Internet Nostalgia

Let’s Revisit Peanut Butter Jelly Time

Way back, way back, there you go, there you go

Welcome to part six of our Internet Nostalgia series, which looks back at phenomena that captured the imagination and attention of the internet for a fleeting moment and then vanished as everyone moved on to something else. This series looks back at those olden times, and what they told us about the internet, and ourselves. If you have a suggested topic, email me at williamfleitch@yahoo.com. Last week, we looked at The Dancing Baby. This week: Peanut Butter Jelly Time.

Date: 2000–02.

The story: This is going to sound insane to you, but when I first came across Peanut Butter Jelly Time, I thought it was an art project. I really did. I was living and working on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, part of the next would-be vanguard of internet weirdos, a bunch of losers desperately trying to parlay our middling knowledge of the World Wide Web into something resembling a career. It really did feel like you were on the edge of a new frontier, a digital explorer unearthing and colonizing new ground every day, a whole new world out there, just waiting for you to take it. What worked on the internet? What didn’t? Who knew? You just threw everything against the wall to see what stuck.

Then someone from that self-conscious, PBR-drinking, pretend-hipster art collective sent me Peanut Butter Jelly Time, and I thought it was one of the most genius things I’d ever seen. How subversive! How sardonic! How delightfully droll! This was going to set the internet on fire. The squares would never get it, but how could they? Only the vanguard could get it.

That’s all it was. It felt beamed from outer space.

Pop culture crossover: The song, made by something called the Buckwheat Boyz, and the banana, were immediately everywhere, and the thing about it was that everyone was certain they were the ones who had discovered it. It was so strange and confusing and oddly buoyant that it almost felt made specifically for you, and that weird part of your brain that didn’t make any sense to anyone other than yourself. There were so many pop culture crossovers that the “official” Peanut Butter Jelly Time page — which hasn’t been updated in nearly a decade — apologizes for not catching all of them. Though it is telling that many people know it only from a Family Guy episode. An episode, by the way, that came out a good seven years after we idiots on the LES saw it, an episode that handled it with that show’s usual lack of wit.

(Yeah, they just repeated it.)

What we’ve learned: All art is what you make of it: True art exists with the observer, not apart from the observer. We see what we want to see. What we see is us.

Peanut Butter Jelly Time is, objectively, so stupid that it is remarkable that it exists at all. There is no context in which it makes sense, no reason it should be on this planet, no force that should allow it to walk around unencumbered, inflicting its madness on the unsuspecting. And yet I cannot stop watching. I cannot look away. And I still feel like it is mine. I still think it is the future. I still think it is eternal.

Here are 10 hours of it. I am going to leave you now so that I might watch them all.

Got a suggestion for Internet Nostalgia? Send it to me at williamfleitch@yahoo.com.

Will Leitch writes multiple pieces a week for Medium. Make sure to follow him right here. He lives in Athens, Georgia, with his family and is the author of five books, including the upcoming novel How Lucky, released by Harper next May. He also writes a free weekly newsletter that you might enjoy.

Writer, New York, NYT, MLB, WaPo, others. Founder, Deadspin. Author of four books, with fifth, “How Lucky,” coming May 2021. https://williamfleitch.substack.com

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