At some point, every society must confront the existential questions that undergird its very existence. Questions like: Did comedian Jerry Seinfeld — fresh off of a nine-year run of prodigious success in a sophisticated and beloved sitcom — really make an animated children’s movie about a bee falling in love with a human woman (voiced by Renée Zellweger)? Did this movie really somehow become the source of a seemingly endless parade of increasingly abstruse memes on Tumblr and other social-media platforms? Did 15 million people really watch a video titled “The entire bee movie but every time they say bee it gets faster”? Did Vanity Fair actually declare that “Bee Movie Won 2016”? How the heck did we get here? Has it really been exactly ten years since the release of Bee Movie?
First, let’s start with the facts.
(1) In 2007, on planet Earth, DreamWorks studios released an animated children’s film titled Bee Movie (tagline: “Born to Bee Wild”).
The film, described as a “hit comedy” in its original 2008 back-of-the-DVD blurb, stars a bee, Barry B. Benson (Jerry Seinfeld), who — upon realizing that he is doomed to a life of fruitless, unending labor inside a system that devalues the lives of its workers — decides to fly outside the hive in an attempt to experience some sliver of excitement before resigning himself to a life of monotonous work that will surely end in his own demise. (This is all 100 percent straight from the Bee Movie script; you can fact-check me.) Once outside, he meets a human florist named Vanessa and falls for her after she saves him from being squished to death by her boyfriend, Ken — the only reasonable individual in the entire film — who is allergic to bees, and didn’t want to, you know, die. For reasons that are too complex to get into here (if you haven’t seen the movie, please go watch it now, I urge you), Vanessa ends up leaving her human boyfriend for Barry, who, may I remind you, is a bee. She then helps him sue the human race for stealing honey from bees around the world. Somehow, they win, which leads to all of the world’s honey being returned to the bees, which, in turn, causes flowers everywhere to begin to die due to a lack of pollination. (I’m not technically a scientist but this checks out.) So Barry ends up flying a plane (?) full of roses from the Pasadena Tournament of Roses to Central Park in order to pollinate the world, which somehow works and everyone is saved.
(2) This was Jerry Seinfeld’s first venture after Seinfeld, and thus, he promoted the crap out of it.
Please enjoy this video of Jerry Seinfeld in a giant bee costume zip-lining through Cannes (yes, that Cannes).
Bee Suit Seinfeld also starred in this absolutely absurd live-action trailer for the film, and a number of other equally bizarre shorts (one of which is literally called ’Welcome to Hell’?!).
(3) It didn’t exactly do well … at first.
Shockingly, this tale about beestiality and the fruitlessness of labor in a system of production — one that was, and still is, billed as a movie for children — did not kill it at the box office back in 2007. Roger Ebert gave it two stars and included a Karl Marx quote in his rather baffled review of the film, and even Jerry Seinfeld himself said: “I remember standing in the back of the theatre and it wasn’t great, but it was decent and, and I remember listening to the laughs and thinking, These laughs are shit. That was not worth it.”
(4) Somehow, now, ten years later, it is both a meme and more-or-less universally beloved (or at least tolerated).
How the heck did we get here?
Answering the question of how all this happened is more difficult than it seems. The usual responses like “Because internet,” or “Probably something with Tumblr or 4Chan,” aren’t acceptable here. After some careful digging, I’ve come to discover a timeline I believe may provide some answers.
This story comes in seven parts: Sincerity, Virality, Propulsion, Sexualization, Weaponization, Acknowledgment, and Fracture.
Stage 1: Sincerity
Tumblr — Sunday, February 20, 2011
Bee Movie began, like so many memes, on the microblogging site Tumblr, where teenagers, furries, and other highly productive weirdos gather to create and share images and text. Above you can see what is, as far as I can tell, one of the original posts that set the meme-ification of Bee Movie in motion, way back in 2011. Throughout 2011, Tumblr was host to a number of posts like this — almost always accompanied by the tag #INSPIRING, and almost always including the film’s opening (and now internet-infamous) line:
According to all known laws
there is no way a bee
should be able to fly.
Its wings are too small to get
its fat little body off the ground.
The bee, of course, flies anyway
because bees don’t care
what humans think is impossible.
What’s important to understand is that this post is presented entirely sincerely. Someone was inspired by this image and quote from Bee Movie, and wanted you to feel inspired too. And it seems to have struck a chord: Against all odds, this trend of genuine appreciation for a somewhat-poorly-received 2007 animated film about bees continued through 2011 and 2012, reinserting Bee Movie into Tumblr’s general cultural awareness.
Stage 2: Virality
Tumblr — Tuesday, December 4, 2012
But as always happens on Tumblr, once something has entered the site’s collective consciousness, its sincerity will heighten into the realm of absurdity — where the viral lives. Put another way, once you start seeing enough sincere Bee Movie memes, you can’t help but take them in a different direction. Usually, this transformation happens gradually — a few persistent absurdists converting the normie world bit by bit. For Bee Movie, however, it happened all at once. On December 4, 2012, Tumblr exploded with absurd Bee Movie memes. And though there was seemingly no rhyme or reason to this mass conversion, it stuck.
Stage 3: Propulsion
Twitter — Tuesday, January 29, 2013
Once Bee Movie had moved into “Tumblr meme” status, it was only a matter of time before it seeped out to other hubs of internet culture — like Twitter. Tumblr’s obsession with Bee Movie continued on well into 2013, but it was Jason Richards, the man behind the wildly successful Twitter account @Seinfeld2000, who helped elevate Bee Movie from a forgotten film to an all-purpose joke.
Richards’s role in this story is by far one of the most curious, as he claims to have never seen a Bee Movie meme before tweeting about it in late January of 2013. (He was just searching for new Seinfeld-related material for his Twitter persona to riff on.) This perhaps speaks to the inherently ineffable nature of memes, which often have various (entirely distinctive) starting points.
Stage 4: Sexualization
Fanfiction & Tumblr — Saturday, March 16, 2013
Back on Tumblr, Bee Movie’s popularity only continued to grow as more and more users got swept up into the joke. On March 16, 2013, someone on Tumblr discovered The birds and the bees, an incredibly not-safe-for-work-or-life Bee Movie fanfiction story written in the literary genre that would soon be dubbed “beestiality.” Bee Movie had gone adult.
(I cannot in good conscience include a screencap of the actual fic itself here, so, instead, please enjoy these reviews:)
The birds and the bees was an instant success, garnering hundreds of comments only one day after publication, and inspiring a number of spiritual successors. (You can listen to a dramatic reading of one of the most popular sequels, She Wants the B, here, but I strongly urge you not to.)
Stage 5: Weaponization
Facebook & Tumblr — Monday, September 9, 2013
In 2013, a Tumblr user uploaded screenshots of her Facebook friend posting the entire script on someone’s Facebook Wall:
(Why? Why not?)
This trick — which could cause the unwitting victim’s phone to crash — quickly became a standard internet prank, thanks in a large part to the efforts of Pastebin user KIDOUYUUTO, who uploaded the entire script (which had been lifted from Script-o-Rama) to the site. It would go on to wreak havoc across a number of platforms over the next two years, reaching its zenith in 2015 — when the Facebook page “bees don’t exist” posted the entire Bee Movie script as a life event.
Stage 6: Acknowledgment
Reddit & Twitter — Wednesday, June 8, 2016
Between 2011 and 2015, Bee Movie had gone from sincere to absurd to, uh, weirdly sexy, to aggressively weaponized. On June 8, 2016, it was finally recognized by the man at its center: Jerry Seinfeld. In an AMA on Reddit, the comedian speculated on a possible Bee Movie 2 (imaginary tagline: “Plan Bee”):
I considered it this spring for a solid six hours. There’s a fantastic energy now for some reason, on the internet particularly. Tumblr, people brought my attention to. I actually did consider it, but then I realized it would make Bee Movie 1 less iconic. But my kids want me to do it, a lot of people want me to do it. A lot of people that don’t know what animation is want me to do it. If you have any idea what animation is, you’d never do it.
Two months later, Seinfeld brought it up again on Twitter:
Did this mean that what he said in the AMA could be overridden? Was there still hope? Bee Movie fanatics everywhere went wild. But Seinfeld was silent in response.
Stage 7: Fracture
YouTube — Thursday, November 3, 2016
The final (and in my opinion, greatest) stage of Bee Movie memery is defined by cinematographic fracture, a fancy name I’ve given to a somewhat simple (albeit utterly bizarre) technique first practiced by comedian and self-declared memelord Darcy Grivas in his now-infamous video, “Bee movie trailer but every time they say bee it gets faster.”
Though this style of editing had been seen before — in remixes of a song from the Icelandic children’s show Lazy Town called “We Are Number One” — Grivas’s version was the first to truly hit it big. His follow-up video, “The entire bee movie but every time they say bee it gets faster” garnered more than 11 million views and 33,000 comments within just two weeks of posting.
Its immense success would inspire (literally) thousands of other videos and would permanently launch Bee Movie memes into the mainstream — leading to coverage from countless major news outlets and blogs. (Including us, of course.) Vanity Fair of all places would go on to claim that “Bee Movie Won 2016,” and perhaps they were right.
But if so, where does that leave us? Is this the end of an era? In tracking the rise and fall of Bee Movie and its various, seemingly inevitable memes, there seems to be a definitive end: right now. We are 11 months and two days into the Year of Our Lord 2017 and there is not a Bee Movie meme in sight. Is it dead? Did we kill it? That it took this long to milk the film for every last drop of meme-ability is valiant in itself — I mean, it has been ten years. But even now, with all the evidence at hand, I hesitate to pronounce its death, as when it comes to Bee Movie, I know only one thing with certainty:
According to all known laws
there is no way Bee Movie memes
should still be a thing.
They’ve been around far too long to
not be considered stale by now.
Bee Movie memes, of course, exist anyway
because Bee Movie memes don’t care
what meme bloggers think is impossible.