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Pepe the Frog

Pepe the Frog

Pepe the Frog (/ˈpɛpeɪ/) is an Internet meme. A green anthropomorphic frog with a humanoid body, Pepe originated in a comic by Matt Furie called Boy's Club.[2] 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.[3] 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.[4][5][6]

By 2016, the character's image had been appropriated as a symbol of the alt-right movement.[7][8] The Anti-Defamation League included Pepe in its hate symbol database but wrote that most instances of Pepe were not used in a hate-related context.[9][10] Since then, Pepe's creator has expressed his dismay at Pepe being used as a hate symbol and has sued organisations for doing so.[11] In 2019, Pepe was used by protesters in the Hong Kong anti-extradition bill protests as a symbol of liberty and resistance.[12]

Boy's Club character
First appearanceBoy's Club (2005)[1]
Created byMatt Furie


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.[13] He posted his comic in a series of blog posts on Myspace in 2005.[6][14]

In the comic, Pepe is seen urinating with his pants pulled down to his ankles and the catchphrase "feels good man" was his rationale.[15][16] Furie took those posts down when the printed edition was published in 2006.[6]

"My Pepe philosophy is simple: 'Feels good man.' It is based on the meaning of the word Pepe: 'To go Pepe'. I find complete joy in physically, emotionally, and spiritually serving Pepe and his friends through comics. Each comic is sacred, and the compassion of my readers transcends any differences, the pain, and fear of 'feeling good'." –Matt Furie, 2015 interview with The Daily Dot[2]

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".[6] 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.[2] Color was also added; originally a black-and-white line drawing, Pepe became green with brown lips, sometimes in a blue shirt.[14][15] "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.[16]

In 2014, images of Pepe were shared on social media by celebrities such as Katy Perry and Nicki Minaj.[6][15][17] 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,[18][19] were sold on eBay and posted on Craigslist.[2][6] 4chan users referred to those who used the meme outside the website as "normies" (or "normalfags").[6] In 2015, Pepe was #6 on Daily News and Analysis's list of the most important memes and the most retweeted meme on Twitter.[20][21]

Until September 2018, Social media service Gab used a Pepe-like illustration of a frog (named "Gabby") as its logo. The site is popular with the alt-right.[22][23]

In August 2019, it was reported that various demonstrators at the 2019 Hong Kong protests were using Pepe as a "resistance symbol".[24][25]

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)".[10][26] 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.[27]

Also during the election, various news organizations reported associations of the character with white nationalism and the alt-right.[28][29][30] 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.[31] 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.[32][33] 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."[34] The Anti-Defamation League, an American organization opposed to antisemitism, included Pepe in its hate symbol database but wrote that most instances of Pepe were not used in a hate-related context.[35][9] 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.[36][37] 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.[38][39]

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".[40] Fantagraphics Books, Furie's publisher, issued a statement condemning the "illegal and repulsive appropriations of the character".[41] On October 17, Furie published a satirical take of Pepe's appropriation by the alt-right movement on The Nib.[42][43] This was his first comic for the character since he ended Boy's Club in 2012.[1] 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.[44][45] 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."[46][47] Soon thereafter, Furie announced his intention to "resurrect" Pepe, launching a crowdfunding campaign for a new comic book featuring Pepe.[48]

During the 2016 United States presidential election, Kek became associated with alt-right politics.[49][50][51][52][53][54] Kek is associated with the occurrence of repeating digits, known as "dubs", on 4chan, as if he had the ability to influence reality through internet memes.[55]

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).[56][57][58] This flag was prominently displayed at the 2017 Berkeley protest for free speech in mid-April,[59][60] and the Unite the Right rally in August 2017.[61][62]

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 the Google Play Store.[63][64]

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.[65] The book's author, a vice-principal with the Denton Independent School District, was reassigned after the publicity.[66]

In 2018, Furie succeeded in having images of Pepe removed from The Daily Stormer website.[11]

In January 2019, the video game Jesus Strikes Back: Judgment Day was released, which allows players to play as Pepe the Frog, among other figures, and murder various target groups including feminists, minorities, and liberals.[67]

In June 2019, Furie received a $15,000 out of court settlement in a copyright infringement case against Infowars and Alex Jones concerning unlicensed use of the image of Pepe the Frog on far-right themed posters. Furie stated that he would continue to "enforce his copyrights aggressively to make sure nobody else is profiting off associating Pepe the Frog with hateful imagery."[11]


"Esoteric Kekism",[68] or the Cult of Kek,[69] 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.[70] This deity, in turn, was associated with Pepe the Frog on internet forums.[70][71] The internet meme has its origin on the internet message forum 4chan and other chans, and the board /pol/ in particular.[70][72] Kek references are closely associated with Trump and the alt-right.[81]

"Kek" originated as a variation of "lel", itself a variation of "lol",[82][83] and seems to come from the video game World of Warcraft,[84] or alternatively a Korean onomatopoeia for laughter written as "kekeke".[85] The phrase then became associated with the Egyptian deity of the same name.[70] "Esoteric Kekism" references the "Esoteric Hitlerism" of writer Savitri Devi.[68][86]

Online message boards such as 4chan first noted a similarity between Kek and Pepe.[87][71][88][89] The phrase is widely used[70] and 4chan users see Kek as the "'god' of memes".[90]


Demonstrator holding a flag of Kekistan.

Demonstrator holding a flag of Kekistan.

Kekistan is a fictional country created by 4chan members that has become a political meme and online movement.[56] The name is a portmanteau of "kek" and the suffix "-stan", a common Central Asian country suffix. Kekistanis identify themselves as "shitposters" persecuted by excessive political correctness.[92][93] 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".[57][93] Kekistanis have also adopted Internet personality Gordon Hurd (in his "Big Man Tyrone" persona) as their president and the 1986 Italo disco record "Shadilay" (originally performed by a group named P.E.P.E., an apparent pun on the similarity between the band's name and Pepe the Frog's) as a national anthem.[93] 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.[72]

Cheong credits Carl Benjamin, who uses the pseudonym Sargon of Akkad on YouTube, for popularizing the meme.[92] 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,[94] but was unsuccessful.[95]

Deus Dex writes, “Kekistan is an invented ethnicity with a storied yet obviously entirely invented history, religion and culture. It mocks how the far-right cling to their race and cultural purity narrative and how the far-left clings to their racial victimhood narrative with an parody of extreme patriotism and an oppression narrative about how the Normiestan and the Cuckistan nations oppressed the Kekistani people.[96]

Some members of the Starseed Otherkin community have an identity narrative in which the pure Kekistanian people, known as the Vulkekin are actually a non-terrestrial people from the planet Kekhet. A Vulkek is one who is full of Kek. The Vulkekin community is active on social media sites and has taken the lead in promoting the traditional religious practices of the children of Kek, such as within the Kekistani Starovery.

Symbol of Hong Kong protests

Hong Kong protestors began to use depictions of Pepe the Frog as a symbol of liberty and resistance against the extradition bill and police brutality in the 2019 Hong Kong anti-extradition bill protests. New images of Pepe the Frog surfaced showing Pepe with an injured eye after a young female first aider got her eye gouged by a projectile thrown by police and spurred a new protest campaign called "An eye for an eye". A sign with Pepe with an injured eye holding by a young nurse with her one eye covered gained international media attention.[97] Furie responded in an email with a protester, stating "This is great news! Pepe for the people!".[98][99]

See also

  • Appropriation (art)

  • Meme hack

  • Moon Man, another icon appropriated by white supremacists, originally a McDonald's mascot

  • Parody religion

  • Religion and the Internet

  • Religious satire

  • Toad worship (Chinese internet subculture)


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