Originally of MySpace fame, the awkward green amphibian known as Pepe—or “Sad Frog” as he’s called in creator Matt Furie’s 2005 comic series “Boy’s Club”—has landed in some hot water this election year.
The character exploded on the Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook scene back in 2014 as a meme frogifying innocent and funny scenarios that usually left a “WTF did I just read?” feeling. But not everyone has lovingly used Pepe for harmless social media sarcasm. Both sides of the debate stage have used and abused the poor frog, landing him on the “No Post” list to the disappointment of his loyal Twitter trolls.
Pepe the (Alleged) Trump Supporter
Things got weird for Pepe in 2016. Anonymous white supremacist supporters started to use Pepe with racist and anti-Semitic connotations. These bigoted memes also began popping up in association with Donald Trump.
Donald Trump Jr. posted a parody movie poster of The Expendables which was photoshopped as “The Deplorables,” in reference to Hillary Clinton calling Trump supporters a “basket of deplorables.” In the poster, Trump’s face is front and center, and to his right is a Trump-ified version of Pepe the Frog.
Clinton’s campaign reacted by publishing a blog, “Donald Trump, Pepe the frog, and white supremacists: an explainer.” Like everything during this controversial election, both parties started attacking each other’s Pepe renditions about who’s right and who’s wrong.
Pepe the Hate Symbol
Pepe caught the attention of the Anti-Defamation League, which classified Pepe the Frog as a hate symbol last week. While the ADL recognized that the majority of Pepe memes aren’t bigoted, there’s “a subset of Pepe memes” that are “centered on racist, anti-Semitic or other bigoted themes,” according to the ADL website.
These bigoted images of Pepe use blackface, KKK hats, and Hitler mustaches, among other hateful imagery.
Furie, the creator, says this white supremacist takeover is just a phase, but the ADL reports that these hateful memes have been on the rise and not slowing down.
The ADL also warns that since not all Pepe memes are bigoted, it’s important to take the meme in context. So, if Pepe has fallen on the ground spilling a pocketful of spaghetti, you can probably assume he’s not acting as a hate symbol.
It’s unknown whether Pepe the white supremacist started as a joke (by the mainstream haters of the meme) or was seriously constructed to spread hate. Either way, this has left the general public confused. Could a meme—a carefree, innocent joke—really turn into a symbol of hate?
Pepe in Politics
The internet today is full of insensitive jokes and lots and lots of trolls. Much of the confusion that comes from Pepe’s new anti-Semitic look is that most meme users would brush off bigoted Pepe as the work of a troll with nothing better to do.
Whatever these Pepe memes’ intention, the ADL’s intervention has blown the problem out of proportion, and maybe added more fuel to the fire instead of letting it burn out. Many people never even came across an anti-Semitic Pepe meme until after he was labeled a hate symbol.
Pepe the Frog meme enthusiasts have argued that labeling Pepe as a hate symbol is an example of extreme-leftist ideology, possibly coming from Clinton’s team posting a blog before the ADL’s involvement. The other side, however, argues that Pepe’s use in anti-Semitic memes stems from the bigoted ideas of Trump’s extreme supporters.
Any way you slice it, Pepe the Frog isn’t responsible for how he’s dressed or what he says.
And whether or not this is just another political battle in this bizarre election year, Pepe will forever hold a special place in our hearts as the creepy frog that one guy from high school still applies to every situation.
by Haley Millan