Remember when Pepe the Frog was charming and innocent before the popular meme character was turned into a hate symbol? This would have been in the mid- late 2000s, and you would have been on MySpace and may have come across some online comic strips of the sad looking frog that was started by a MySpace group of animators known as the Boy’s Club. You may also have been acquainted with the term “Feels Good Man”, as weightlifters posted pictures of themselves working out. Eventually it drafted into a slogan that many people would use online if they were buying a new outfit, or getting a new haircut. Yet, during the election season of 2016 the iconic Pepe was co-opted on 4-Chan and appropriated into a hate-filled symbol by the alt-right.
“Feels Good Man,” a documentary that is beyond heartbreaking, as it follows the original creator, Matt Furie from his origins of Pepe to it’s regression, which involved many court battles including one with far-right conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, who made money off Furie’s intellectual property by selling T-shirts and posters of Pepe the Frog. The film chronicles all the history and details of the creation, rise, and transformation of Pepe the Frog. Once the meme got widely mainstream, 4Chan users took the positive image of Pepe and made him very negative, hateful, and tragically a symbol for white supremacy. Once Donald Trump started running for president, memes were created by 4Chan users as they even made Trump look like Pepe. Meanwhile, the positive, caring and sensitive Furie can’t comprehend how his creation has turned into such a symbol of hate. Could you imagine if Spider-Man or Superman became white supremacists or fascists? But once Pepe appears in a racist children’s book, this instantly emboldens Matt Furie to act, hire attorneys, and sue the people stealing and profiting off his intellectual property for the cause of hate and division.
The highlights of the documentary comes when Furie takes Alex Jones to court over the poster. Furie’s temperament is pragmatic and calm, as the animated Jones alleges with falsehoods (That Jones is best known for) that Furie is “evil” and ” justpart of the establishment” as he sues him for what is rightfully his. The rest of the documentary includes clever animation skits, fascinating interviews with scholars, psychologists, and 4Chan users that explain what led to people using Pepe as a reflection of themselves. Once Trump was elected, one 4Chan member wrote “We just memed a man into the White House,” and during a Hillary Clinton campaign rally, a 4Chan user heckled Hillary Clinton by yelling out “Pepe” as it made national news.
Another fascinating moment in the film is when director Arthur Jones interviews cryptocurrency brokers who actually became prosperous and wealthy with a Pepe-related cryptocurrency. Another odd moment is the creation of the Pepe the Frog transforming into a Egyptian frog named Kek that did online spells on Hillary Clinton. Oddly enough, Hillary Clinton was indeed getting sick with coughing attacks and she fainted on her way to a van. The footage of her fainting that was grossly used as a smear tactic by the alt-right claiming she was unhealthy and unfit for office.
Contrasting all the hate, Furie and his family are very compassionate and empathetic people that become combative in taking the image of Pepe back to its roots. They’re the opposite of everything the alt-right stands by, and the movie is a great anecdote of hope of what we need during these hateful and trying times where white supremacy and hate appear to be normalized by our own President and even by his own base.
Right now with so much negative energy and vile political discourse that all seems hopeless, “Feels Good Man” is the most important movie of the year. It’s a cautionary tale about how alienated individuals turn to very dark places on the internet. The film is shattering when dives into the 22-year-old Elliot Roger, the misogynist who went on a shooting rampage in Isla Vista, Calif., that left six dead, and then killed himself ended by being celebrated by many lone wolf types on the 4Chan community. Now with 4Chan transforming itself into 8Chan, the website has now regressed into a place of baseless conspiracy theories with the QAnon online movement that is exploiting child sexual abuse and human trafficking to vilify their political opponents. “Feels Good Man” is a reminder of dangerous propaganda like that and is a very essential watch that must be recommended and discussed by others before we regress even further with misinformation, disinformation, and deeper hate.