It was just one more stupid meme in a year of internet stupidity, egged on by a very stupid American election campaign.
One of the iconic Pepe web comics from the early 2000s
But for some reason, the use of popular cartoon character Pepe the Frog by trolls in the so-called “alt-right” movement really got under people’s skin. Republican nominee Donald Trump seemed to like being compared with the frog, while someone yelled “Pepe!” at Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton during one of her speeches.
Two parties were especially unimpressed with the cartoon frog’s political — and often racist — mentions. One was the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), who declared the fictional character a “hate symbol” like the swastika and Ku Klux Klan hood. The other was Pepe’s creator, illustrator Matt Furie.
Furie was blindsided by his creation’s sudden infamy. He wrote in a Time Magazine editorial:
It’s completely insane that Pepe has been labeled a symbol of hate, and that racists and anti-Semites are using a once peaceful frog-dude from my comic book as an icon of hate. It’s a nightmare, and the only thing I can do is see this as an opportunity to speak out against hate.
The problem with Pepe is that he’s been stamped a hate symbol by politicians, hate groups, institutions, the media and, because of them, your mom. Before he got wrapped up in politics, Pepe was an inside-joke and a symbol for feeling sad or feeling good and many things in between. I understand that it’s out of my control, but in the end, Pepe is whatever you say he is, and I, the creator, say that Pepe is love.
Furie also expressed his feelings in cartoon form at The Nib, showing his creation mutating into a Trump-like monster. (See the whole strip here.)
So now, with the support of the ADL, Furie is taking his character back.
The ADL issued a press release, with CEO Jonathan A. Greenblatt stating that, “The sad frog was meant to be just that, a sad frog. We are going to work with Matt and his community of artists reclaim Pepe so that he might be used as a force for good, or at the very least to help educate people about the dangers of prejudice and bigotry.”
The plan is that Furie will create a series of positive Pepe memes, and the ADL will help spread the love.
Of course, there are people who will find a way to twist this even further. But it’s nice to see an artist standing up against the troll horde.