As Illustrator and journalist Arthur Jones discovers in the new documentary Feels Good Man, the phenomenon of Pepe the Frog becoming an icon of white supremacy is both impossible to imagine, and completely explainable
Jones interviews Furie, his arty pals, meme scholars, psychologists, 4chan devotees, students of the occult, and even President Trump’s campaign data analyst to understand Pepe’s devolution into a grotesque pawn in the war against decency. As one interviewee notes, Furie’s vibrant drawings were simple and malleable enough to be redrawn by those who wanted to conjure nightmares. So that’s what the trolls made him: scraggly, disembodied from context, and occasionally covered in swastikas.
Jones started shooting his documentary early enough to catch Furie distancing himself from the Pepe explosion. Even after Pepe took root on 4chan, the cartoonist thought he had a hope of claiming ownership, and maybe selling a few T-shirts. But after the 2016 election, the Anti-Defamation League added the frog to their list of hate symbols, jolting Furie to take more serious action. He started a “#SavePepe” campaign, urging artists to reimagine Pepe with messages of peace. In response, alt-right voices and anonymous firebrands spewed more remixes of the character. Provoked, Furie eventually “killed” Pepe, hired a fleet of IP lawyers to stomp out the fire in whatever way possible, and went to battle with Alex Jones.
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