It’s a common joke here on DrunkInAGraveyard.com and on our podcast where Rigby, Scott and myself joke around about Pepe The Frog, and usually the commentary goes to something like “they took Pepe from us, we’ll never forgive them”. The they in this case being the alt-right, who took the seemingly innocuous sad-frog Pepe from the Boy’s Club comic book series by Matt Furie and co-opted his image for a meme-ified representation of their hate-filled ideology. Pepe the Frog, the meme, the image that we knew from basically everywhere on the internet, became something almost untouchable.
And, like many others who tend to be perennially online, I watched the rise of Pepe from sad frog saying “feels good man”, to symbol of hate. I watched creator Matt Furie attempt to kill Pepe in a way to reclaim the wayward son of his own artistry, and I watched that attempt fail. But really, I didn’t know much more beyond all of these things that I had observed from the fringes of the internet. So when Arthur Jones’s documentary FEELS GOOD MAN was announced for Fantasia International Film Festival 2020 it was immediately on our list of must see films for the festival and this documentary did not disappoint. It is slick, well made, and yet oddly humble. It frames interviews with the humble hippie artist Matt Furie alongside interviews with members of the ADL, meme-scholars, chaos magiciains, basement dwelling incels, 4-chan shitposters, and political scientists who all help to piece together the humble beginnings of Pepe the Frog and his rise to symbol of hatred and bigotry.
Pepe, comes straight from the pages of Boy’s Club, a weird and Wonder Showzen-esque comic book series where he is seen peeing into a toilet with his pants and underwear fully down around his ankles and when asked why he does this – the answer is “feels good man”. Pepe was scanned into MySpace and his journey from page to meme began. Pepe became a popular figure on the 4chan image board and gained a life of his own – being created and recreated in the image of any meme maker, and he came to represent a subset of individuals known as NEETs – Not in Education, Employment or Training – basically nerds in their parent’s basement, living in their own filth, surrounded by anime waifu pillows, a PC computer, and spending far too much time on reddit. These individuals seem pitiful, and somehow beyond our pity as well – but FEELS GOOD MAN goes on to very skillfully show the power of individuals who are powerless, as they successfully meme a man into the White House, and turn Pepe into a sinister figurehead for the alt-right. There is a poignancy and urgency that comes with this understanding, and while we initially feel repelled, or even disgusted by the shitposters depicted in the documentary, there is a human-ness to them, and a sadness, that crystallizes into a kind of desperation – where we see people disenfranchised calling out to each other, their voices mingling into a chorus of sorrow and rage and I was reminded of a line from Batman, “some men just want to watch the world burn”. How pithy and accurate.
It’s an odd thing to say that I did a lot of learning while watching a documentary about the power of memes, but this is a true and not at all exaggerated statement – FEELS GOOD MAN is extremely informative, and while I won’t claim to necessarily understand the intricacies of investing in crypto-currency Pepe-bucks, and I’m thoroughly embarrassed by the Canadian Pepe-buck trader driving his Lamborghini down the Sea-to-Sky highway singing along to a Pepe-Pokemon mash-up song, there is a power present to the knowledge he holds, because it’s something I can’t even begin to understand. Ultimately FEELS GOOD MAN is a story about having hope, when things, feel bad, man. And we do get to see Pepe used as a symbol for good, and he is shown being used in 2019 as a symbol of hope in the Hong-Kong protests and it felt like it was a step to taking back a symbol. Pairing this footage along with seeing prominent alt-right figureheads like Alex Jones being forced to stop using Pepe, is powerful, and it is affirming. There are still good people out there doing good work.
And that alone gives me the hope that one day Pepe won’t belong to hate anymore. and artist Matt Furie shares that hope.
DIAG RATING 6/6
You can check out more of our Fantasia coverage here:
The Drunk in a Graveyard guide to the TEN FILMS we are most psyched about at Fantasia Fest 2020.
Coverage of Brea Grant’s 12 HOUR SHIFT and Ryan Spindell’s THE MORTUARY COLLECTION can be found on our latest podcast episode, and coverage of Amelia Moses’s BLEED WITH ME, 上田慎一郎 Shinichiro Ueda’s SPECIAL ACTORS, Neil Marshall’s THE RECKONING, short film DOPPELBÅNGER here, as well as our podcast episode on Justin McConnell’s documentary Clapboard Jungle here. And be sure to stay tuned for more coverage coming up soon, and follow our social media to keep up!
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