The strange lives of internet memes: Pepe the Frog

There are some passing obscure references that I come across while surfing the web for news that I find curious but not intriguing enough to investigate until at some point the damn thing becomes so ubiquitous and annoying that I feel compelled to find out what the hell is going on. So it is with this ‘Pepe the Frog’ meme. It is a green frog that has started being associated with anti-Semitic and other racist tropes. This article describes how it became transformed from a benign, non-political, playful image to being associated with hateful message.

“Pepe the Frog” first appeared in 2005 in the comic “Boy’s Life” by artist and illustrator Matt Furie. The comics depict Pepe and his anthropomorphized animal friends behaving like stereotypical post-college bros: playing video games, eating pizza, smoking pot and being harmlessly gross.

In 2008, fans of the comic began uploading Furie’s work online. In one comic, Pepe responds to a question about his bathroom habits with, “Feels good, man.”

That reaction image and catchphrase took on a life of its own on the Internet, meriting a Know Your Meme entry by 2009. Alternate iterations of Pepe, including sad, smug and angry Pepes, followed. Pepe memes are ubiquitous across 4chan, Reddit, Imgur, Tumblr, and other social media and image-sharing sites.

But as often happens, hate groups seized on a popular symbol and made it their own.

In some instances, Pepe wears a Hitler mustache, and his signature message is replaced with “Kill Jews Man.” In others, Pepe poses in front of a burning World Trade Center, dressed like an Orthodox Jewish person with a yarmulke and payot. He’s also been spotted wearing a Nazi soldier’s uniform and in a KKK hood and robe.

In May, the Daily Beast spoke to a white supremacist who said there had been a concerted effort on the site 4chan to “reclaim Pepe” from normal people in late 2015.

In September the Anti-Defamation League flagged Pepe as hate symbol, an indicator that the people using it were likely promoting hate messages, though it was not exclusively used in that way.

Meanwhile the original creator of the image is appalled by what has been done with Pepe and is hoping that efforts to reclaim it by flooding the internet with positive messages associated with it will work.

He has been understandably devastated by the turn his creation has taken.

“To have it evolve into what it is today, it’s a nightmare,” Furie said. “It’s kind of my worst nightmare … to be tangled in forever with a symbol of hate.”

“I would love to help the ADL and do my part by flooding the Internet with positive Pepe memes,” he added.

Another reason why we cannot have nice things.


  1. says

    Meanwhile the original creator of the image is appalled by what has been done with Pepe

    Shoulda trademarked it. Then he could cost the assholes some coin and/or have a basis for sending cease/desist and DMCA takedowns.

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