Immanuel Kant once wrote, “Good fences make good neighbours.” In his case, the turn of phrase was an ironic one. Kant was suggesting that the simple notion of isolation was counterproductive.
However the year I was born another philosopher opined, “What are ye doin’ in ma swamp?” and he was deadly serious.
I grew up in the early 00’s; the final days of the DVD, the VHS collection shelves and TVs that were bulky enough to crush your toes. Troll dolls were out and YouTube was on its way in. And even though I wasn’t aware of it at the time I would be a part of ‘generation meme’.
When the scriptwriters wrote, “What are ye doin’ in ma swamp?” I don’t think they realised the impact and chaos it would create. Sure it would be easy to point to the impact of Donkey having sex with a dragon and its subsequent inspiration for a weird sect of crossbreeding enthusiasts but the real impact of Shrek was how people would still be using videos and lines from that movie series years later in memes, animation and deep fakes.
My first year of high school was corrupted by the ‘Shrek is love, Shrek is life’ videos. It seeped into every conversation and stimulated class discussions. The canteen lines would be filled with pre-pubescent ogre groans. In some ways, it could be considered a cultural reset, but I think there is something larger buried under the surface of those videos.
For some time now I have meditated over the ‘Shrek is love, Shrek is life’ line. I should warn you that I’m no Noam Chomsky or an ancient philosopher. But as the line stuck in my head I began to ask, what really is love and life?
And honestly, I must be quite impressionable if I question the meaning of the universe through a Shrek adaptation. I can’t be alone if my whole generation watched the Shrek films through the lens of a spiritual mantra.
Perhaps the real takeaway from these films is that we have come to identify too much with the grouchy protagonist. Wanting to be left alone in our own swamps. Happy to craft wisdom from memes, and 20-year-old videos and clinging to our own postmodern nostalgia rather than experiencing life for ourselves.
What is love and how do you measure it? I don’t know the answer to this question. Do I want to know these things? Or do I want to stay in my own swamp?
The one lesson I can be sure of is that Shrek only found the answers he was looking for when he was forced to confront reality outside of his own fences. If I am sure that ‘Shrek is love, Shrek is life’ then perhaps it is time for me to put down the memes, put away the tragically outdated videotapes, and get out and start living my life.
Maybe, this one time both Shrek and Kant are both right.