It's not as innocent as it looks!
I'm one of those people who need to understand something new and interesting in its entirety. Until I do, I become obsessed with mining as much information as I can about whatever it may be.
So when I was recently found myself (somewhat obsessively) watching the news coverage of an art installation known as He Will Not Divide Us — created by Shia LaBeouf, Nastja Säde Rönkkö, and Luke Turner "as a show of resistance or insistence, opposition or optimism, guided by the spirit of each individual participant and the community" — I found myself baffled as several protestors from the Right continuously and aggressively held pictures of a cartoon frog up to the camera lens.
So, off to Google I went, where I then fell down a rabbit hole into the mystical realms of Wikipedia, Reddit, and the ever popular 4chan — where I found myself waist-deep in the muddy trenches of hate surrounding "Pepe the Frog."
Let's start with the basics about Pepe:
The anthropomorphic frog was created in 2005 by Matt Furie for his comic blog on MySpace called Boy's Club. Pepe was shown urinating with pants down while saying, "Feels good man," which became his catchphrase and propelled him to quickly achieve popular meme status. By 2015, he even ranked number 6 "on Daily News and Analysis' list of the most important memes and was the most retweeted meme on Twitter."
Strangely, in 2016, the once innocent frog was co-opted by the alt-right with goal, according to Hillary Clinton's official campaign website, of turning him into a "symbol associated with white supremacy."
I know. A green frog. I was confused, too. But stay with me here.
It seems that during Donald Trump's presidential campaign, Trump himself re-tweeted a Pepe drawing featuring his own likeness. Donald Trump, Jr. and political consultant Roger Stone then tweeted a parody of the movie poster for The Expendables, calling it, instead, The Deplorables, in reference to Hillary Clinton's slip of the tongue during campaigning.
— Roger Stone (@RogerJStoneJr) September 10, 2016
Each movie character was replaced with people from Trump's very alt-right side, including uber-controversial figure Milo Yiannopoulos — and alt-right Twitter users didn't waste time grabbing the frog to use as their symbol.
@NARAL @TeenVogue @naraltx the moment Ilyse from #NARAL realized she wasn't gonna be DNC chairperson. #PepeTheFrog strikes again! pic.twitter.com/N5MXwzf0G5 — Deplorable LatinaX (@Holy_tulsi66) December 10, 2016
In September of 2016, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) officially added Pepe to their hate symbol database.
According to their website:
"The Pepe the Frog character did not originally have racist or anti-Semitic connotations. Internet users appropriated the character and turned him into a meme, placing the frog in a variety of circumstances and saying many different things ... The majority of uses of Pepe the Frog have been, and continue to be, non-bigoted ... In recent years, with the growth of the 'alt right' segment of the white supremacist movement, a segment that draws some of its support from some of the above-mentioned Internet sites, the number of 'alt right' Pepe memes has grown, a tendency exacerbated by the controversial and contentious 2016 presidential election ...
However, because so many Pepe the Frog memes are not bigoted in nature, it is important to examine use of the meme only in context. The mere fact of posting a Pepe meme does not mean that someone is racist or white supremacist. However, if the meme itself is racist or anti-Semitic in nature, or if it appears in a context containing bigoted or offensive language or symbols, then it may have been used for hateful purposes."
Now the ADL has teamed up with creator Matt Furie to create and promote a campaign to take back Pepe — #SavePepe.
Furie shared the following thoughts:
“We are in uncharted territory right now ... But I have to take some responsibility for him because he’s like my kid or something ... It’s the worst-case scenario for any artist to lose control of their work and eventually have it labeled like a swastika or a burning cross ... I had to step up and speak on the cartoon frog’s behalf.”
It's amazing how quickly the internet evolves, but this is the world in which we now live.
So, if you happen to see the green frog, be aware that you may possibly be reading something from an alt-right supporter, and keep that in mind before you reply or re-tweet.
(Looking at you, Kellyanne Conway!)