The Hijacking of Matt Furie’s Pepe the Frog Character by the Fringe Political Movement of the Alt Right

Matt-Furie-Pepe-the-FrogThe Pepe the Frog character and meme rose to ascension during the presidency of Donald Trump because of the 4Chan.org website which was created by Christopher Poole. Poole’s system leveraged Darwinian survival as the base for his new forum system in which posts with a lot of traction would float to the top, allowing even more people to become exposed to them, and posts which had little traction sinking to the bottom where they would inevitably die out. This method of selection and rejection is immensely conducive to creating memes as users, overwhelmingly adolescent males, would compete upon 4Chan to create the most bizarre and outrageous memes and replies possible. 4Chan exacerbates this behavior by allowing users to remain anonymous and therefore able to express opinions and/or ask questions or provide answers to material which they normally would not engage in conversation in, during their day to day life, for fear of retribution for deviating outside of typical social convention. Pepe the Frog became a meme circulated almost exclusively upon 4Chan as the other major social media platforms (e.g. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter etc.) did not observe spikes in content related to this meme due to the user base that uses these platforms being unaware of it as 4Chan is a relatively obscure online forum. Pepe the Frog eventually became adopted by those within society who did not feel marginalized, people who visited 4Chan in search of Pepe the Frog memes, rather than for communication with 4Chan members, which ascended Pepe the Frog into popular culture. Those who initially propelled Pepe the Frog into the counter culture of 4Chan felt overlooked and as a direct result, this marginalized group started to produce increasingly offensive content related to Pepe the Frog, with the hope that it would deter others from using the meme which was believed to be exclusively reserved as a 4Chan character, despite having been stolen from the original artist Matt Furie, who created the character in 2005 for his comic book publication Boys Club, a storyline about 4 friends, including Pepe the Frog, who spent time together. Pepe the Frog was depicted upon 4Chan as a member of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, crashing into the World Trade Towers, with tattoos of German Nazi and white supremacist symbols etc. (e.g. swastika, Celtic cross, 14/88 which refers to Adolf Hitler etc.). These derivative depictions and memes began to become widely circulated upon 4Chan and other websites found online, as Pepe the Frog displays both innocence in his depiction but also malevolence while engaging in horrific acts (e.g. abhorrently forcing a gas mask onto an unfair, stereotypical characterization of a Jewish person). It is Pepe the Frog’s smile while performing these actions which allowed his popularity grow online as virtually any despicable act could be depicted as a joke because of the juxtaposition between Pepe the Frog and the victim being attacked. This emboldened those making these offensive memes as the work started to become viewed as hyperbole and comical, which acted as a defense for creating new content as those engaged believed that their work could always be interpreted and defended as satire, therefore free of scrutiny from authorities or those who reject the Alt Right ideology (e.g. law enforcement investigating a hate crime etc.)

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