2003 was an important year for American culture: Baghdad fell, the Human Genome Project was completed, Britney and Madonna French-kissed at the MTV Music Video Awards. And no less significantly, at least as far as internet culture is concerned, it was also the year of the “GI Joe PSAs”: 25 weird, short videos made from re-edited versions of ‘80s GI Joe cartoons. Before YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter were alive to launch a meme in a minute, the GI Joe PSAs went “viral” in a time when that idea didn’t even exist.

Created by a young, Chicago-based aspiring filmmaker named Eric Fensler, the series was constructed out of the public service announcements that were originally tacked on to the end of each show (which ran from 1985-1986), instructing viewers not to play around construction sites or leave stuff on the stove unattended. But in Fensler’s tweaked versions, the GI Joe characters drop bizarre non sequiturs in voices and accents not their own. (For instance: two kids approach a downed power line and are stopped by Roadblock, who pulls up in a Jeep and purrs, “Who wants a body massage?”)

Although there were earlier breakout online videos, “Baby Cha-Cha” for instance (1996), The GI Joe PSAs stand out because they don’t seem dated. They’re still just as funny and weird now as they were then. In fact, their impact can be felt in TV shows, commercials, and music videos being made today. And looking back at them a decade later reveals clues about the mystery of the viral video.