There’s a veritable meme meltdown going on at the infamous imageboard 4chan, and it involves an odd-looking anthropomorphic frog named Pepe.
The chaotic site has been ground zero for countless Internet in-jokes, from Rage Comics to LOLcats and even Dickbutt. This time, however, members have returned to an old chestnut they’d long ago abandoned, acting out something like a mid-life crisis.
First appearing in Boy’s Club, a comic series by Matt Furie, Pepe the frog became an overnight sensation in early 2006. An image of Pepe saying “feels good man” epitomized various posts on board /r9k/, dedicated to low-key hangouts and original content.
One great thing about 4chan is that it never turns off. Its members took this wide-eyed frog and remixed him ad infinitum.
4chan took this wide-eyed frog and remixed him ad infinitum.
Pepe evolved, with various iterations used to indicate anger, melancholy, or surprise. He accumulated a vast set of looks and has been altered to resemble characters from TV shows or reference other bits of pop culture.
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With Pepe’s eventual mass prominence, though, he lost his underground cred. He’s been used by major pop stars, from Nicki Minaj to Katy Perry. There’s a Reddit board dedicated to Pepe as well. This didn’t sit well with 4channers, who typically dispense with concepts once they’re embraced by the mainstream. Pepe was no exception.
Australian jet lag got me like pic.twitter.com/kriAAd6mZe
— KATY PERRY (@katyperry) November 8, 2014
That got us wondering: What does Pepe’s creator make of his runaway success? To find out, we caught up with Furie and asked him to shed some light on the phenomenon.
What was your inspiration?
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.”
Was the comic commissioned?
Seeing a frog always takes my breath away and brings a genuine smile to my face. That is what I want every reader to experience each time they think about the Boy’s Club comic—a thrill of overwhelming beauty and joy!
Thoughts on Pepe becoming the mascot for 4chan?
Pepe offers you complete support, attention, and embraces how capable you are of birthing your own Pepe. As your God, my hope is to enhance your Pepe birthing experience by empowering you through it. Obey Pepe. Obey Me. Bow down to your leader. Worship me. Give me genital love or non-genital love. Both are wonderful.
But 4chan went crazy for Pepe, yes?
I believe that the most important thing I can do as an artist is to protect the voices of anonymous people on the Internet and help ensure that that those voices are honored. It is my job to help 4chan have the experience that they want without judgment or criticism. In the end, I want 4chan to feel they were supported by being heard, respected, and part of the decision-making process. Instead of promoting my own agenda, it is my goal to promote 4chan. Different things work for different people. Let me support you in the way you choose to draw Pepe.
What about people profiting off of Pepe?
I believe in supporting people’s decisions to profit off of Pepe in order to provide them with the most positive business experience possible. I strive to be an advocate for Pepe in both love and enterprise and hope to help business people to have an empowering and joyful experience while making an ocean of profits as limitless as the universe.
Pepe is now immortal on the internet.
Having Pepe is one of the most life-changing experiences I will ever have. While many may fear the frog, there is no need for anxiety, especially when you feel confident and supported by the 4chan community—this is something my body was created to do, and I did it!
So, seven years after he first won their hearts, how have 4channers tried to resurrect and reclaim Pepe? By acknowledging him as a precious, antique meme—and growing a fictional economy around his widespread allure.
The Pepe “speculation boom” started when a user started complaining about “rare Pepes” on /r9k/. The absurdity of modified frog images shared online falling under a rarity index was hilarious. And, as usual, 4chan just rolled with it.
The result: images of Pepe with watermarks reading “RARE PEPE DO NOT SAVE”—because doing so would diminish their value.
4chan has since taken the odd cartoon frog to heights none thought imaginable. At this moment, you can find massive collections of vintage Pepe images for auction on eBay. And some have actually drawn bids.
Of course, some anti-capitalist vigilante posted a public file containing over one thousand Pepes, effectively crashing the Pepe economy. It’s all part of a larger, self-negating game in which popularity and prestige are manipulated for sport—a satire of virality, you could say.
How long will Pepe’s Renaissance last, and will his latest disgusting incarnations—collected under the banner “poo poo pee pee”—finally turn his casual fans away from the meme? Perhaps. More likely, though, 4chan’s meta spin on what ranks among their most popular exports will just attract more disciples. In the end, Pepe is bigger than any of us.
Update Sept. 13, 2016, 10:18am: In a surprising turn of events, Pepe has been co-opted by the alt-right. Pepe’s appeared in Donald Trump propaganda, and a heckler was booted out of Hillary Clinton rally for yelling about Pepe. In fact, a post on Clinton’s official site proclaimed Pepe “a symbol associated with white supremacy.”
However, creator Matt Furie believes that Pepe’s alt-right affiliation will soon pass. He told the Daily Dot:
“It’s just a phase, it’s not the first time Pepe has been reclaimed for evil, and no one will care about it come November. I predict that his sly, lovable, and charming status will be intact as early as next week.”
Photo via Matt Furie/Know Your Meme | Remix by Jason Reed