Ten years ago today, Shrek 2 was released in theaters and became the highest-grossing animated film of all time in the United States, a record it still holds. That anniversary is very important for some people on the internet. It's just not the people you'd think.
The internet is full of inexplicable trends, in-jokes, and parody concepts that are and should be impenetrable to many a casual browser. There are useful sites that seek to explain the genesis and popularity of these ridiculous and impenetrable memes, but they are informational more than anything.
I don't profess to fully understand how the internet's obsession with Shrek came about, nor can I explain to what level it's purely ironic, but there's something about it that just makes sense. The Shrek franchise represents everything that was initially exciting and then quickly patronizing about the early '00s. It's symbolic of so many things we briefly loved before quickly realizing their emptiness.
I'm perhaps getting ahead of myself. There is a fervent and surprisingly recent trend of warped internet love for the Shrek franchise that first sprouted up around 2010 and feels, at least on the surface, laced with layers of irony. Some Shrek fans call themselves "Brogers," a wink at the My Little Pony fans dubbed "Bronies." At least one sub-section of this fandom revolves around pornographic slash-fiction and the phrase "Shrek Is Love." Intentionally crappy Shrek fan-art and animation is another cornerstone; there's also passionate devotion for Smash Mouth's pop hit "All Star," which featured in the first Shrek film and symbolizes the kind of cheesy rock that dominated mainstream radio at the turn of the millennium.
As with all good internet memes, it feels like one giant agreed-upon joke. No one ever admits that the Shrek series is pretty crappy, even though DreamWorks drove it into the ground as hard as it possibly could. The first Shrek was critically acclaimed and an Oscar winner; the second was among the biggest money-makers in film history, but was the beginning of a sharp fall-off in quality. All four films spoofed Disney mythology and the tired dynamic of the beautiful damsel in distress, but the sequels' main laughs relied more on cheap topical gags and flimsy celebrity cameos. None are well-remembered.
It’s 10:10 a.m. on the east coast and… ●●●▬▬▬ஜ۩۞۩ஜ▬▬●●● SHREK 2 IS 10 YEARS OLD ●●●▬▬▬ஜ۩۞۩ஜ▬▬●●●— Brian Feldman (@BAFeldman) May 19, 2014
I noticed a while ago that Wire contributor Brian Feldman was in on the Shrek gags and chatted with him about the Shrek 2 anniversary. His take was similar to my initial read on the phenomenon, which is that it isn't just the simple anti-comic joke of liking something that sucks. "I think Shrek is really a shorthand for everything that was popular in the early aughts, before the internet folded in on itself," he posits. "This was sort of the first instance of a postmodern children's thing selling out…it's this odd mix of both admitting affection, but also that it's kinda shitty."