Pepe the Frog’s evolution is a good example of how meme culture can take non-political images, codify them, and then redeploy them, sometimes to extreme political ends. Matt Furie, an American artist, created Pepe, a frog with the catchphrase “Feels Good Man”, for his Boy’s Club comic series in 2005.
The character’s laid-back attitude was quickly adopted as a meme in internet forums like 4chan and Reddit. In 2014 and 2015, Pepe memes that were politicized began to appear against Furie’s will. This was mainly from the ‘alt-right.’ Donald Trump tweeted a caricature depicting him as Pepe, at the US presidential podium.
In 2016, the Anti-Defamation League added the meme to its database of hate symbols after receiving a number of racist and anti-semitic Pepe renditions. In 2016, Hong Kong democracy activists began using Pepe images in their protests.
In their book Meme Wars : The Untold History of the Online Battles Undermining Democracy in America the authors Joan Donovan and Emily Dreyfuss, along with Brian Friedberg, chart how conspiracy theorists and democracy disrupters use memes like Pepe the Frog to spread mass disinformation. Donovan created this timeline to show his progression from comic-strip good guy, to Covid antivaxxer.
Pepe the Frog
Pepe the Frog, the original character from Matt Furie’s Boys Club comics in 2005, was famous for the catchphrase “Feels Good Man”.
Sad Pepe 2012
On internet forums such as 4chan and Reddit, users quickly took to creating their own memes of Pepe the Frog.
Smug Pepe 2014
Rage Pepe 2014
2014 & 2015: Nazi Pepe
Around a decade ago, images of Pepe in various right-wing and extreme-right guises began proliferating.
Donald Trump as Pepe
Pepe and alt-right in 2017
Pepe was not only a symbol for the alt-right online, but also offline. This image is from a pro Trump protest.
Groyper and Kekistan in 2017
Groyper is a spinoff of Pepe and the flag for the fictional Kekistan has become symbols of white nationalism.
2019: QAnon Pepe
Hong Kong Pepe 2020
Pepe is a cartoon that has appealed to Hong Kong’s democracy activists.
Pepe is used to discredit the use of hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for the Covid virus.