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The Enduring Legacy of Shrek

Oct. 24, 2016
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If you type “Shrek” into Google, the suggestions include a few things you’d expect (Shrek 2, Shrek 3, Shrek the Musical) and one seemingly innocuous phrase: “Shrek is love, Shrek is life.” To a clean-minded person whose search history isn’t a one-way ticket to hell, the last suggestion seems the result of charmingly diehard fans’ devotion to a well-made animated feature that enjoyed both critical and commercial success. For the rest of us sinners, it’s a reminder of a haunting travesty that we can never unsee. 

Your loss of innocence probably transpired the same way mine did: a wine-and-Netflix night with college friends that was intended to be “chill” and “relaxing” but ended up scarring you forever. 

If you haven’t watched it, don’t. For the love of God, don’t. Save yourself while you still can! 

Like Harry Potter, the Shrek franchise is something that we millennials grew up with. The chronology of each new installment coinciding with our own coming of age stages - along with our ever-deepening memeification of literally anything that crosses our path - may be the reason why these beloved children’s franchises have become the targets of some truly depraved fanfiction. Unlike Harry Potter, the Shrek subculture has entirely taken on a life of its own. 

As the 2001 Shrek inspired four sequels, the 4chan meme has spawned countless imitations, cartoons, videos, Tumblrs, song parodies, and Twitter accounts. This desecration crusade of filthy-minded hooligans (i.e. all of us) has gained so much traction that there’s actually a whole Wikipedia page dedicated to “Shrek on the Internet.” 

ShrekChan launched in May 2012, and the depravity only escalated as self-proclaimed “brogres” churned out intentionally bad memes and more demented depictions of character couplings. Defiling a cultural artifact as only bored twentysomethings can, the original “Shrek is love” video – as well as its unfortunate progeny – continues to fan the flames and unfurl the freak flags. 

Like so many franchises, each new installment of Shrek is met with decreasing critical acclaim. Unlike all the others, the increasing corporatization of the franchise only encourages trolls (and aspiring ogres) to drag it down even further, determined to remove it from the clear mainstream and return it to the murky swamp where it belongs.

Unlike previous cult classics, unironic appreciation of Shrek only seems to multiply with the porn-y parodies. Shrek Forever After was released in 2010 and Puss in Boots in 2011, a decade after the intended-aged-audience saw the original in theaters. Those of us who saw the O.G. Shrek between ages 7-12 were then 17-22 and in full, unfortunate possession of the Internet. When the rumored fifth film is released in 2019, the most recent generation of kid fans will be in their late teens, and the cycle will continue. 

Shrek fans are nothing if not persistent, so much so that the subculture has spawned creative linguistic developments (i.e. the appropriation of “dreck” as “Drek,” the blue-skinned antagonist and foil to Shrek’s good intentions, and Farquaad as a Debbie Downer of Duloc – basically anyone who expresses disapproval of Shrek, and therefore incurs the wrath of the fandom). 

Some embrace the association while others shy away from it. Smash Mouth, who rebel against the idea that their fame is due solely to their prominence on the Shrek soundtrack, constantly remind fans that they had a #1 hit before “All Star,” despite brogres’ insistence on wearing Shrek masks to their concerts. 

The Shrek fandom and subculture is a complex, ever-evolving, multifaceted beast that we’ll never fully understand… you might even say it has layers.

Cover Image by Jodeci Zimmerman

Tags: memes shrek