The fictional character is no nazi—he's whoever you want him to beby Antonia Cundy / November 2, 2016 / Leave a comment
At the end of September, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) added Pepe the Frog to its list of hate symbols. The ADL opposes bigotry and the cartoon character has become increasingly associated with the alt-right—an American far-right group with a poisonous and chaotic agenda that promotes white supremacism, misogyny and anti-Semitism and is heavily associated with Donald Trump. Pepe was originally created in 2005 by the illustrator Matt Furie, in his online comic series Boy’s Club. Furie described Pepe as an “everyman frog… he’s just a chill frog and is pretty good natured.” So how did he end up on the Hate on Display symbols database?
Pepe first appeared as a meme around 2008 on the online community 4chan, often taking the form of an image of the frog’s head and the words “feels good, man.” The character slowly grew in popularity on the internet to become the most reblogged meme on Tumblr in 2015. Until recently, Pepe memes were non-bigoted, and simply a comic expression of generic feelings. Last November, the singer Katy Perry tweeted a Pepe image to describe her jetlag, and in January, the rapper Nicki Minaj instagrammed an image of Pepe “twerking.”
But the use of Pepe in popular and celebrity culture resulted in a backlash. The move from internet forums towards the mainstream led hardcore fans on 4chan to lament the loss of their private joke: “WHY DO NORMIES HAVE TO RUIN EVERYTHING?” wrote one. Ironic eBay auctions of “rare Pepes” went online, generating bids of up to $99,000 before being removed. The “real” fans were killing Pepe — if he wasn’t solely theirs, they didn’t want anyone to have him. Much more troubling, however, were the growing number of memes associating Pepe with the alt-right.
In mid-September, amid the increasingly heated presidential campaign, Hillary Clinton stated that half of Donald Trump’s supporters belonged in the “basket of deplorables.” In response, Donald Trump Jr posted on Instagram a Photoshopped poster for the action film The Expendables. It was retitled The Deplorables, with the actors replaced by Trump and his supporters—and Pepe. This was the peak in a wave of hateful Pepe memes that were spreading over the darker fringes of the internet: Pepe as Hitler, Pepe as a SS serviceman, Pepe as…