Pepe the Frog: The Most Influential Person of 2016?

The Clinton administration admonished him, white nationalists embraced him and the Russians tweeted a picture of him. But why?

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The Clinton administration admonished him, white nationalists embraced him and the Russians tweeted a picture of him. But why?

Pepe the Frog: The Most Influential Person of 2016?

Free Pepe

The Clinton administration admonished him, white nationalists embraced him and the Russians tweeted a picture of him. But why?

By Jeffrey Cope, Texas State University


There is an infinite amount of silly memes on the internet, but none have caused such a ridiculous controversy as Pepe the Frog.

It really is quite interesting to have observed just how an internet meme of a cartoon frog became a symbolic counter-cultural icon, one that is now at the center of a political and social divide.

It’s a sign of the times, man.

Ever since Pepe jumped into the spotlight amidst the presidential election, the particular phenomenon of this occasionally smug-looking frog has vastly exceeded the influence of an average internet meme.

Pepe the Frog: The Most Influential Person of 2016?
Image via CNN

That’s right! Apparently the power wielded by a picture of a funny frog is so significant that it merits discussion within the highest levels of government.

This green toad, who was Tumbler’s 2015 Meme of the Year, has recently caused such a dramatic reaction that it has been declared an official hate symbol, attributed to white supremacy, by the Anti-Defamation League.

I must say—that seems like a bit of an over-reaction. And did no one care to consider how the thousands of other unrelated Pepe’s felt about that? The frog is sad enough as it is.

Making Pepe into an official hate symbol is just plain nonsense, and it will prevent people from enjoying the many other hilarious Pepe memes that have been created over the years. We shouldn’t fear a drawing because it triggers an uneasy emotional response. Images depicting a Nazi Pepe were likely posted just to irritate those who like to refer to Trump as “Literally Hitler.”

Pepe. Is. Literally. Hitler.

Going all the way back to the beginning of the meme, to the days of MySpace, in 2005, an artist by the name of, Matt Furie first posted Pepe as part of a comic strip called “Boys Club.” By no means did Furie intend for his frog to become a hate symbol.

But now, over ten years later, as the meme has grown tremendously in popularity and with thousands of rare and unique Pepe’s posted across the internet on sites like 4chan and Reddit, there seems to be no stopping the humorous expansion of the amphibian.

The political influence of Pepe didn’t come about until the recent presidential election, most notably during a Clinton campaign speech, in which she herself had been demonizing a large portion of Americans as racists. But while speaking, there was a brief pause after Clinton mentioned the term “alt-right” (alternative right), and that is when the voice of a 4chan user who was in the audience that day was heard yelling, “PEPE!”

The speech ultimately became a defining moment for the Clinton opposition. The term alt-right was quickly adopted by the media and Donald Trump supporters alike, at which point Pepe was seemingly placed as the poster-frog of the movement.

As the discussion of Pepe grew, it provided Trump supporters, or the alt-right in particular, with a way to troll not only Clinton, but the politically-correct culture in general.

And with ongoing issues involving internet censorship and free speech, Pepe was helplessly recruited into the meme war.

The use of such trolling tactics actually led to the Clinton campaign to address the cartoon as a legitimate political threat and sought to label the meme as hateful and sinister.

It just feels like a real stretch to claim that a poorly drawn frog, one that has existed for over a decade without once being associated with white supremacy, can all of the sudden become a designated hate symbol of such an ideology.

Am I really supposed to go along with this hysteria? That because someone drew a little mustache on a frog and posted it to Facebook, I now have to accept forms of censorship in order to shield others from seeing “the hate” and possibly getting upset?

I’m sorry, I thought this was ‘Merica!

Internet trolling is nothing new, but lately, with the rise of Trump in particular, some trolls have been posting various depictions of Pepe, such as: Hitler Pepe, KKK Pepe, Jewish Pepe and even Mexican Pepe, all in the attempt to troll the liberal and PC culture that has ceaselessly accused everything associated with Trump of being racist.

South Park,” well-known for its own style of trolling, recently created a hilarious series of episodes critiquing the very issue of internet trolls. In the show, the trolls are mainly out for their own enjoyment, looking to provoke any crazy reaction through their idiotic insults. The instigation aspect is what some people seem to forget about trolls, and instead people take a trolls comment far more serious than they should be.

And what is the result? A lonely and depressed frog, who only wanted to bring happiness to others, gets stuck with the blame.

People often take meme wars to ridiculous levels, though usually it’s just to get a good laugh. Most memes are rather innocent and just seek to invoke a bit of humor, yet there are times when memes are made to deliberately troll people in a distasteful and provocative way. Typically, the troll is just trying to get an emotional reaction out of those involved in whatever the meme depicts.

In other words, your reaction gives life to the trolls. Don’t feed the trolls!

Obviously there are some people that simply don’t understand the nature of trolling—that, or they just can’t take a joke. And, due to such a high-level government reaction in response to Pepe the Frog, the Clinton campaign has undoubtedly put the cartoon amphibian in the internet hall of fame.

Not to mention we now face the question of whether or not a little green frog influenced the political discourse of the United States during an already insane election year.

And to show just how extensive this frog icon has become, the Russian embassy recently tweeted a photo of Pepe while referring to the U.S. By making this type of political statement, while facing accusations about hacking and using propaganda against the U.S., the act shows just how fascinating things have become in global politics; the Russian government is essentially trolling the United States.

Outside of a Putin Pepe, does this cartoon frog actually represent a hateful and racist secret Russian agent? I think not, but at this point I wouldn’t be surprised to hear such claims.

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