Warning: This story contains depictions of sexual assault. Read with caution.
The video clip opens with a boy kneeling beside his bed in prayer. It’s not to God, but to Shrek, the world’s most popular ogre. “Shrek is love,” the boy mutters. “Shrek is life.”
No, it’s not some sick new spinoff of the blockbuster DreamWorks franchise. This is the latest fanmade addition to the the Internet’s bizarre five-year obsession with Shrek.
In the clip, the boy’s father overhears his prayer. He calls the boy a homophobic slur. The boy retaliates, and his dad slaps him. He cries himself to sleep. Sometime during the night, he’s woken up by Shrek himself. The ogre whispers in the boy’s ear, “This is my swamp.”
It gets much weirder—and more NSFW—from there. It ends with Shrek saying, “It’s all ogre now,” before flying out the bedroom window. The phrase “Shrek is love. Shrek is life” appears on the screen over some melancholy piano music.
Dec. 1, 2009, holds a particular significance in Shrek’s Internet history. This is when DreamWorks launched its official Facebook page for the series—a place for the studio to promote Shrek products and spinoffs. It was also a place where DreamWorks had Shrek occasionally speak to his fans through cute first-person posts.
These posts were a big hit on Facebook. The number of likes each one received was 1,000 to 2,000 more than the average promotional post. What DreamWorks may not have realized was that this sort of creativity—the removal of Shrek from the confines of its films—is exactly what fans had been doing well before they launched its Facebook page.
In May 2012, ShrekChan was launched—the digital altar for all “brogres” to worship at. (The term “brogre,” meaning a hyper-obsessed Shrek fan, is a play off “brony,” a young adult fan of the TV show My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic). ShrekChan is a 4chan-based imageboard for brogres to satirically (and sometimes seriously) comment on anything remotely related to the Shrek series.
On Saturday, ShrekChan received its 500,000th visitor.
“In my opinion, it’s a subversion of brony culture, again taking something relatively childish with good intentions and flipping it to an ironic appreciation,” said Amanda Brennan, a former researcher for Know Your Meme and current Tumblr staffer.
With the Shrek meme thoroughly established thanks to deviantART and ShrekChan, 4chan took it to a whole new demented level in 2013.
The “Shrek Is Love, Shrek Is Life” metameme was a meme built on top of an existing meme. As illustrated in the video clip mentioned earlier, it tells the story of a Shrek-obsessed boy who is disturbed by the green ogre in his sleep. (Warning: NSFW.)
Allegedly, the meme was first posted on 4chan’s paranormal board /x/ in January 2013 and has inspired a whole new crop of deranged illustrations.
All of this new attention has resulted in rise in popularity on Google trends.
Does this spike in popularity mean anything in terms of staying power for the meme and Shrek in general? Probably not, says Brennan.
She points out that while the phrase “Shrek is love” is “on the upswing, comparing it to a search for just ‘Shrek" flattens the [Google trends] graph.” Meaning all the online appreciation for Shrek barely factors into his mainstream popularity.
The meme may live forever underground.