There are few things that make you feel more like an un-hip, middle-aged Social Media user than when someone half your age has to explain to you (in exhausting detail) why you should feel white-hot anger over a cartoon image.
Such was the case last year during the late stages of the Presidential campaign. I began noticing a cartoon frog being used in a number of memes, usually promoting Donald Trump. The familiarity was such that no explanation was given for the frog’s role in the meme—it was supposed to be widely understood. Not so for clueless users like me. I put it into the same category memes that utilize modern-day teen fiction for imagery. I ignored it. But not for long. After Trump won, that damned Frog was EVERYWHERE. I was determined not to remain ignorant.
Pepe the Frog was the comic creation of Matt Furie. He debuted him 12 years ago in on online comic called “Boy’s Club.” For whatever reason, the image picked up popularity across a number of different web platforms and user sites. If you could explain how a bug-eyed frog with a humanoid body could become popular, you should be working on Madison Avenue…alongside the guy who invented Cabbage Patch dolls and Ty Beanie Babies.
Also, for whatever reason, Pepe began to catch on with the Alt-Right crowd. They began using him in memes promoting White Supremacy and other horrid things. It got so bad that Furie and others launched a campaign to “reclaim” Pepe. But it was too late. You can debate facts, but not feelings. And the same Pepe image that had been adopted by far-right forces was now seen as kryptonite to the left. Pepe was gone forever.
Furie this week published a comic symbolically killing Pepe. The sentiment was obvious, but this genie will NOT be stuffed back into the bottle.
I imagine the feeling is similar to those experienced by Civil War enthusiasts when they saw the Confederate flag hijacked by the KKK. It sucks, but there’s not a damned thing you can do about it. The Stars and Bars is now almost universally-accepted as a hate symbol; regardless of whether it appears at a Klan rally or in the middle of a Confederate cemetery. It takes a higher degree of thinking to discern that a symbol can have more than one meaning, but its much easier for people to instinctively react rather than thoughtfully respond to a stimulus.
So…a toast to Pepe the Frog. He will forever live on as a testament to the power of symbolic interaction—and forever serve as proof that we all need to chill the hell out.