry, despite how much we talk about it. But on Twitter you can find us at. I see why my underscored pot.

S3: We figured this would be an easier way to get in touch with us and interact with us on Twitter, which so many of you who have been doing, which is great using our hashtag. But honestly, we kept forgetting to use the hashtag. I myself have used the wrong hashtag at least twice.

Advertisement

S2: I have simply left it off of my tweets about the podcast to the concern of our producers. So now if you need us, call us. Beep us at ACIM. I underscore pod

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S3: in other Twitter news, a callback. Rachel Stone, you might remember from a few episodes back, she is a legal journalist who is banned from Twitter for threatening to murder the the tick tock man

S2: as she so lovingly called him. She’s back on Twitter. I’m not going to say Woodward and Bernstein who but like this is this is impact journalism.

S3: I am Rachel McAdams and Spotlight, honestly.

S2: Yeah. I think that’s kind of a hotter look. Anyway, she’s been freed from Twitter jail. After our episode, someone at Twitter reached out to her on LinkedIn of all platforms and was like, what’s going on here? I think he had also seen the application. She had Sinton, which if you listen to the episode, you know that she sent in an application that was just her appeal to work at

Advertisement

S3: Twitter

S2: as a job she does not want. But it worked and we worked. So if nothing, you know, that we have, you know, the juice to get someone unbent from Twitter. Please don’t it. Please don’t use Twitter to test it out.

S3: And we are not trying

S2: to get banned from Twitter.

S3: This was a one time, oh, one time deal. Our first tweet should probably not be a death threat, but you’ll have to head over to our account at Icey. Why am I under your pod? To find out for sure.

S2: But we’re not going to spend the whole episode talking about all the great content we’re going to be filling our Twitter account with, because some more important things have been happening this week. For once, the Internet is celebrating because that iconic movie Shrek is turning twenty years old. I feel so old

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S3: today on ABC. Why am I we’re going to take you through the evolution of the Internet’s collective obsession with Shrek. Chances are good if you are listening to our podcast, you already have a vague or frankly, incredibly detailed PhD level understanding of how much the Internet has taken to Shrek over the last two decades. But we absolutely have to get into the green. I was going to say horned. They’re not really Horan’s like little weird years, right?

S2: Yeah, because people’s earwax that No. One point.

S3: Yeah, right. Yeah.

S2: Anyway, we’re going to get into some more gross stuff during the course of this episode, but not just because we are brain broken, but because Scheck’s storeyed Internet history is honestly really important in understanding how the film was at the forefront of a merger between Iroh culture. If you consider a movie where a dragon, a donkey procreate to be culture, which we had. I see. Why am I? Certainly do I

Advertisement

S3: have so many questions, though, just like biological physiological question. First, why can’t

S2: we can’t answer those questions today. Madson. What we can’t answer is how Shrek managed to combine this very weird movie with the very weird thing that is the Internet and turned it into this sort of Frankenstein art all its own, one that has only continued to mutate like beautiful dragon donkey hybrid mutants, the fly. Now, you

S3: you’ve really brought that back around.

S2: I love a convoluted metaphor.

S3: I love a forced metaphor.

S2: But before we get into more force metaphors, we have to go back in time

S3: to a darker time before Shrek. OK, so Shrek premiered at Cannes Film Festival in 2001, which is just objectively funny because this is an. Animated movie, theoretically for children about a ogre who lives in a swamp.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S2: This movie also won the Academy Award in 2002 for Best Animated Feature, which was the first ever Oscar in that category. And it beat Monsters Inc. But from the very beginning, Shrek, when you think about the back story of it, seems designed in a lab to become an Internet phenomenon. It was this kind of anti Disney movie poking fun at the eternal franchising of successful properties and these like overused tropes. It then became the very monster was making fun of. But there’s also I don’t know how many people know about the kind of development hell that Shrek was in for so long. It was, I think, started to be produced around like 1993, 1994. It eventually premiered in 2001.

Advertisement

S3: Which animated movies take a long time to make? We should be clear, but this one was especially long protracted

S2: within DreamWorks Studios. It was known as the Gulag because animators who failed while working on other projects, such as the absolute Bangar that is the prince of Egypt, were often said, Oh yeah, imagine going from that movie to being sent to work on Shrek. And the reassignment was known as being Shrek, which if you know anything about the kind of Shrek mythology, that phrase in and of itself is very popular. So the movie premiers eventually, after all of this, kind of like stopping and starting and glugging. And kids love it. Critics love it. Angsty teens love it. The movie is insanely popular to the point where, like the sequel makes close to a billion dollars worldwide. And so the movie in the franchise, at least for the first two movies, kind of combines all the most important elements you need for me, which is culture ubiquity, just like a whiff of sticking it to the man, even though the man is ultimately making a billion plus dollars off of it, a kind of I’m sorry to Shrek ugliness, which we love. And Meems,

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S3: I really think you missed the whole point of this movie, man.

S2: No, the point is that you accept your ugliness. That is the point. What are you talking about?

S3: Oh, man. All right. We’ll talk

S2: later. And then funny words like Shrek is objectively a funny word. And so you have all of these kind of combinations of things.

S4: OK, all girls are like onions. They stink. Yes. No. Or they make you cry.

S1: No, you leave them out in the sun. They get all brown starts, brown little white hairs, no layers.

S4: Onions have layers. Ogres have layers. Onions have layers. You get it. We both have layers.

S3: Do you remember seeing the first one in theaters?

Advertisement

S2: No, the movie came out when I was five, but

S4: oh,

S2: I do remember how often I watched it as a kid. I also watched my little brother who was born like nine years after me. And so it was this kind of like cross child thing that we both loved at the same time, which I really think kind of gets at the heart of like, why strike is so popular? Because by the time my little brother was watching movies, kids movies, I was kind of like too old for them. But I was fine with Shrek.

S3: And as you mentioned, like Shrek just kept rolling out sequels until the sequel stopped being good or making money. It also got a Broadway musical in 2008. So that sort of Shrek as it might have been were it purely an entertainment phenomenon. That’s honestly where the story begins. In 2009, DreamWorks launches a Shrek Facebook page. It no longer exists, but shout out to The Daily Dot, who several years ago archived a number of the posts, keep in mind, 2009. So it’s been nearly a decade, eight years since the movie came out and the bit on the Facebook pages that Shrek himself would post little like notes to fans,

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S2: which, OK, weird, but just remember the Shrek two, which also slaps and I think may close to a billion dollars came out in 2004. One point I don’t think either of us have made yet. The movie soundtracks are fucking incredible, immaculate, and again are part of this kind of Internet cultural legacy because Shrek the Shrek movies were kind of the first animated movies to use existing songs as the soundtrack instead of like an original score or original music. And there’s this way in which the capturing of a specific mood with the song that already has an emotional resonance with the. Audience just reminds me of tick tock.

S3: Yeah, that’s a good way to put it. It also another way to put it is that myself and a generation of children learned about halleluja as that sad song from the low point Shrek.

S2: Yes, exactly. Which is a meme in and of itself. So DreamWorks rides this wave to the very end and they’re clearly trying to figure out how to capitalize on this giant, unwieldy fandom that it could never have anticipated. And so they’ve created a Facebook page and that was maybe the closest they got to harnessing the power of the Internet, which sprawls out beyond their control into very weird territories. Very, very quickly

S3: after the break, we’re going to get into how all of that has evolved into a meme smorgasbord. We’re still talking about decades later, honestly, things are about to get weirder and darker and just put in headphones. Do not listen to this around impressionable young children.

S2: But first, a musical interlude.

S3: I’m going to perform all star. Yeah. Somebody wants to know if the

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S4: world is going to know me. The sharpest tool in the shed.

S3: We’ll be back to get our show on and get paid in just a moment, though, Bob.

S5: In the shape of an.

S2: And we are back we left off in the magical year of 2009 with Shrek, a Facebook page, that sentence makes me feel 75 years old.

S3: Well, you did just tell me you were five when this movie came out. So, you know, karma, you’re right.

S2: What goes around comes around.

S3: So what happens next?

S2: Something that I forgot about, which is that in 2010, as they’re promoting, I believe, Shrek Forever after which will be the only time you mentioned that movie on this show because it does not exist. I don’t acknowledge it. But as they’re promoting this unnamed movie, DreamWorks and Paramount decides to let this kind of indie magazine do a photo spread involving Shrek, the magazine is called Beamon. And they really take a kind of creative approach to this spread. Which is they they posed Shrek and and

S3: like, I don’t want to know

S2: this, I’m so sorry they posed Shrek and Co including like Puss in Boots and like donkey animals. Let’s keep that in mind next to a bunch of models and these kind of suggestive poses, which really feels like a perhaps unintentional overlap with what would come to define the Shrek Internet fandom. In fact, it seems so intentional that Paramount and DreamWorks Animation eventually told The Hollywood Reporter that they regretted allowing the magazine to feature characters from a family friendly franchise in such a compromising position, which is deeply hilarious, but also describes how much Paramount and DreamWorks were not ready for what would come in 2012.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S3: We take a little bit of a turn when our website called Shrek Chan officially launches. It’s like a community based image board is probably the best way to describe it, akin to, you know, 4chan. But ideally, I guess with like more Shrek heads and fewer Nazis. So Shrek chan becomes this place where Shrek, like, takes on its own life. Ogre’s become sort of like saintly is maybe a good way to put it.

S2: Yeah, yeah. There’s this way in which Internet communities align themselves with the kind of dark horse of a series ogres and misunderstood, but ultimately good, you know, like they have layers. And the only reason that people think they’re evil is because people don’t want to understand them, which is really the perfect kind of anti-hero for teens on the Internet.

S3: There’s a lot of discussion about like the swamp where Shrek lives. Swamp becomes sort of a metaphor for for a safe a safe space there, you know, opposed to all things Farquaad who is the the villain in Shrek

S4: Knights new from the one who kills the ogre will be named Champion. How about him? Oh, hey, no, come on.

S3: I feel like we should also mention that there was like there were made up characters that become part of this universe, namely drek, who is Shrek Mortal Enemy. And it’s just Shrek. But he’s blew

S2: the creativity of the Internet, knows no bounds, and unfortunately, it sometimes gives us things that we wish it did not. Case in point, the next milestone and the Shrek Internet canon came the 2013

S3: Cretaceous era

S2: in 2013. Over on real 4chan, a copy pasta known infamously as Shrek is love. Shrek is life emerges. And if you know about this, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. And if you don’t, I’m also sorry because we’re about to ruin whatever nice little bubble you’ve been living in.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S3: We should mention a copy. Pasta is an Internet text meme that gets re shared and pasted over and over again. A good example is like if you’ve ever gotten chain email, like if you think back to twenty five, if you don’t send this to five people, you’ll have bad luck. That’s a copy pasta

S2: and this one is extremely not safe for work. And honestly, I’m just going to give like a big ol trigger warning for literally everything.

S3: Just Tildy hour in case you want out. Now it involves child abuse, homophobia, a kid being sodomized by Shrek. I hate this. Remember when the people who invented the Internet thought it was going to democratize the world?

S2: This is not the democracy. We need it.

S3: We’re not going to link this in the show notes. If you want to read it, you’re going to have to put in the work to find it.

S2: Somehow this text post gets turned into this extremely haunting animated video I’ve seen exactly once, but it’s seared into my brain for the rest of my life. So you would think in a normal world that this video and this copy pasta would exist and people would immediately be like, oh, no, but no, it becomes isn’t higher meme that people is sharing in the same way I think people shared like two girls, one cup also intensely disturbing.

S3: Wow. This show is just foul today.

S2: Yeah. Honestly, I’m sorry. The strike is low. Strike is live. Video becomes its own cottage industry in that they’re just a shit ton of videos of people reacting to it, including one by none other than the fine brothers who have this series of famous YouTube is reacting to viral videos. The one reacting to Shrek is love. Shrek ASLAV came out in 2014 and features YouTube like Tyler Oakley Shane. Dawson and Joey Christopher, which is a name I haven’t heard in 27 years,

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S3: Drag Cigarette had that name in 27 years. I hate to do this, but we need to play a clip.

S1: I was only nine years old. I loved Trick so much. I had all the merchandise that SS Zinat to shrink fat to it for pet thinking and for the life I’ve been given. Shrek is so intense, we have to hold him, Shrek is life of Shrek. My dad used me and calls me. I was just jealous

S2: of my SO during this video, it’s like just YouTube is sitting in a room kind of facing the camera and they’re looking at a laptop. And in the corner, the video you can see a little cut out of this. Shrek is love. Shrek is like video playing. So you can see what they’re reacting to as they’re reacting to it. And they’re kind of just talking out loud as they’re reacting to it. And you just kind of see the horror mounting in their faces, me

S1: on my hands and knees.

S2: No, no, no, no, no, no. And at the very end of the video, they do a kind of like postmortem, like, how do you feel? And a lot of them are like, why did you do that to me? To which, you know, fair.

S3: This video is kind of like off Brand Sim’s porn.

S2: Yeah, I’m I’m upset at that description, but it’s not wrong.

S3: It’s accurate in 2014. Back to our our timeline. Shrek chan very abruptly closes down, much to the the sadness and just despondence of of some of its most loyal followers. Its creator said that at the time, spammer’s and shite posters, as well as the fact that the Shrek phenomenon has been butchered down to nothing, has made it hard for our community to survive, which makes sense, like we are a pod cast in 2021, talking about the 20th anniversary of Shrek and its history of Meems, which is as good an indication as any that Shrek at this point, Shrek means at this point have become too mainstream to actually be good, seems to be edgy, to be weird, to be out there.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S2: So Shrek goes from being this kind of template for flawed humor into being the kind of casual Internet waters from which all memes are made like SpongeBob or B movie.

S3: All this is to say the meaning of Shrek did not end. Yeah, the

S2: Shrek chapter ends and the next one is just again, this kind of ubiquity where anywhere you turn on the Internet there just Shrek means to the point that in twenty eighteen 200 people clap to make a YouTube recreation of Shrek the movie and they called it Shrek Retold which great title.

S3: Here’s a little bit of Shrek retold, which will sound familiar if you’re familiar with Shrek, but also different Thankachan.

S4: All right, let’s get it. Well, what that thing could do to you. Yeah. It’ll grind your bones to make its bread. Yes, well, actually, that would be a drawing giant,

S2: it’s animated and all these different styles because 200 people spent all this time making a spreadsheet over analyzing every scene to get an all the same cuts and actions

S4: back back, I warn.

S3: Yeah, that sounds weird. Like that is that description sounds like it should still be in this category of like weird deep Internet meaning. But there’s this great Vyse piece about the evolution and history of Shrek memes that will link in the show notes that came out this week. And the piece mentions something that I found really fascinating was that a bunch of the people who made Shrek retold actually had to go watch Shrek for the first time in order to make their segments, because being a Shrek fan, being into Shrek, Meems is like fully divorced from actually the movie itself at this point.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S2: Yeah, it’s like if you haven’t seen Shrek, you can probably watch the movie and have seen perhaps 75 percent of the movie just through GIFs or stills or various out of context, Meems, because, again, Shrek is just part of, you know, the green Internet waters that we’re all swimming in at this point.

S3: You might say we’ve reached the secularity.

S2: I don’t want to say it.

S3: The fact that we’re all still we all cultural reporters, Internet reporters, the fact that we’re all still talking about Shrek in twenty twenty one is sort of indicative of both its formative ness and its ubiquity at this point. Shrek is Shrek is no longer weird. Shrek is for everyone.

S2: I mean, I don’t think anything quite proves how egalitarian this movie is. And the fact that last year a man reenacted the entirety of Shrek two on a live stream while people donated to racial justice organisations, he made twelve thousand dollars. Wait.

S3: Really?

S2: Yes.

S3: Yes, I’m impressed.

S2: I am also impressed.

S3: I simply need to hear some of this now too.

S1: Can be used. That is one donkey. Shrek Keota. Aren’t you a sight for sore eyes? Give us a hug. Shrek, you old love machine.

S3: Was that man just doing Eddie Murphy Shrek. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

S2: I was trying. I mean the amazing thing about this live stream besides the fact that like almost seven hundred thousand people watched it is that he’s not even in costume, but he’s he’s just in his room, in his home wearing this like orange t shirt with the camera kind of positioned in what I called the like grandma position where it’s like under your chin and like a nose shot. Yeah. So it’s like as low budget as you could possibly get. And yet it worked to the tune of like twelve thousand dollars,

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S3: but also a good, good summation of what Shrek has become.

S1: We’re always happy to see you Donkey, but Fiona and I are married now,

S3: lest you believe it’s just Rachel and I screaming into a void about Shrek and trying to convince you that a thing is a thing. We’re going to link to a sort of Shrek syllabus in the show, notes of a couple of pieces of Shrek anniversary content. We have loved this week that if you’re looking for more green Oguri, swampy oniony goodness, that’s where they’re at. I guess there’s only one thing left to say.

S2: Rachael, please don’t say it.

S3: You know what it is?

S2: You know what it is. I do.

S3: Shrek is love. Shrek his life,

S2: my whole body just clenched.

S3: That is so dirty in context. Rachel and show Jesus Christ.

S2: All right. That’s the show. I’m going to go take a shower. We’ll be back in your feed on Wednesday. So please subscribe for free. And if you can leave a rating and review an Apple podcast, I was going to say something mean and which don’t do it and follow us on our new Twitter account. Again, we’re at I think I am I underscore pod. We’ll be posting to the end of the earth on there. And you can also deimos your questions and you can always, always drop us a note at. I see. Why am I at Slate Dotcom?

S3: I see Why Am I is produced by Daniel Shrader, our supervising producer is Derek John Forrest. Wickman is Slate’s culture editor and Gabe Roth is editorial director of Audio. Stay at of Swamp and see you online on. Don’t get don’t go. All right, that’s it.