“The entire bee movie but every time they say bee it gets faster,” “The Bee Movie Trailer but Every Word is in Alphabetical Order,” “The Bee Movie but every original Bee triggers the video to play from the start on a new layer” and “bee movie but every ‘bee’ is replaced by ‘Barry B Benson’ and every ‘Barry’ is replaced by ‘BEEEE!!’.” These seemingly nonsensical phrases — all of which are titles of an all-too-specific brand of YouTube video — have somehow irrevocably weaved their way into the very fabric of the internet. The videos are surrealist compilations of spliced footage from DreamWorks’ 2007 animated feature, Bee Movie, which seem to be designed to systematically strip away any semblance of purpose from the film. These inane (yet somehow indisputably entertaining) clips have played a major role in the part-absurdist, part-potentially-meaningless, online movement of late, which has cemented Bee Movie’s place in the Meme Hall of Fame (if such a thing could even be said to exist). Despite this, the videos’ recent emergence begs the question: Why Bee Movie? And, perhaps more importantly: Why now?
These pseudo-adaptations of Simon J. Smith and Steve Hickner’s Bee Movie (along with various iconographical memes and , of course, the infamous Script Posting Crisis of 2015) have captivated audiences across the globe. Although it is easy to dismiss this newfound popularity as a side effect of the film being merely another transient meme-of-the-week, the content of Bee Movie itself — especially when viewed contextually within the modern era — lends itself to an altogether different, ostensibly profound conclusion.
The film has recently reemerged into the internet’s cultural zeitgeist with such force because it encapsulates the nagging, ever-growing superego of modern Americans. This can be most clearly seen in relation to those of the comically named Generation Y (other aliases include: Generation Why, Generation Me, and — though usually accompanied by a scowl — Millennials). From its introductory scene, Bee Movie seems to revel in a tone of (albeit, slightly obscured) disillusionment, which finds its strongest roots in situations that play upon universally known fears based in educational neoliberalism, the ever-fading attainability of the American Dream, and the alienation of the individual in the face of a capitalist society. This can be first seen approximately three minutes into the film:
distinguished bees… please
welcome, Dean Buzzwell.
ANGLE ON: DEAN BUZZWELL steps up to the podium.
The podium has a sign that reads: “Welcome Graduating Class of:”, with train-station style flipping numbers after it.
Welcome New Hive City graduating
The numbers on the podium change to 9:15.
(he clears his throat)
And that concludes our graduation
ceremonies. And begins your career
at Honex Industries.
Are we going to pick our job today?
I heard it’s just orientation.
The rows of chairs change in transformer-like mechanical motion to Universal Studios type tour trams. Buzzwell walks off stage. (pg. 6)
Here, two of the film’s central protagonists are portrayed in a manner that is certainly unexpected in what one would consider a mere children’s film. Immediately after their graduation — a moment that, to many, is the final signifier of one’s official transition from a dependent, to a full-fledged individual — the characters are fully enveloped into the bureaucracy of the working world. They cannot even finish their single celebratory cheer before their graduation caps are swiftly plucked from them, replaced by hardhats, and they are funneled underground into a mass-production focused zone referred to solely as “The Factory.”
Although this initially appears to be a simple (and totally unimportant) plot mechanism, it is actually the premier manifestation of the film’s key theme most responsible for its overwhelming appeal to the millennial generation. This visual representation of the students’ immediate and unquestioned transformation from graduates to members of the system of production is reflective of the fears many current students face regarding the commodification of their own higher educational systems. While these fears had already been expressed in the years preceding Bee Movie’s 2007 release, the most potent effects of this neoliberal approach to education has been felt by those in recent years. Students who have the (unfortunate) pleasure of existing under this collegiate culture of career-orientation find themselves pressured to focus their every move on the seemingly impossible (yet vital) task of procuring a job. They are primed to both expect this exchange of their caps and gowns for the hats of their chosen trade, and to consider it the most basic signifier of their success and self-worth as a college graduate.
Thus, the bees’ transition from members of the academe to members of “The Factory” resonates. It aligns with the viewer’s assumptions of what should ideally occur to those facing the horror that is their post-collegiate life; however, the film takes this belief one step further, and expands upon these preconceptions. This can be seen almost immediately following the graduates-turned-worker-bees’ entrance into the factory:
This is it!
The Honex doors OPEN, revealing the factory.
We know that you, as a bee, have worked
your whole life to get to the point where
you can work for your whole life. Honey
begins when our valiant pollen jocks bring
the nectar to the hive where our top secret
formula is automatically color-corrected,
scent adjusted and bubble contoured into
this… (pg. 7)
Here, this seemingly exciting moment of (quite literal) revelation is turned on its head. The film diegetically identifies the crux of the issue plaguing its own central conceit — namely, the disturbing nature of the expectation that those within its imagined world (and likely, the viewers) share. Over the last century, Americans have subscribed to the belief that hard work naturally begets success (pedants will call this ‘The American Dream’), yet for many Millennials this notion is nothing but a dream. Instead, they seem to identify with the belief expressed within Bee Movie: their hard work, their academic struggle, their professional tribulations — all of it will only beget more of the same.
However depressing it may be, this (distinctively unsentimental) sentiment seems to be an expected response, as is further reflected within the film:
(For context, this scene is still set in “The Factory,” though it takes place later on in the film.)
The same job for the rest of your
life? I didn’t know that.
What’s the difference?
And you’ll be happy to know that
bees as a species haven’t had one day
off in 27 million years.
So you’ll just work us to death?
We’ll sure try.
Everyone LAUGHS except Barry.
The tram drops down a log-flume type steep drop. Cameras flash, as all the bees throw up their hands. The frame freezes into a snapshot. Barry looks concerned. (pg. 9)
Here, Trudy lays bare the true role of the worker bees within their system of production. They are categorized not as independent beings (or rather, bee-ings), but as cogs in the capitalist machine of production — which are, by their very nature, replaceable. Through this classification they lose their status as individuals, and thus any right to claim autonomy over their own fate. For an already rather existential audience —most members of which had presumably been identifying with Barry — this realization turns reflexive and hits hard. The sentiment expressed here feels all too relatable, as many watchers see a similar form of commodification (and thus, dissolution) happening to their perceived individuality. This manifests itself not only in the collegiate sphere, but in the global; the gradual degradation of this conceived notion of a singular and unique identity is evidently an unavoidable consequence of the seemingly never-ending expansion of the human race. It is a characteristic that begs the question, “If there are six billion other people out there — and 150 thousand of them die each and every day — how could your brief existence ever truly mean anything? How are you any better than a bee that will simply be worked until death?” Unsurprisingly, the core premise of this question is briefly addressed later in the film:
(For context, this scene between Adam and Buzzwell — the Dean turned Honex Industries ‘Bee Processor’ — occurs in front of a giant ‘Positions Available’ board which shows the constantly changing ‘openings’ and ‘closings’ for various jobs.)
The Krelman goes from “Closed” to “Open”.
And the Krelman just opened
Well, whenever a bee dies, that’s
(pointing at the board)
See that? He’s dead, dead, another
dead one, deady, deadified, two
more dead. Dead from the neck up,
dead from the neck down.
But, that’s life. (pg. 19)
Here, that fear, which was relegated to those pesky existential corners of the viewer’s imagination, is actualized. The lives of the characters that they naturally identify with are quite explicitly shown to be — aside from their capacity to briefly complete menial tasks — meaningless. The final assertion that this is just “life,” only further cements the weight of the claim. It is the overt nature of these representations of existential dread that has allowed Bee Movie to resonate so deeply with many as of late. (Millennials are, after all, the generation most prone to anxiety and depression; it only seems natural that these crises would follow.) Yet, even this assertion prompts further questions, namely, why now? (Now, meaning late 2016, the height of Bee Movie’s newfound popularity.) These sentiments were certainly being felt by many in 2007, when the film was first released. Why has this explosion of appreciation for Bee Movie taken nine years to fully manifest? To fully address this, one must consider the form that these expressions take.
The systematic recreation of the film — whether it be through the literal copying-and-pasting of the entirety of the film’s script, or the various remixes of the trailer — has occurred so often recently, that it has essentially become a ritualistic act. To adhere to the established principles of this ritual, the recreation in question must be crafted solely from the content of the film — yet, somehow still differ from the original — and be based in an adherence to the nonsensical. The result is an utterly pointless, and somewhat futile, act of absurdity that is strikingly reminiscent of Dadaism, the artistic movement that emerged as a reaction to the “logical nonsense” of man in the wake of World War I. This comparison cannot be understated.
The Dada art of the 20th century reveled in irrationality, and considered forms of artistic expression that transformed established objects, forms, and ideas into meaningless pastiches of their formal selves to be the ideal manner by which to represent the inherently illogical nature of their current era. Similarly, this rationale (or rather, ir-rationale) can be seen as the primary unconscious motivator for the recent outpour of seemingly senseless Bee Movie memes. These recreations not only adhere to the same principles of 20th century Dadaist art, but also spawn from a similar point of origin. (While there obviously hasn’t recently been a WWI-level destruction of the global idea of human nature, the exact time and place the memes reemerged into the cultural zeitgeist is all-too-telling.) Bee Movie’s spike in popularity definitively began at a time that was similarly rooted in “logical nonsense” — America on November 9th, 2016. (Yes, this is actually true, as per Google Trends.)
The torrent of irreverent recreations that have followed this date — despite their best intentions — have been anything but meaningless. Instead, they clearly reflect one of the many proven responses artistic society falls back on in times defined by their irrationality. All of the various worries that have come to a head throughout 2016 (e.g. educational neoliberalism, the depreciating status of the individual in the face of globalization, widespread economic anxiety, etc.) have become too much for any art form to holistically capture. Thus, the most relevant and seemingly astute form of response to this overwhelming tide of “logical nonsense” can only truly manifest itself illogically. And what better form could this reaction take, than that of the purposeless pastiches of Bee Movie — an already completely bizarre film that coyly acknowledged these very fears nine years ago.