Pepe the Frog
|Boy's Club character|
Pepe in his original format
|First appearance||Boy's Club (2005)|
|Created by||Matt Furie|
Pepe the Frog (//) is a popular Internet meme. A green anthropomorphic frog with a humanoid body, Pepe originated in a comic by Matt Furie called Boy's Club. It became an Internet meme when its popularity steadily grew across Myspace, Gaia Online and 4chan in 2008. By 2015, it had become one of the most popular memes used on 4chan and Tumblr. Different types of Pepe include "Sad Frog", "Smug Frog", "Angry Pepe", "Feels Frog", and "You will never ..." Frog. Since 2014, "Rare Pepes" have been posted on the (sarcastic) "meme market" as if they were trading cards.
By 2016, the character's image had been appropriated as a symbol of the controversial alt-right movement. The Anti-Defamation League added certain incarnations of Pepe the Frog to their database of hate symbols in 2016, adding that not all Pepe memes are racist. Since then, Pepe's creator has publicly expressed his dismay at Pepe being used as a hate symbol.
Pepe the Frog was created by American artist and cartoonist Matt Furie in 2005. Its usage as a meme came from his comic Boy's Club #1. The progenitor of Boy's Club was a zine Furie made on Microsoft Paint called Playtime, which included Pepe as a character. He posted his comic in a series of blog posts on Myspace in 2005.
In the comic, Pepe is seen urinating with his pants pulled down to his ankles and the catchphrase "feels good man" was his rationale. Furie took those posts down when the printed edition was published in 2006.
Pepe was used in blog posts on Myspace and became an in-joke on Internet forums. In 2008, the page containing Pepe and the catchphrase was scanned and uploaded to 4chan's /b/ board, which has been described as the meme's "permanent home". The meme took off among 4chan users, who adapted Pepe's face and catchphrase to fit different scenarios and emotions, such as melancholy, anger, and surprise. Color was also added; originally a black-and-white line drawing, Pepe became green with brown lips, sometimes in a blue shirt. "Feels Guy", or "Wojak", originally an unrelated character typically used to express melancholy, was eventually often paired with Pepe in user-made comics or images.
In 2014, images of Pepe were shared on social media by celebrities such as Katy Perry and Nicki Minaj. As Pepe became more widespread, 4chan users began referring to particularly creative and unique variants of the meme as "rare Pepes". These images, sometimes as physical paintings, were sold on eBay and posted on Craigslist. 4chan users referred to those who used the meme outside the website as "normies" (or "normalfags"). In 2015, Pepe was #6 on Daily News and Analysis's list of the most important memes and the most retweeted meme on Twitter.
"Esoteric Kekism", or the Cult of Kek, is a term for the parody religion of worshipping Pepe the Frog, which sprang from the similarity of the slang term for laughter, "kek", and the name of the ancient Egyptian frog god of darkness, Kek. This deity, in turn, was associated with Pepe the Frog on internet forums. The internet meme has its origin on the internet message forum 4chan and other chans, and the board /pol/ in particular. Kek references are closely associated with Trump and the alt-right.
"Kek" originated as a variation of "lel", itself a variation of "lol", and seems to come from the video game World of Warcraft, or alternatively a Korean onomatopoeia for laughter written as "kekeke". The phrase then became associated with the Egyptian deity of the same name. "Esoteric Kekism" references the "Esoteric Hitlerism" of writer Savitri Devi.
Kekistan is a fictional country created by 4chan members that has become a political meme and online movement. According to Ian Miles Cheong, writing in Heat Street, the name is a portmanteau of "kek" and the suffix "-stan", which is Persian for "place of" and the end of several names of actual Central Asian countries and regions, and Kekistanis identify themselves as "shitposters" persecuted by excessive political correctness. Self-identified Kekistanis have created a fictional history around the meme, including the invasion and overthrow of other fictional countries such as "Normistan" and "Cuckistan". Kekistanis have also adopted Internet personality Gordon Hurd (in his "Big Man Tyrone" persona) as their president and the 1986 Italo disco record "Shadilay" as a national anthem. The record gained attention from the group in September 2016 because of the name of the group (P.E.P.E) and art on the record depicting a frog holding a magic wand.
Cheong credits Carl Benjamin, who uses the pseudonym Sargon of Akkad on YouTube, for popularizing the meme. Benjamin claimed that Kekistanis could technically classify as an ethnic group for the British census, and contacted the Office for National Statistics to request that it be added, but was unsuccessful.[better source needed]
Appropriation by the alt-right
During the 2016 United States presidential election, the meme was connected to Donald Trump's campaign. In October 2015, Trump retweeted a Pepe representation of himself, associated with a video called "You Can't Stump the Trump (Volume 4)". Later in the election, Roger Stone and Donald Trump Jr. posted a parody movie poster of The Expendables on Twitter and Instagram titled "The Deplorables", a play on Hillary Clinton's controversial phrase "basket of deplorables", which included Pepe's face among those of members of the Trump family and other figures popular among the alt-right.
Also during the election, various news organizations reported associations of the character with white nationalism and the alt-right. In May 2016, Olivia Nuzzi of The Daily Beast wrote that there was "an actual campaign to reclaim Pepe from normies" and that "turning Pepe into a white nationalist icon" was an explicit goal of some on the alt-right. In September 2016, an article published on Hillary Clinton's campaign website described Pepe as "a symbol associated with white supremacy" and denounced Trump's campaign for its supposed promotion of the meme. The same month, the two sources for Nuzzi's Daily Beast article revealed to The Daily Caller that they had coordinated beforehand to mislead Nuzzi (particularly about the existence of a campaign) under the expectation that she would uncritically repeat what she was told, with one saying, "Basically, I interspersed various nuggets of truth and exaggerated a lot of things, and sometimes outright lied—in the interest of making a journalist believe that online Trump supporters are largely a group of meme-jihadis who use a cartoon frog to push Nazi propaganda. Because this was funny to me." The Anti-Defamation League, an American organization opposed to antisemitism, included Pepe in its hate symbol database but noted that most instances of Pepe were not used in a hate-related context. In January 2017, in a response to "pundits" calling on Theresa May to disrupt Trump's relationship with Russia, the Russian Embassy in the United Kingdom tweeted an image of Pepe. White supremacist Richard B. Spencer, during a street interview after Trump's inauguration, was preparing to explain the meaning of a Pepe pin on his jacket when he was punched in the face, with the resulting video itself becoming the source of many memes.
In an interview with Esquire, Furie said of Pepe's usage as a hate symbol, "It sucks, but I can't control it more than anyone can control frogs on the Internet". Fantagraphics Books, Furie's publisher, issued a statement condemning the "illegal and repulsive appropriations of the character". On October 17, Furie published a satirical take of Pepe's appropriation by the alt-right movement on The Nib. This was his first comic for the character since he ended Boy's Club in 2012. On May 6, 2017, on Free Comic Book Day, it was announced that Furie had killed Pepe off in response to the character's continued use as a hate symbol. But in an interview with Carol Off on her show As It Happens Furie said that despite news of Pepe's death, he will eventually return: "The end is a chance for a new beginning ... I got some plans for Pepe that I can't really discuss, but he's going to rise from the ashes like a phoenix ... in a puff of marijuana smoke." Soon thereafter, Furie announced his intention to "resurrect" Pepe, launching a crowdfunding campaign for a new comic book featuring Pepe.
During the 2016 United States presidential election, Kek became associated with alt-right politics. Kek is associated with the occurrence of repeating digits, known as "dubs",[original research?] on 4chan, as if he had the ability to influence reality through internet memes.
Since late 2016, the satirical ethnicity of Kekistan has been used by U.S.-based alt-right protesters opposed to what they view as political correctness. These Kekistanis decry the "oppression" of their people and troll counterprotesters by waving the "national flag of Kekistan" (modeled after the Nazi war flag, with the red replaced by green, the Iron Cross replaced by the logo for 4chan, and the swastika replaced by a rubric for KEK). This flag was prominently displayed at the 2017 Berkeley protest for free speech in mid-April, and the Unite the Right rally in August 2017.
In June 2017, a proposed app and Flappy Bird clone called "Pepe Scream" was rejected from the Apple App Store due to its depiction of Pepe the Frog. The app's developer, under the name "MrSnrhms", posted a screenshot of his rejection letter on /r/The Donald. The app is available on Google Play.
A children's book appropriating the Pepe character, The Adventures of Pepe and Pede, advanced "racist, Islamophobic and hate-filled themes", according to a federal lawsuit Furie filed. The suit was settled out of court in August 2017, with terms including the withdrawal of the book from publication and the profits being donated to the nonprofit Council on American-Islamic Relations. Initially self-published, the book was subsequently published by Post Hill Press. The book's author, a vice-principal with the Denton Independent School District, was reassigned after the publicity.
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