Feels Good Man: Froggy Bottom, by David Bax
There’s a good chance that a mere glimpse at the image of Pepe the Frog fills you with disgust. The cartoon amphibian’s pillowy features have adorned so much digital hate speech that he’s entered the hall of fame of villainous iconography. Literally; he’s on the Anti-Defamation League’s list of hate symbols, alongside the swastika and the confederate flag. After seeing Arthur Jones’ Feels Good Man, however, the character might inspire a different reaction, a deep pity for Matt Furie, the soft-spoken, lovable and entirely caught off guard cartoonist who created Pepe.
Furie created Pepe, along with other anthropomorphized animal characters in web comics in the mid-00s. Pepe later appeared in print in Furie’s Boy’s Club comic. From there, the frog’s low-ambition self-honesty tapped into a group of (mostly) directionless, (mostly) white (mostly) boys who reappropriated him in clever memes, the language of people who have little to offer the world other than sweaty self-assurances that they’re very smart. Eventually, this group’s insecurities mutated into/aligned with those of white supremacists and Pepe was reappropriated once again. It’s both devastating and infuriating to watch happen but at least we get an excuse to relive the footage of Richard Spencer getting socked in the face.
Feels Good Man‘s first half or so largely takes the form of a primer or one of those informative, digestible explainer videos on YouTube. If you’re blessed enough to not be aware of what 4chan is or how it works, you’ll learn just enough to know to stay a million miles away from it. Jones also provides an impressively coherent, condensed history of the word “meme” from Richard Dawkins 1976 book The Selfish Gene to brands dunking on each other on Twitter.
Jones appears to have left on the cutting room floor a potentially engrossing portrait of the Bay Area art and comics scene to which Furie belongs. But he does include interviews with big names like cartoonist Lisa Hanawalt and comedian Emily Heller, just two of the many people in Furie’s circle eager to leap to his defense. They seem to feel, perhaps wisely, a need to protect Furie. One of them compares him to Daniel Johnston.
If Jones proves anything, though, it’s the futility of arguing with the alt-right. The entire design of the “U mad, bro?” attitude is that it’s all a joke and you’re the one who’s lame for caring about it (or anything). It’s very easy, in fact, to imagine 4chan mocking Feels Good Man. But that shouldn’t have any more effect on the rest of us than they claim anything has on them. The proper response to these dorks on this topic or any other ought to be, “Fuck them.”
Of course, that’s not always enough. The film may lose its personality as it morphs from Furie’s story into a recognizable progressive statement doc but it’s a sobering reminder that a bunch of pallid, racist babies can actually have a tremendously damaging effect on the world, either in the form of someone like the Isla Vista spree killer or of the Donald Trump campaign strategist Jones interviews. Feels Good Man will inspire more of the outrage upon which these people feed but that’s no reason not to be disgusted by them.
“Yes the alt-right uses Pepe because everyone uses Pepe.”
As one Joe Rogan guest explained.
The only reason that Pepe is associated white supremacy is because a twitter user by the name of JaredTaylorSwift told a CNN fact checker that it is, and the fact checker believed them:
The filmmaker of seems to be extraordinarily biased against Chan culture in general. How do they know that it is (mostly) “directionless, white, men” Did they do a survey?
4chan is an anonymous message board anybody can post mostly anything as long as it is not illegal. Chan culture, along with the Internet in general, can be acerbic and but that is because it has no filter. You can get a lot of chaff but you also get wheat.
You know Zeal & Ardor? That band’s lead singer got the idea for the band from, guess what. 4chan! He asked a board what kind of music he should make and an anon suggested a mix of Black Metal and black music (Only they didn’t say “black” music). And instead of being indignant, Manuel Gagneux served up a blend of black metal and African-American spirituals, and created one of the most interesting Metal bands of the past decade.
The response to Chan culture by the mainstream press, politicians, and moral crusaders, seem similar to heavy metal in the 80s. It is a moral panic which prays on the fear, ignorance and prejudices of a populace who are too lazy to do their own research or want a convenient scapegoat. And before you say, “heavy metal never attracted any Nazis!” May I remind you “Lords of Chaos” exists. Sharing a Pepe is a sign that you are a part of an culture separate from the mainstream, apart from the “normies.” Which is what young people have always done.
Richard Spencer donning a Pepe pin is just an attempt for him to pretend for a brief period of time he was hip and “with it.” But that was fleeting. Steve Bannon’s supposed support for the “alt-right” was exploded. The American Prospect interview (Which subsequently got him fired) showed Bannon calling ethno-nationalists like Spencer “clowns” and “losers.” Which is probably why Spencer is now endorsing Joe Biden.
And just off topic, 4chan got its name from a manga called Yotsuba! A story about a quirky girl with hair that looks like a 4-leaf clover. It is written by Kyohiko Azuma who wrote the source material for Azumanga Daioh, one of the most wholesome and funny anime series ever created.