The Downfall of Pepe the Frog is Proof That the Internet is a Bad, Bad Place

Images Matt Furie + The Internet

Just like all things beautiful, Pepe was a creation made out of enjoyment and love. Born in the era of MySpace as part of Matt Furie’s Boy’s Club series in 2005, the heavy-eyed frog chilled his way to internet fame up to the late ‘00s, and is seen – to this day – on various social media platforms. But before we get to all that heavy stuff, these are some of Pepe’s greatest moments with us (when he was still a happy, drama-free amphibian):

Pepe after finding out about his status as a hate symbol.

If you’re asking, “Why are people sad? Why am I even writing about this?” it’s because you don’t get it. To quote a LinkedIn article about internet slang, “Memes range from the subtle commentary of hilarious online antics to the repurposing of other viral content for smaller posts that relate to millennial’s everyday life.” Of course the topic of millennials will be brought up, because they are one of the largest generations in history and memes? They constitute a huge chunk of today’s pop culture, so much so that something as harmless as a frog became a hate symbol as declared by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). Pepe went from the Tumblr page of a teenager to the hands of dirty politicians, especially Trump supporters who misused Pepe to express their sexist, Islamophobic, racist, and anti-Semitic views. It’ll be stupid for Matt Furie to not worry about Pepe, and it’ll be ignorant of us to continue joking around about nasty things like that. We wanna stay woke.

The revolting appropriation of Pepe also landed in the hands of neo-Nazi groups (yeah, it’s the one where Pepe looks like Hitler), and was even morphed into a Klansman. The “bigoted themes” manifested into an array of political Pepes, leaving the once innocent cartoon without an identity, instead now malleable and extremely vulnerable. The mercy killing of Pepe by Furie didn’t stop the alt-right meme appearances; Pepe returned as Pepe Le Pen, portraying Marine Le Pen who lost during the French presidential election to Emmanuel Macron.

Pepe took on a life of its own, penetrating news websites and forums like 4chan and Reddit with repulsive versions of the frog. There’s no other meme that could’ve gone so far, the damage was done. Wanting to salvage his creation, Furie alongside the ADL launched the #SavePepe campaign, a project that was made to reclaim the character’s innocence. It seems like an unnecessary thing, but as an artist who has had his baby mistreated, Furie had to do whatever it takes to #SavePepe.

In an interview with Super Deluxe, the artist talked about Pepe as a blank slate who evolves into many different things for many different people. “Pepe is just basically a chill frog. He represents kinda just doing nothing,” explained Furie, while drawing different forms of Pepe – none of which exerted bigotry like evil Pepe does. In Furie’s eyes, what he created isn’t a hater, it’s a lover.

Pepe’s funeral, surrounded by his stoner friends.

Call us butthurt or petty, but at a time where news websites and social media is saturated with bullshit from all around the world, the last thing we want is for memes to promote the same horrible things that are happening. Bad Pepe might’ve not been intentional – trolls are everywhere on the internet anyway – but the frog has croaked and has been put to rest by Furie in a casket. This isn’t the end of it though, Pepe’s death is just Furie’s way of reclaiming what’s his. Meme culture is still going strong and probably will continue to grow into something even more messed up (unfortunately), but Pepe will always be remembered.

Check out the video above to see what Matt Furie has to say about Pepe.