Monthly Archives: August 2014

The many truths to be learnt from Facebook like pages

The search for truth is an endless one. I spent three years at university studying philosophy, attempting to come to terms with some of the ultimate realities of the universe. And before me, hundreds of scientists and thinkers have devoted their lives to the study of what is true.

Imagine my surprise then, when I learnt that the answers were within our grasp all along. I’d noticed a trend of articles being shared by my friends on Facebook, each with the promise of some hidden truth. And I’d never heard any of these before! Here are some examples:

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I mean, wow! The vibratory power of sacred words! We should probably let those scientists know about this right away, yeah? What a breakthrough!

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Cannabis-based batteries? Oh my god! This changes everything! The implications for mobile technology alone are enormous!

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Again, wowsers! A huge breakthrough about Stonehenge that changes everything! Of course, this probably should be documented in some archeological review journal rather than “www.collective-evolution.com” – but that’s just the beauty of the openness of the internet.

Fascinated by this sub-culture devoted to unearthing hidden truths that mainstream science refuses to acknowledge, I embarked on a project to submerge myself in it as fully as possible. I liked a number of Facebook pages, as shown here –

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For the record, I liked The Soulful Woman purely for balance. Who knows what advances that page might uncover that I’d miss if I didn’t like the page?

Anyway, I was quickly learning lots of new facts about the world. For instance, did you know that reincarnation is TRUE? As in, there’s like scientific evidence that proves it. Oh my god, right?

And every morning I’d have the distinct pleasure of reading inspirational quotes from famous historical figures such as Buddha and Einstein.

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And that really means a lot to me. It’s so deep and insightful.

But the real joy came from actually interacting with all this content. Underneath every post there’d be people celebrating the fact that this knowledge was now freely available to everyone. Or sharing tips on how to align their chakras with crystal harmonies. Basically all the things they don’t teach you in school!

I even began sharing the articles with others myself. After all, this stuff isn’t making the news (crazy right?) so it’s up to us to forma  kind of grassroots movement to put the info out there. I’d encourage you to do the same.

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And just check out that positivity! 20 minutes after I’d commented, the page admin themselves (surely a top scientific researcher at the Fractal Enlightenment labs) took the time to reply to me with thanks. Truly a humbling experience.

So the takeaway from this is that I’d encourage you to go out and seek these groups on Facebook for yourself. I guarantee you’ll learn something new and insightful.

You’ll thank me for it!

Viral Charity Campaigns

For the sake of posterity, I thought I’d compile a list documenting the recent spate of viral charity campaigns we’ve seen recently. These are a new craze which typically last a month or so (sometimes longer) and represent a new wave of charity activism.

1. Movember

This one has been going for years. Participants don’t shave their upper lips for a month in return for sponsorship. I actually do this myself.

2. #nomakeupselfie

Participants take a photo of themselves without any makeup on in return for sponsorship.

3. ThumbsUpForStephen

Participants take a photo of themselves doing a thumbs up in memory of Stephen Sutton, to raise awareness of the Teenage Cancer Trust.

4. Christmas Jumper Day

Participants wear a christmas jumper in return for sponsorship. Charity: Save the Children.

5. Ice Bucket Challenge

Participants dump a bucket of ice cold water on themselves to raise awareness of the ALS Association. Features an added “nomination” element where the participant picks two other people to do it subsequently.

6. Egg Crack Party

Multiple participants crack eggs on each other’s heads, raising awareness of egg donation programs across the UK.

7. Adoption Fakeout ’14

Parents secretly film themselves telling their children that they are adopted. Raising awareness for adoption agencies in the US.

8. Will Selfie

Will Self takes a photo of himself in a series of more exotic and dangerous locations, determined by how much money he is able to raise in 24 hours on IndieGoGo.

9. Don’t Get Done, Get Domination

Participants change their profile picture on Twitter/Facebook to that of television presenter Dominic Littlewood. When they are asked to explain this by someone, that person is considered “Dominated” and has to change their own picture. Raising awareness for anti-fraud schemes.

10. #PastLives

Participants must travel back in time and tag a picture of themselves during a previous time in their lives. The National Archives host all the entries  and pick a winner each month. Promoting genealogical research.

11. Viral Campaign Campaign

Participants must dump a bucket of ice-cold moustaches on their heads whilst not wearing any makeup and wearing a Christmas jumper, before challenging a friend to do the same. All in aid of Sports Relief I think.

And I think that’s all of them. If I’ve missed any out, please let me know!

 

Selfies: the ultimate form of artistic expression

Selfie was the Oxford Dictionary’s Word of the Year in 2013. This was a controversial decision and said by some to pretty much be the death of language and culture. But in my opinion, a selfie is a beautiful thing. It gets a bad rap as a self-indulgent exercise, a symbol of a culture driven by vanity, but I say it’s been greatly undervalued. I intend to argue that a selfie is in fact a work of art . To do this, I will first describe the phenomenon of the selfie, then show that it ought to be ranked amongst all other forms of art such as painting, sculpture and literature. Furthermore, I shall go a step beyond this and argue that selfies are the highest form of artistic expression because of the directness of their connection from author to subject.

Selfie Defined

The Oxford Dictionary itself defines selfie as “a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website” and this is going to be the definition we work with in this essay. It’s beyond doubt that you will be familiar with the concept already, and you’ve probably taken a fair few yourself. For the sake of illustration though, here’s one I took just now:cheeky selfie

It matches the above quadripartite definition in all respects; it is a photograph (1), taken of myself (2) with a smartphone (3) and uploaded to a social media website (4) [my blog counts as a social media website for our purposes here).

Selfie was supposedly originally first coined in 2002 on an Australian web forum. But it seems to me the concept itself has been around longer than that. Self-portrait photography has been a concept for as long as there has been photography, and the fact that Victorians weren’t uploading their selfies to Twitter isn’t really relevant. But in any case, we’re less interested with what the word selfie means, and more with the concept itself.

Selfies examined

The definition is straight forward enough,  so we’ll now move onto a closer analysis of the concept of selfie. The most obvious question to be addressed is of course “why would anyone take a selfie?” And it is in answering this question that the majority of the controversy and misunderstanding arises. Because it’s easy to answer the question by an appeal to vanity or exhibitionism. So the argument goes, we live in a society that places value on wealth, popularity, celebrity, beauty and a whole host of other undesirable values. A selfie, supposedly, is a culmination of all these things – people showing themselves off for no other reason than to demonstrate how beautiful (etc.) they are. These things are bad, therefore selfies are bad.

The argument is a fallacy, of course, but it’s a tempting one. Search instagram for the tag #selfie and you’ll see your fair share of made-up duckfaces. But examine the logical structure of the argument:

1. Selfies are full of exhibitionists/vain idiots
2. Exhibitionism/Vanity/Idiocy are bad.
3. Therefore, selfies are bad.

Formally speaking, it’s an appeal to consequences. But this kind of appeal makes bad arguments. Consider this.

1. Spoons can be used to kill people
2. Killing people is dangerous
3. Therefore, spoons are dangerous.

The structure is the same in each case, and the fallacy is obvious. The nature of the consequences of something don’t necessarily reflect the thing itself. We certainly don’t believe that spoons are dangerous because they can be used dangerously. Likewise, we should not say that selfies are bad because they can be used to promote bad values.

In this way, we can say that there is no reason per se to believe that selfies are in and of themselves a bad thing. And once we allow this, we must accept the possibility that they can be a good thing. We have to put aside our selfie prejudices and instead focus on what the possibilities of the form itself.

Selfies as art objects

The question what is art? is one that philosophers and art historians have been debating since the dawn of art itself. It’s not a particularly interesting debate though and ultimately settles down to art being whatever we call art. For the sake of our argument though, let us assume that there exists a category of things in the world called art objects. By this I mean any object that is considered to be art, and is also interchangeable with terms like “artwork” or “work of art.” So the Mona Lisa is an art object, as is Duchamp’s Fountain. That interactive interpretative dance session set to the music of Bjork in an industrial warehouse? Sure, if people are calling it art, it’s an art object.

With such an open criteria for acceptance into this category, it’s only a slight leap to the conclusion that selfies are art objects. Photography is already widely accepted as an art-form, so the nature of the form itself isn’t the sticking point. Nor is the subject, for self-portraiture can be found among the works of any artist you could care to mention. The only thing left then is the method of creation, and it’s likely this that causes our intellectual discomfort in calling selfies art.

Our imagined opponent would be arguing to the effect that selfies haven’t gone a sufficient artistic process to be counted amongst art objects, all the author has done is point a camera at themselves, click, and upload it online. This isn’t a creative enough process, therefore selfies aren’t art objects. But of course, this comes from an industry that allows found art to be displayed in galleries. If found art can literally be placed amongst other art objects, then a fortiori selfies must be art objects. For the act of simply picking something up and placing it in a gallery (perhaps with the added act of identifying an object to pick up) is a much less creative process then a selfie; which involves composition, focus and so on. So either we allows selfies as art objects, or we must lose found art. And the inclusion of found art in galleries around the world for decades sets a precedent that therefore must conclude strongly in the selfie’s favour.

Expanding on that last point a little further, consider how we might go about critically analysing a selfie. We’d bring in to play such considerations as how well composed it is, whether it’s in focus, and whether it’s interesting/funny/thought-provoking. But these are remarkably similar to the criteria we might use to assess a work of art. The Mona Lisa for example is said to have excellent brushstrokes or have great contrast between the background and foreground emphasises the subject and creates an illusion of distance.

Technically speaking, you could even go as far as to demonstrate that the Mona Lisa is a great example of the golden ratio, a relationship that determines aesthetically pleasing proportions with examples in art, architecture and even nature.

But there is no reason prima facie that a selfie could not also exhibit the golden ratio in its proportions. Here’s how it might be applied to our above example:

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What I hope this demonstrates that is that selfies are appreciable by any of the same aesthetic standards we might apply to other visual forms of art. So it wouldn’t be possible to dismiss them on these grounds either.

Selfies as the ultimate art forms

I have so far proven the weak conclusion that I set out to demonstrate, namely that selfies should be considered art objects. This means that there is no reason in principle why a selfie could not be hung up in an art gallery tomorrow, or even go and win the Turner Prize. But there’s also a stronger point to be made: that selfies are the ultimate form of artistic expression.

What I mean by artistic expression is simply the connection between the author of an art object and the audience. All art is expressive in this sense, as there’s always a causal link between the author of the work and the audience’s appreciation of it (paintings locked up in attics aside, though we might consider the artist themselves the “audience” in that case). What any piece of art is doing is conveying something from the artist to the audience, or at least causing something to be conveyed – as we might not have the same reaction to an art object as the artist intended, of course.

We might rank artistic expression thus described as exemplified by already accepted art forms. A sculpture for instance is expressive, the sculptor has taken a material and made it into a shape, but less expressive than a poem. For in the poem the author uses words to convey themselves, and the very use of language makes that author-audience relationship closer than in the sculpture. Likewise, music can be considered slightly down the ranking since sound is more abstract than the visual. And so on.

What of selfies, then? Well, if we do accept that artist expression is the relationship between author and audience, then nothing could be more direct than a selfie. For a selfie is literally the author themselves placing themselves in visual contact with the audience. The selfier (ie. one who takes a selfie) says to the viewer “look! here I am! this is me expressing myself!” The caption “cheeky club toilet selfie lol” doesn’t directly say this, of course, but the subtext is obvious. The selfier wants the viewer to know what they’re thinking, how they’re feeling. It’s an invitation to share a moment of the life of another. It’s a deeply personal connection (what could be more personal than image of yourself?) and one that’s fostered by a common humanity; viz we see ourselves in the selfie and it is through this empathy that the aesthetic experience occurs.

The same experience simply isn’t possible with looking at a painting, no matter how beautifully moving it is. There’s no human connection. We cannot enter into a Turner landscape or Hirst’s dot paintings like we can with a selfie. Even a great self-portrait painting lacks a truly human touch, the unmediated representation of their happiness, grief or excitement. In this way, selfies are the most expressive of all art forms.

Cheeky conclusion

To recap then, my argument looked like this:

1. A selfie is a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website.
2. Selfies, though frequently maligned, are legitimate art objects.
3. Artist expression is the relationship between an author and audience via an art object.
4. Selfies have the most direct relationship between author and audience.
5. Therefore, selfies are  the ultimate form of artistic expression

The argument appears sound to me, though it’s unlikely to be enough to sway the naysayer. Selfies will continue to be populated by idiots, it’s true, but we saw above that this doesn’t have to reflect badly on the selfie as an artform in itself (you can do paintings of bad things too). So, a reappreciation of selfies is well and truly in order. Perhaps if some mainstream artists can be encouraged to work with it we’ll eventually see selfies in art galleries. Maybe the next Mona Lisa will actually be taken by a real life Lisa? Let’s hope so.

I should point out that I’m not saying that all selfies are great works of art, clearly this isn’t the case. I’m not even saying that there are any truly great (in an aesthetic sense) selfies out there currently. But we have shown that they have the potential to be great.

Long live the selfie.

Shrek: a cultural icon for our times

Introduction

I believe that Shrek is the greatest cultural icon of the past two decades. This is not a widely held opinion, but I believe it can be fully justified. To demonstrate my point I will begin with an history of the Shrek franchise, followed by a look at its ongoing impact on popular culture. I will then follow this up with what has been deemed “the Shrek renaissance” (or Shreknaissance) by some commentators on social media. This will bring us to the conclusion that not only has Shrek’s contribution to popular culture been severely understated in the standard historiography, but that his true place is at the very zenith of the cultural pantheon.

A brief history of Ogres

Shrek’s history actually begins with a 1990 book by William Steig titled simply “Shrek!” Not a lot of Shrek fans (hereafter “brogres”) know about this work, and the cultural impact of this book itself is negligible. It’s importance is limited to simply being the genesis of Shrek as we have come to know him.

All the elements of modern Shrek are there in Shrek! – Donkey and Fiona feature for instance. As do Shrek’s parents, who are notably absent in the film adaptation. Shrek’s appearance is similar, but not quite identical. The trademark “bunny” ears are there, and the green skin. But in Steig’s illustrated work, Shrek features an odd bump on his head (modern Shrek has a streamlined, more rounded appearance overall) and wears a rope-tied toga with stripy trousers. Modern Shrek wears the same costume mostly throughout all the films: a simple peasant white gown and brown waistcoast, with some brown stockings and shoes.

The evolution of Shrek is important here. Steig’s Shrek is a terrifying creature, drawing directly from the Indo-European mythological and folklore roots (the exact etymology of “ogre” is unclear and I wouldn’t venture to favour any particular theory here). Modern Shrek is a rather more accessible creature, which at once both exhibits the archetypical ogre features and at the same time explicitly draws them out into the open for satire. Hence, modern Shrek is born out of juxtaposition, which I will elaborate further with the history of modern Shrek.

Shrek on the big screen

The rights for a movie adaptation of Steig’s Shrek! were acquired by Steven Spielberg in 1991. However he neglected to do anything with it, and the rights were reacquired in 1995 by Jeffrey Katzenberg, co-founder of DreamWorks. Why Spielberg didn’t do anything with Shrek is an interesting question, but not one I’ll speculate on (though it’s known he wanted Bill Murray to play Shrek, which I personally would still love to see). We should however note that Spielberg himself clearly saw the value in Shrek. Think on that. One of the most celebrated film directors of all time thought this ogre anti-hero held value. Was Shrek lined up to be the next ET?

In any case, DreamWorks was the new up-and-coming studio at the time. Shrek wasn’t their very first animated outing (that being the Woody Allen vehicle Antz), but it was arguably the first one to have absolute mainstream acclaim. I will now spend some time examining the movie as it came out.

The first Shrek film came out in 2001, six years after the rights were initially acquired. Rather than going down either a traditional animation route (a la Disney at the time, still) or a live-action/CGI hybrid (a la Small Soldiers, distributed but not produced by DreamWorks in 1998), Shrek was fully animated using computer generated images. Today we take this for granted – with Disney/Pixar being the current champions in this arena – but at the time it was a rarity. In this way, Shrek literally bridged the analogue-digital transition and this alone constitutes an important legacy in cinematic history.

The result of adopting this approach was a very beautiful film that audiences were able to experience in a new and exciting way. But I argue that the Shrek-audience connection goes deeper than this. Audiences connected with Shrek at a fundamental, mostly subconscious level. We can see this through an analysis of how Shrek is presented in Shrek.

As stated before, modern Shrek is a much cleaner and accessible character than Steig’s Shrek. Everything about him is rounded out in the character design, despite ostensibly being a disgusting ogre. This extends to other aspects of the character too. Rather than having a disgusting personality, Shrek is shown to instead be an actually rather gentle character who is forced into a charade of meanness by the persecution of a society that fears him. Even his voice is mellowed out; Mike Myers (who audiences already have a connection with from the Austin Powers film et al) reportedly tried out a series of accents before settling on the Scottish voice we all know and love. There is nothing harsh or jarring in this voice, everything comes out smooth and pleasingly – even when he’s shouting furiously at Donkey.

The character of Shrek, then, is a bundle of contradictions. Qua Hegel, we see an exemplar dialectic in action-
Thesis: Ogres are horrible and disgusting.
Antithesis: Shrek is actually nice in all respects. Society is actually “horrid” towards him.
Synthesis: We learn a valuable lesson about how we judge others through the ultimate redemption of Shrek as the hero.

Shrek is the protagonist of the story, a prime example of the anti-hero in action. He’s reluctant to even leave his swamp, let alone take down the villainous Farquaad. All his actions are motivated simply by a desire to get his swamp back, and later his love for Fiona. This provides an emotional core to the character, which – in conjunction with the important learning we receive from the above dialectic -makes us really relate to Shrek on a character level. In short, we care about Shrek.

To elaborate, Shrek is a powerful character because he appeals to our aesthetic expectations in a extremely elegant way. We laugh at his jokes, sympathise with his desire for a simple life and love for Fiona, whilst at the same time having our expectations challenged. Shrek is the least likely hero, but ends up saving the day many times over. Compare him to Luke Skywalker for instance – essentially a flawed character and by no means an outstanding person in his own right (prima facie just the son of a farmer) but one who ends up saving the galaxy. Shrek is at least a hero on the same scale as Skywalker, but he brings with him an important messages cloaked in a fairytale satire. We learn something from him we don’t learn from the Star Wars movies.

On that point, it’s worth mentioning the tone of the humour in the Shrek films, established in the very first Shrek film. We’ve already covered how Shrek is born out of contradictions, but we find that this principle applies to everything else in the film. The setting of the film is Far Far Away, a land where fairytale characters live – but always with a twist. Take Fiona for instance; her story is simply Sleeping Beauty. But the twist is that she’s sort of faking it, not sleeping at all, and gets angry at Shrek for rescuing her when she doesn’t want to be.

The contradiction there is clear: Sleeping Beauty is a classic story of romance and mythology, whereas everything about Fiona is crass and heavily grounded. We’re sneaking dialectics in at every turn, reinforcing the overall theme of not judging things on how they appear (it’s no coincidence that Fiona’s beauty is itself a facade for the ugliness of an ogre underneath).

Shrek therefore can clearly be said to be an excellently effective vehicle for a deeply important message about acceptance and appearances. And its presented in a way that even children are able to accept, not even realising it. We laugh, but at the same time we are enriched. Going back to Star Wars again, the lessons to be learned from that film are of a far more limited scope. Of course, we are excited by the Death Star assault sequence, and the emotional core of Skywalker’s yearning for an exciting life is a strong one, but it falls flat on teaching us a useful message. At most, Star Wars teaches us that good can beat evil, or that we should stand up against tyranny. Shrek not only covers these themes, but covers more themes, and also does it in a more compelling package.

As Shrek himself says, ogres are like onions. Shrek the character, like Shrek the film, has many layers. We don’t immediately realise the full import of the work as we consume it, but it’s built in a way that this doesn’t matter. And this is a key part of explaining the longterm importance of Shrek.

Shrek makes it big in Hollywood

After the runaway success of Shrek, it’s no surprise that sequels soon followed. So far, we’ve had Shrek 2Shrek the ThirdShrek Forever After, some spinoff mini-films in Shrek the Halls, Scared Shrekless, Puss in Boots, as well as Shrek the Musical. Of course, many of these are simply shameless cash-ins, the Hollywood machine in action, but their prevalence indicates an ongoing acceptance and relevance of the Shrek character.

Audiences love Shrek, which I can without hesitation attribute to the reasons outlined above. He’s the lovable antihero that teaches us important life lessons. He fills a gap that is created by the dearth of soulless summer blockbusters, remakes, and unfulfilling superhero movies put out year after year. Think of the most recent film you saw at the cinema. It’s likely an American-made film with high production values. Maybe you laughed, cried, screamed at the scary bits or had your pulse race at some exciting bits. But did it teach you that a grouch can be tender? Or that an annoying upbeat singing Donkey can turn out to be the most loyal friend? Unlikely.

A point I’d raise here more as an aside than anything would be how the humour evolved in the films, though not necessarily for the better. In the first Shrek film the humour mostly derives from the parody of famous fairytale characters. If you can think of a figure from a fairytale story, it’ll be lampooned in Shrek. For example, Big Bad Wolf is not actually big or bad at all, he’s actually quite softly spoken and is unexpectedly friends with the Three Little Pigs.

But in later films, this basic parody principle slightly shifts. The references stop being the original fairytales, but instead modern day things. Shrek 2, for instance, largely takes place in Far Far Away – now a city loosely based on the Los Angeles area. And we get things like a strange COPS parody. It’s a subtle move, but it’s apparent when watching the films with this in mind.

The reason this is relevant to our main argument is that the underlying principle is still the same. Shrek 2 and the later films are still broadly within the genre of parody as the foremost comedic device. And it’s through parody and satire that the elements of Shrek that we’ve identified as important – namely the delivery of the dialectical synthesis via appreciable aesthetics – are effective. So whilst the odd humour of Shrek 2 onwards could potentially have been a stumbling block in my thesis, I’d argue that in fact they reinforce my main points.

I would now like to move onward from the Shrek cinematic works onto his ongoing legacy.

Shrek lives on

I’ve already listed the many sequels and spinoffs that the original Shrek film spawned. But beyond this, Shrek’s indirect influence is obvious through a number of spiritual sequels. Computer-animated films are now the norm. Disney puts out films like Cars, and Wreck-It Ralph (sometimes via Pixar) and it doesn’t raise an eyebrow. Even DreamWorks themselves have ridden the Shrek-wave. Would Kung Fu Panda have been made if it hadn’t been for Shrek? (I think Wreck-It Ralph might be an ever more direct influence, if you examine the relucant hero character traits and even partial character design elements, to some extent).

What these films are trying to do then, is recreate the Shrek magic – with mixed results. Pixar receive a lot of acclaim for their films such as Toy Story, Finding Nemo Up. But none have produced a character with the same ongoing appeal as Shrek. And Shrek still sells, with a fifth film rumoured to be in the works by some sources.

Shrek merchandise can still be bought, even when a Shrek movie isn’t currently out. And he has other influences too; the ubiquity of Smashmouth songs in films of the early 00s (play someone All Star and they’ll likely attribute it to either Shrek or Rat Race) can be directly attributed to a resonance in the collective consciousness (what Hegel himself termed the Zeitgeist) inspired by Shrek. I’m even willing to coin the term Shrekgeist to describe the situation, especially as we come finally to examine Shrek’s evolution into an internet cult figure.

The Shrekgeist cometh

I personally can’t recall where I first read about Shrek on the internet, but it’s apparent that I was late to the party. Inexplicably in recent years, people on the internet began exhibiting a newfound appreciation for Shrek and his contributions to society. They began to revisit the Shrek films, with a cultlike adoration. I’d attribute this to the longterm lingering Shrekgeist. We’d loved Shrek all along, we’d just never stopped to think about it.

A good source of information on the Brogre movement would be the /r/brogres subreddit, which contains many useful resources, most famously the Shrek is Love, Shrek is Life [NSFW] greentext story from 4chan. But you’ll notice it in any online community if you look hard enough. Common elements include references to Shrek’s love of onions, and how anyone who doesn’t like Shrek is a “Farquaad.” The group can hence be legitimately identified as a legitimate movement by the characteristics of an established membership, communal values and shared points of reference. It’s undoubtedly something we ought to take seriously.

On the face of it, of course, the internet’s love of Shrek might look like just another fad. A kind of ironic faux-appreciation for an average early-CGI family film. Granted, this has been true for so many other things – just look at rickrolling. But with this phenomena, the ‘joke’ is that the thing is knowingly bad. We rickroll because we place low aesthetic value on Never Gonna Give You Up. Our protestations to the contrary all become part of the joke. But Shrek is different.

The internet’s love for Shrek doesn’t have this self-conscious awareness of the object of adoration being unworthy. The love for Shrek is real. And there are really only two explanations for why this is:

1. The internet has reached a new level of irony – one that ascends to a pure, unbridled genuine appreciation. But if so, this cannot be called irony at all, as it’s impossible to distinguish from genuine appreciation either externally (the observable behaviours being compulsive watching of Shrek, talking about Shrek, and purchase of Shrek merchandise) or internally (the qualitative experience of loving Shrek).
2. Or, brogres do genuinely have an appreciation for Shrek. Nothing more, nothing less. It’s just that straightforward.

The second possibility seems to me to be the correct one. The age of the average brogre would match up with someone who grew up with the Shrek films during their aesthetically formative years. So Shrek is kind of deeply rooted in the consciousness of the brogre. And it’s not even that far-fetched that Shrek could be appreciated sans irony. The films are funny, Shrek is likeable, and the plot is utterly unobjectionable. If any character is worthy of a true renaissance, it has to be Shrek.

One could draw a parallel with the ‘brony’ movement, which is similar to the brogre movement down to even the name (bronies are grown male fans of the children’s animated series My Little Pony). But the brony movement is laced with an awkward self-awareness that drives it closer to the ‘enhanced level of irony’ hypothesis suggested above. Brogres don’t have conventions.

The brogre movement doesn’t show any signs of slowing. If anything, it’s accelerating everyday.  It’s only a matter of time before this niche internet community goes viral. It’s likely we’ll see the whole thing come full circle and open Shrek appreciation becoming the norm.

Concluding remarks

I’ve set out a narrative that charts Shrek’s rise from a simple children’s book character to viral internet sensation. I’ve provided some insights into why Shrek initially had immediate acceptance, and why these can go on to explain his ongoing appeal to this day.

Shrek is one of the greatest comedy creations of our time (or at least, the past two decades) – that goes without saying. But not so much for anything in particular he said or did; instead, we need to recognise that Shrek has come to form a key part of the collective consciousness that has gone on to impact everything else. The exact mechanisms that this works through are not always immediately clear (I would be keen to see an analysis of the influence of Shrek on the current Marvel run of films such as The Avengers) but are there. Shrek’s always in the back of our minds.

He’s the ogre we deserve. He’s the ogre we need.