The world is on fire, but the NYT is on the case… doing stories on Pepe the Frog. “Can a Meme Be a Hate Symbol?” is a 5-person debate… yes five… on the crucial election issue of whether a cartoon frog is racist.
From one party in the debate:
Created by the cartoonist Matt Furie in 2005, the crudely drawn frog now known as Pepe spread on the internet messageboard 4chan as a quick visual stand-in for common emotional states (like when something “feels good man”). Pepe’s popularity (even over-popularity) came from the myriad iterations of his various facial expressions and catch phrases that were woven into online conversation and play.
Pepe has only recently been harnessed by the alt-right as a symbol for white supremacy, and more broadly to express support for the group’s “God Emperor,” Donald Trump. It is highly likely that this appropriation was meant as a joke, one intended to goad mainstream journalists and politicians into, first, panicking over a cartoon frog and, second, providing the alt-right a broader platform — an objective, if that was indeed the objective, that proved highly successful. Even Hillary Clinton’s campaign posted a Pepe alt-right explainer last month…
They are correct here:
Every journalist and average citizen who amplified this latest iteration of Pepe — even if the meme was shared to express confusion or even dismay that other journalists and other citizens (and certainly Hillary Clinton) had fallen into the alt-right’s trap — strengthened the connection between Pepe and bigotry.
In that sense, the Pepe meme campaign has been an effective piece of agitprop.
Andrew B would be proud.