It’s almost kind of scary how much power the internet holds. It’s a tool most of us use everyday, but I don’t think we’ve scratched the surface on just the kind of impact it can have on the world beyond the digital realm. While there’s been plenty of good to come out of the development of the internet, there has also been plenty of bad. In a world where anyone can seemingly post anything and remain anonymous while doing it, we’re right to fear the type of corruption it may bring about on society and our way of life.
Feels Good Man follows the corruption of a cartoon frog, and while that may not sound important or consequential, this documentary shows how one little spec of the entirety of the internet can forever change the landscape of the world as we know it.
To elaborate, Feels Good Man is a documentary that showcases Pepe the Frog, an iconic image of internet culture that has gone from a carefree, innocent frog from a semi-popular webcomic, to a reviled weapon of hate, racism and anti-semitism that has bled its way out of the anonymous message boards of 4chan and into real world economics and politics. At the center of it all is Matt Furie, the original creator of Pepe who is in the middle of a war against the internet to reclaim the image of the frog he birthed into this world.
I’ve been a purveyor in internet culture for many years now. I still remember a time where an image of Pepe the Frog meant little outside of a carefree attitude and peeing with your pants all the way down. It wasn’t until a few years later I really began to see how popular Pepe had become across websites such as 4chan, Reddit and others. Variation after variation of Pepe was created to convey a multitude of feelings and emotions. Most of these, for a time, where harmless. There was crying Pepe, cozy Pepe, angry Pepe, shouting Pepe, Hitler Pepe…
This is where Pepe began to descend down a dark path of being inserted and re-illustrated into unsavory images promoting racism, xenophobia and other controversial scenarios. This continued on for years until it hit a boiling point with the 2016 election, as Pepe soon became a symbol for far-right keyboard warriors. Embraced by Republican front runner Donald Trump and demonized by Democrat front runner Hillary Clinton, Pepe had inadvertently found himself on the front lines of one of the most controversial elections in recent memory.
Part of the documentary is devoted to explaining how in the hell this all happened, but what really grabbed me was showing just how it all affected Pepe’s creator, Matt Furie. Based on how the documentary presents him, Matt is a simple man. He has a wife and daughter, he enjoys drawing, and has even published a few children’s books. He leads a modest life, reminiscing on his younger years that inspired The Boys Club, his webcomic and birthplace of Pepe the Frog. Matt is an average Joe type, and when the world began to embrace and clone Pepe he was admittedly overwhelmed. When things began to take a dark turn, Matt stood by, knowing he couldn’t control it. It wasn’t until Pepe’s turn to the dark side began to affect him emotionally that he decided it was time to take a stand against the unsolicited use of his character. Nevertheless, he remains a pillar of humility through the ups and downs, realizing he has played a minuscule role in Pepe’s eruption in popularity but is still willing to take on the responsibility of making sure his character is used for good.
Matt’s journey from unassuming everyman into hero fighting against the misuse of his property is incredibly engaging to see. He isn’t an over-the-top, eccentric personality like many documentary focused protagonists, but that’s what I found to be the most relatable. Here was this normal guy like you and me suddenly finding himself as the creator of a nationally recognized hate symbol. The documentary takes a mature, honest approach to presenting this guy who just wants to do right by the art he created.
The internet can very confusing to understand and navigate, but the documentary does its best to be entry friendly to the uninitiated. Terms like “4chan”, “NEET”, “KEK” and “rare Pepe” might confuse those who aren’t as well traversed in the deeper parts of the internet. The documentary dedicates ample time and visuals to translate these terms into ways others can understand without a meme dictionary on hand. Documenting the ever changing landscape that is internet trends and culture is no easy feat. While it only scratches the surface of these terminologies and ideas, it was nice to see someone try their best to put it in layman’s terms.
The most striking element of the documentary is by far the animated segments that are sprinkled throughout the runtime. Designed to resemble and bring Matt Furie’s artwork to life, the animations are fluid, vivid and bursting with energy. The animation turns Pepe from a simple talking point into a character of the documentary in his own right. His evolution over the years is presented in such a creative and interesting way, being weaved into a B plot of sorts involving Pepe’s other cartoon friends. The animation easily elevates the documentary, which is mostly standardly shot for its live action bits.
History does its best, years removed from the events its reporting on, to make sense of all the messes of the past. We as a civilization are hesitant to simply except that this insanity happens without meaning. Sometimes, however, it helps to step back and realize just how incredibly stupid this all is. The documentary takes an in depth look into not just how Pepe became a symbol for the anti-normie crowd, but why. The goofiness of Pepe’s original incarnation, from his appearance to his mannerisms, made the perfect candidate for anonymous posters to project their controversial, often hateful opinions behind a thinly veiled shield of irony. It’s all a joke. Everything you see on the internet is one big joke and shouldn’t be taken seriously. At least, that’s what they wanted you to think. A picture of Pepe saying “gas the Jews” is allegedly meant to be taken in jest, but when we begin to see neo-Nazis embracing the image of Pepe in their marches and symbolism, the irony doesn’t begin to feel like irony anymore. Ironic, isn’t it?
Not every user of a Pepe meme was a Nazi, obviously, but the spectrum between seriousness and memeing became vast and harder to pin down. People loved how much Pepe rustled the jimmies of people like the uninformed Democratic party of 2016. Pepe became a figure of discourse, an almost secret language for those looking to upend people or groups with different views and ideals than them. The users became the “deplorables”, those who felt they were alienated from society by those in power. With Trump’s campaign for presidency shocking many, those who were never involved in politics before had found a way to stick it to the powers at be that looked down on them. In a way, Pepe sparked voter turnout and campaigning for Trump simply out of spite. This wasn’t the case for every Trump voter, but it’s hard to ignore how much support he gained from the memes of the internet.
It’s hard to believe a simple cartoon frog could influence this much change, but this is the world we live in. Feels Good Man is one of the best documentaries I’ve seen in a very long time, both in content and presentation. It speaks to our society about how we use take and manipulate images and ideas to then share and influence others with. It’s an important story that I think we’ll only continue to see in the coming years, but hopefully more awareness can be raised for just how influential the internet can be on our society and our future. For anyone looking to understand more about internet culture or to shed a little bit of light on how memes played into the 2016 election, I highly recommend this film. It’s certainly one of the best films of 2020, and its ending left me hopefully that things will continue to change for the better.
One day, maybe it will feel good, man.
Pepe has taken on many forms over the years, and now he has made his transition into cocktail form! Green is the color of the character, made possible through a generous supply of green apple schnapps. Built up by rum and pineapple juice, this drink is made complete thanks to a red sugar rim akin to Pepe’s lips. What else to say but…tastes good man.
- 1.5oz green apple schnapps
- 1oz rum
- 3oz pineapple juice
- 1/2oz blue curacao
- Lemon lime soda
- Granulated sugar
- Red food dye
- Place sugar in a plastic bag and add 1-2 drops of red food dye. Shake until sugar turns red.
- Rim stemless wine glass with red sugar.
- Shake rum, schnapps and pineapple juice in a shaker with ice.
- Strain into prepared glass over ice.
- Top with lemon lime soda.