World News – GB – Pepe the Frog: How a mild-mannered cartoonist accidentally created an Alt-Right hate symbol


Pepe taught love, fun and unity – until he was hijacked by neo-NazisHis creator Matt Furie reveals his anguished battle to get him back

It says a lot about internet culture that the most political online symbol of the past 10 years is a little stoned frog called Pepe You may not recognize the name, but you will probably recognize the goofy, half-saggy eyes of Pepe the Frog, its expressive wide mouth rendered in the rudimentary Microsoft Paint style and its bright primary colors

One of the most controversial and confusing cartoons of the digital age, the image of Pepe has been used in every political corner you can think of You may have seen Pepe on gushing tweets promoting world peace and climate change, but you may have seen him confronting racist tirades from the alternative right and anti-BLM protests saying All Lives Matter While he has been the face of pro protests -democracy in Hong Kong, he is also a mascot for the neo-Nazis. He even played a rather important role in the election of Donald Trump to the American presidency

Tonight, however, you’ll see Pepe back in the hands of his original creator.New BBC4 documentary Feels Good Man aims to shed light on how a sweet little cartoon frog is. become one of the most disturbing symbols on the internet

Pepe was created in 2006 by then 20-year-old San Franciscan cartoonist Matt Furie for his Boy’s Club comic.With crisp black humor, the comic chronicles the psychedelic adventures of teenage Pepe and his mischievous roommates Andy, Brett and Landwolf, who were more interested in drugs than school He instantly became a stoner classic for the Tumblr generation

Pepe then became a meme after Fury started posting pictures of him on MySpace, and by 2008 Pepe was all over the popular 4chan discussion board: lovingly and harmlessly remixed in different situations, moods and appearances. comics to suit the hand-held humor Pepe has become so ubiquitous that he’s even appeared on the Twitter timelines of pop stars Nicki Minaj (with Pepe dancing in tight shorts) and Katy Perry (with a jet lag meme) Pepe was a symbol of hippie freedom and unity as well as cheerful fun His slogan was: « It feels good, man »

By 2010, however, Pepe was not feeling well The meme had made its way into dark internet forums frequented by fanatics, manipulated into memes that were either racist, sexist or anti-Semitic. In 2017, Pepe was dead: killed by Fury to undo Pepe’s alarming and sometimes dangerous political militarization that his creator could never have foreseen

When I speak to Matt Furie via video call, he’s remarkably Zen for a man who has had to discuss a frog drawing for 15 years Who, during the documentary, appears defeated and anxious as he struggles to recover its creation But there is nothing of this weariness now

« A guardian angel gave me Pepe to spread love around the world So yeah, in my heart I always felt that Pepe had something to say, » he tells me, displaying a hippie approach. of the life her hometown of San Francisco was known for before Big Tech took hold

In 2005, Furie was working at the San Francisco community thrift store in the city’s arty Mission district. Although tech billionaires were slowly taking over, the Mission still retained some of the city’s hippie roots. from the cavernous charity shop, Fury had a cramped little desk lined with toys and dotted with coffee cups, his sketches pinned to the walls Whenever he had a quiet minute in this little toy department, he drew and the guardian angels watched him.The energy and style of the toys around him permeated his work Fury enjoyed the last whiff of a life without adult responsibility; he party, he worked and he drew

« Frogs are kind of like something I’ve always drawn, Pepe in particular reflects my lifestyle more in my twenties, » he tells me. « Kind of like a postgraduate, kinda aimless, hedonistic party lifestyle He was just a cold guy who liked to smoke weed and play video games » This partly autobiographical amphibian ate pizza, hung out with his friends and enjoyed going to the bathroom with his ass on show Fury named him Pepe « because it sounds like Peepee », which shows the level of humor the comics operate at

This was in 2005, so he uploaded these early comics to his MySpace page titled Boys Club, there were four main characters in the tapes based on Fury and Friends, but Pepe captured people’s imaginations. Right off the bat Gym bros posted their tagline after a workout, people imposed the text on pictures of dogs hanging from the car window – Fury’s favorite is the tagline pasted on a John Goodman photo It was pretty harmless stuff, funny pictures and iterations of Pepe his friends would send him long after he deleted his MySpace page « I said at the start of the controversy that everything changes and the Pepe thing is going to change And I stay true to that « 

Fury then focused on other things: Boys Club was now in print and he was less interested in being online – even now he shuns most social media « I think I’ve always been scared of sharing content online You know I like to share it but I just don’t like how it works « He was aware that people had vectorized his original line drawings of Pepe and were remixing him in new situations, and that one of his own iterations (Sad Pepe) had found a particularly warm welcome on the famous 4chan bulletin board

Sad Pepe had become an emblem for the anonymous dropouts and losers of the board; those who had moved into their parents’ basements, had stagnated there and were proud of it He was baffled by the emergence of Sad Pepe as Principal Pepe « In my early comics there was only only one time he was sad And I remember drawing that and trying to make it really sad And it was on a pizza bagel It was sad to eat this shit food And then it just kept mutating and evolving  » , he said

Both in the movie and in person, Fury seems jaded about those early Pepe remixes.The only thing that really bothered him at this point was that Pepe was the only job he had ever been asked about. something was going on without his knowing it: celebrities and ‘normies’ clung to pictures of Sad Frog from 4chan and started posting Pepe on Twitter and Instagram, and forum users became enraged It was their thing, their culture, the iconography of their way of life, and it had become, they felt, corrupted Their reaction was to corrupt the meme itself: thus Angry Pepe was born, and he was as offensive and unwanted as possible

Users began posting pictures of Pepe wearing swastikas and committing atrocities, turning him from a harmless cartoon into a hate figure in 2014, when Elliot Rodger killed six people near the University of California to Santa Barbara, the folks at 4chan started using Rodger and Pepe in memes together, depicting « heroic » storylines Some memes even had Pepe plotting on the Twin Towers There have been so many racist and offensive memes created with Pepe that Fury might not even know when he first heard about it He was devastated by how his work had been corrupted

But publicly he tried to play it down, distracting attention with insincere responses, « I never really committed to 4chan, but I kind of did, right from the start when reporters told me about it. were contacting them, I was kind of giving them troll-y answers, « he says now » I would be too optimistic and positive about things in a sarcastic way It was just my way of handling attention and trying to minimize negativity « 

But things got worse with the creation of Smug Pepe (Pepe stroking his chin with a knowing look in his eyes) The documentary eloquently details how Pepe became a symbol of the alternative right and a photo of Smug Pepe with Donald Trump’s haystack hair was tweeted by Trump himself during the 2016 election campaign 4chan users, whose politics were turning venomously to the right, felt they had memorized Trump in power

It was, as executive producer Giorgio Angelini puts it, « a really confusing time for people to try to figure out ‘It wasn’t just’ everything Trump stood for in 2016 ‘, it was also the how we assess the impact of the internet on everyday life »The moment when Internet fictions infiltrated reality and mixed everything up And we still feel the reverberations of that moment a lot », he adds

The Matt Furie you see in the documentary is an increasingly tense man; it’s almost as if he doesn’t realize how badly things have gone The pain of having Pepe included in the Anti-Defamation League’s dictionary of hate symbols is written on his face drawn « Something in this film which struck me, it is how much I am moved « , he says now » I did not realize how much I was moved before seeing the film « When he initiates legal proceedings against Alex Jones, head of InfoWars and the big alt-Right wig, for selling a poster with Pepe alongside other right-wing figures (Milo Yiannopoulos, Kellyanne Conway), his answers are cut off and he looks like a man himself beating to stay calm Jones, on the other hand, is full of bluster and outrage: he eventually settled out of court for $ 2 million

There were times, says Fury, when he wanted to stop drawing altogether. He was ruthlessly trolled for a sweet but misguided hashtag campaign on #SavePepe, where he invited people to create their own happy frogs « C ‘was more therapeutic for me of you know, I didn’t really know what to do in the situation, « he said » But that also set him up to be trolled quite easily Even while I was doing this I was talking with my wife , Aiyana, and she’s a little squeaky, like, it’s not gonna do anything It won’t work But I don’t know It was better for me to do that than just being angry – that’s how I handled this « Eventually he tried to kill Pepe: but even that turned out to be even more food for the trolls

« We kept the making of the film extremely quiet, » says director Arthur Jones, who approached Fury to make the documentary (Jones’ debut) when Pepe became a symbol of hate in 2016 Fury says he was not bothered by some of the threats he received (including a picture of him having his head cut off) but I don’t quite believe him « We certainly didn’t broadcast that we were making the movie Pepe the Frog we wanted to avoid any potential negativity, because I think this was a story that people on the left and people on the right would either assume we’d be wrong or maybe they didn’t need to be. told « 

They expected it to be difficult to get someone from 4chan and someone from Trump’s digital team talking, but in fact, these are the experts in the trolling field. online who were the most reluctant to walk in front of the camera The reaction was largely heartwarming; Jones, Fury and Angelini all shine as they show me new Pepes that people have sent them from all over the world

Despite the seriousness of the matter, there are moments of humor in Feels Good Man where the sheer absurdity of the situation shines through And Fury says he can enjoy the dark with the light « I think negative things , you know, seeing a rotting corpse with maggots all over it can be just as inspiring as a rainbow and a beautiful cloud that’s about to burst in the rain Like, you need the rot of the life to grow flowers « There is a pause as everyone tries to figure out what to do with this image, and Jones quips, » Matt is both a hippie and a goth « 

Fury is no longer afraid of trolls, if he ever really was He seems to have finally come to accept that Pepe will continue to transform into new iterations and trying to control him is a Sisyphus endeavor And in fact, positivity has rolled over again Sad Pepe has become the unlikely symbol of pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong last year, and is now the most popular reaction emoji on Twitch « So yeah, » says- he « No regrets »

« I think it all happened for a reason I think we are all on a path We are our own paths in life » He pauses « The only regret I have in life is ain’t no bungee jumping And I can still do that « 

Feels Good Man will air on BBC4 on October 26 at 10 p.m. and then be available via iPlayer

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Pepe the Frog, Alt-right, Matt Furie

World News – UK – Pepe the Frog: How a mild-mannered cartoonist accidentally created an alt-Right hate symbol



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