Memes are a huge part of our cultural landscape. These images convey many emotions like happiness and common personality traits like introversion. Memes are also designed to make us laugh, but what happens when a meme becomes a symbol for intolerance?
This is what happened to Pepe the Frog, who was an innocent comic strip character until his name and face became synonymous with the alt-right…
Who Is Pepe the Frog?
Pepe the Frog was created by an artist named Matt Furie in 2005 as a character in his comic series Boy’s Club. Boy’s Club depicts Pepe and his roommates Andy, Brett, and Landwolf, as young aimless “bros” playing video games, smoking weed, and making crass jokes. Pepe the Frog was drawn by Furie as a green frog with human-like facial expressions.
In 2008, a picture of a defeated-looking Pepe pulling his pants down to urinate with the remark “Feels good man” was posted on the imageboard site 4chan. This was his first known appearance as a meme. Following the creation of the Pepe the Frog meme, his popularity steadily grew It reached its peak in 2014 and 2015 when Tumblr and Reddit pages were created for Pepe.
By 2017, notable public figures like Katy Perry, Nicki Minaj, and the fast-food restaurant Wendy’s, had posted Pepe the Frog memes on Twitter for their followers. Unfortunately, through his online popularity, Pepe the Frog had also attracted the attention of the alt-right and white supremacists.
How Did Pepe the Frog Become a Symbol of Intolerance?
There are hundreds of memes of Pepe the Frog depicting human emotions like smugness, disappointment, and sadness available online. Pepe’s relate-ability made him popular among young people worldwide.
However, his notoriety also attracted the attention of alt-right groups. These groups seek to recruit young and impressionable people, and Pepe was the perfect way to reach them.
As early as 2010, Pepe’s image was used by the alt-right movement and white supremacists online to garner the attention of the younger people they needed to propel their message. Pepe the Frog memes that expressed anti-Semitic tropes and other views of intolerance were created by these groups and posted on sites like 4chan.
In 2016, The Daily Beast interviewed a white supremacist who claimed there had been a campaign by his people on 4chan to reclaim Pepe the Frog from the “normal” people. By this time, even presidential candidate Donald Trump a Pepe the Frog meme. Presumably in a bid to attract younger voters.
As Pepe the Frog’s popularity grew, the memes depicting him as a symbol of intolerance circulated the internet at an alarming pace.
As a result, on September 27, 2016, the once-innocent image of Pepe the Frog was added to The Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) “Hate on Display” database. ADL’s Hate on Display database is a list of symbols and images that are used to spread hate openly and covertly both online and in real life.
How the #SavePepe Campaign Began
Although Pepe the Frog has been added to the Hate on Display database, the ADL has expressed that in most cases, the use of his image online is innocent. Despite this sentiment, the creator of Pepe the Frog, Matt Furie, was horrified that his creation had become a symbol of intolerance.
In 2016, Furie wrote an article for TIME saying:
It’s completely insane that Pepe has been labeled a symbol of hate, and that racists and anti-Semites are using a once peaceful frog-dude from my comic book as an icon of hate, it’s a nightmare, and the only thing I can do is see this as an opportunity to speak out against hate.
In October 2016, a month after Pepe the Frog was added to the ADL’s Hate on Display database, Furie and ADL formed an alliance to put a stop to Pepe’s defamation and reclaim his image.
Together, Matt Furie and the ADL came up with a plan: Furie created positive images of Pepe the Frog, and the ADL circulated these images on Twitter and other social media platforms with the hashtag #SavePepe. The campaign is ongoing, so if you want to help reclaim Pepe’s image, head to Twitter and retweet the ADL’s Tweet to get the word out.
If you would like to make your own positive meme of Pepe the Frog, we have written an instructional guide explaining how to make your own meme.
The Future of Pepe the Frog
Pepe the Frog will always be an innocent and peaceful frog for many, and although a darker corner of society attempted to turn him into a symbol of intolerance, it is up to you to decide how you interpret his image. We prefer to view him as he was intended to be, a frog just trying to make it through the day, albeit, awkwardly and with fault. Just like many of us.
Image Credit: Etan Liam/Flickr