It’s always tough when your cartoon frog becomes the symbol of white supremacy.
Wait, maybe I’m getting ahead of myself.
The new documentary Feels Good Man chronicles the rise and fall of Pepe the Frog, an internet meme that became associated with alt-right extremism and hatred. Originally created by Matt Furie, Pepe was originated in Boy’s Club, an online comic that focused on four slacker friends who share the same apartment. In one particularly memorable story, Pepe is caught urinating with his pants around his ankles. When he’s confronted by his roommate about it, he simply replies, ‘Feels good, man.’. When this image became an internet meme, it eventually became co-opted as a symbol of the alt-right movement. Long after the craziness first launched, Furie attempts to gain back control and find redemption for his creation in the face of overwhelming odds.
Directed by Arthur Jones, Feels Good Man is a searing indictment of internet culture that demonstrates the damage that can be done when internet trolls unleash their rage. Though Furie’s famed cartoon amphibian was originally intended for humour as a representation of young adult slacking, it gradually became a strange symbol of an angry internet subculture that was looking to vent their fury. To them, Pepe’s knowing smirk and innocent face became an opportunity to speak angrily about the state of culture and write it off as humour. (They would argue that it doesn’t really matter if you use hate symbols when it’s all a joke, right?)
Having no way to speak for himself, Pepe became the voice of others’ hate.
As a result, Feels Good uncovers an even greater conversation about who owns content. Despite the intended innocence of Pepe the Frog, the added subtext of white supremacy and hate completely changes the meaning in the larger world of the underground internet. For Furie, Pepe the Frog represented youthful innocence and nonsense. In the hands of others, he became an excuse to attack others. Somehow, along the way, it was decided by a large portion of people that the original purpose behind this cartoon amphibian was irrelevant because their vision for the character fed their angst. In this way, Feels Good points to the danger of the online world where images remain open for interpretation and the origins of content lose their meaning.
At the same time though, Feels Good is also a quest for redemption for the bizarre cartoon, if such a thing exists. Though his meme became a symbol for evil, Furie himself passionately seeks justice for his creation. While it seems bizarre that an internet frog would require a campaign for redemption due to the angry mob, this is absolutely true in the case of Pepe. Passionate and personal, Furie’s quest to speak up on behalf of his beloved creation is endearing and, frankly, an uphill battle. Once the damage has been done, how do you convince people to change their minds? At a time when ‘cancel culture’ is a terrifying reality, the notion of grace and understanding are often lost amidst the noise of accusation.
For Furie, redemption for Pepe lies not in making money but rather in reclaiming the lost soul of his creation. (Personally, I found myself particularly angered on Furie’s behalf when, despite his innocence in the matter, he’s asked if there’s anything he could have done differently to prevent what took place.) As Furie works endlessly to restore his fallen frog, Feels Good Man serves as a reminder that people have value and deserve justice, even when under fire by the cyber mob.
Feels Good Man is available on VOD on September 4th, 2020.