There’s no scarcity of documentaries about our present political local weather or the truth that the Web is perhaps unhealthy, however Feels Good Man focuses on the craziest intersection of those two trendy realities: Pepe, the cartoon frog.
When you’re conscious of Pepe already, likelihood is it’s as a result of the character has develop into synonymous with the alt-right, that excessive on-line demographic tied to trendy white supremacists and Nazi actions. Or maybe you heard of Pepe earlier than that, in the course of the time this frog had develop into the meme du jour of 4chan, the nameless message board related to all types of nefarious actual world conduct. Although Pepe’s most excessive profile quarter-hour of fame had been inarguably an notorious cameo on then candidate Donald Trump’s Twitter feed, resulting in the character’s adoption by a few of his most excessive supporters like conspiracy theorist Alex Jones.
Feels Good Man will get to all that, after all, however this documentary begins with the now poisonous toad’s tadpole days. By doing so, the movie will probably present viewers one thing they didn’t know or hadn’t beforehand thought of no matter prior familiarity with Pepe and the madness swirling round him. And thru tracing Pepe’s evolution, Feels Good Man manages to remind everybody of a basic fact of communication, notably within the Web age. When you click on ship on one thing, issues like unique intent and context would possibly develop into as ephemeral as a single tweet.
A movie that really understands Web
Whereas ostensibly marketed on the pageant circuit as “the Pepe doc,” Feels Good Man truly has one other central determine: Matt Furie, a Bay Space comics artist. Again within the days the place MySpace existed, he created a Gen X-ish group of animal pals current in perpetual post-college slackerdom for a sequence known as Boy’s Membership. Furie’s lifelong frog fandom led to an amphibian named Pepe turning into one of many comedian’s lead foursome. “Feels Good Man” the phrase has been actually lifted from Pepe’s mundane adventures, notably the one the place he found how good it felt to pee standing up together with your pants eliminated solely.
The documentary completely and exhaustively paperwork issues chronologically from right here. You’ll see early Boy’s Membership comics Furie drew behind a San Francisco thrift retailer, posts documenting how Pepe grew to become the popular badge of self-deprecating irony on 4chan, or a mountain of Pepe merch Furie as soon as had produced however can’t in good aware give away or promote nowadays. Whereas strolling viewers by means of all of that, Feels Good Man appears remarkably good about figuring out turning factors for the cartoonist and the character he as soon as managed. It is fairly evident director Arthur Jones deeply understands how tradition can snowball in-between disparate Web communities till it turns into too massive for society at massive to disregard. Possibly Trump retweeting a Pepe meme is an apparent touchstone on reflection, however this movie offers equal weight to moments corresponding to weightlifters displaying a passion for the frog or eventual shares from celebs like Katy Perry and Nicki Minaj.
“When 4chan wished to defend its memes, they’d make them as offensive as potential in order that they couldn’t be co-opted, see Pepe with 9/11 or Nazi messaging as an illustration,” Dale Beran, an writer who studied 4chan, says within the movie. “Again then, it was simply probably the most offensive factor you could possibly do. Nevertheless it now reads as a bizarre prologue to when the irony melted away.”
Feels Good Man stays riveting due to the number of interviews Jones carried out. Furie participates to the fullest, as does his accomplice and shut pals (one in all which received a Pepe tattoo again within the early days 🤦♀️). So do different illustrators from initiatives as massive as BoJack Horseman to lend credence to Furie’s potential and work. However the identical holistic strategy will get utilized to voices inspecting Pepe’s Web evolution—students like Beran who examine memes, individuals who go by one-name handles like Mills or Pizza throughout their intensive 4chan experiences, and the freakin’ director of technique for the “Trump 2016” marketing campaign all seem. These people perceive the Web in methods Furie solely may as soon as it grew to become too late.
“[We analyzed] over one billion posts throughout Twitter, reddit, /pol/ and 160 million photos simply from one 12 months,” Jeremy Blackburn, a knowledge scientist who seems to be at bizarre on-line conduct and wished to take a “quantitative take a look at hate speech all through the Internet,” tells Furie within the movie. “There tends to be a Pepe variance in each cluster—you decide a random meme, and Pepe has been inserted in some kind. Pepe turns into an entry level to radicalization.”
Feels Good Man finally finds Furie at a degree the place sufficient is sufficient—he’s lastly sought out authorized help in recent times to attempt to combat again in opposition to among the most egregious and offensive makes use of of his slacker frog. He fought Infowars and received (Alex Jones needed to pay a settlement and cease promoting a poster exhibiting Pepe in an Avengers-like squad alongside figures like President Trump). Furie fought a recognized anti-Muslim cartoonist and received (that man wished to write down a “kids’s e-book” known as Pepe and Pede as a computer virus for unhealthy concepts). The checklist goes on and consists of reprehensible white supremacy opportunists from The Day by day Stormer to Richard Spencer. In whole, Furie’s authorized assist at WilmerHale says it efficiently enforced Pepe copyrights in opposition to practically 100 entities “related to pictures or messages of hate” on the time of this documentary.
However Furie naively nonetheless thinks his character might be salvaged in society’s eye. He appears to view one explicit battle as the best way to do it: In 2016, the Anti-Defamation League formally added Pepe to its checklist of recognized symbols of hate. If the frog can lastly be eliminated, Furie seems to suppose, that may restore the unique, healthful thought of Pepe as soon as and for all. Watching this unattainable aim drive Furie by means of all types of efforts (together with a proper Boy’s Membership funeral for the Pepe they knew), Feels Good Man performs like a post-modern horror. In actual (run)time, you watch the worst impulses of the Web rain down time and again on somebody who simply would not comprehend what he is up in opposition to. “I didn’t even know what a meme was,” Furie admits at one level. “I nonetheless don’t even know if I’m saying it accurately. It was by means of Pepe that I realized what a meme was.”
From 10,000-feet, nonetheless, Feels Good Man has a extra philosophical thought at its core. This movie reminds viewers time and time once more of a fundamental communication and rhetorical research precept: irrespective of the intent of somebody who places a message into the world, as soon as it’s on the market, that concept/work/message/no matter now not solely belongs to the messenger. Some a part of which means at all times lies in reception. So in that sense, a message turns into not less than partially owned by the individuals receiving it, who can quickly change and evolve its finally which means (aka how bigger society understands) by means of interpretation and utilization.
Fan service artistic works just like the Snyder Minimize or The Rise of Skywalker would possibly signify notable manifestations of near-total recipient possession, however Pepe embodies this idea at its most excessive. Furie clearly did nothing fallacious when creating Pepe, seemingly a type of amusing slacker frog borne out of the artist’s lifelong frog fandom. And by no means in one million years may he have imagined how his character could be obtained, reinterpreted, and reused after importing a number of strips to MySpace. However by not doing something within the early days of cooption, Furie misplaced his creation (non-legal sense) endlessly. It doesn’t matter what he does now, Pepe’s final destiny merely lies past Furie’s management. And although Feels Good Man makes an attempt to depart an optimistic door open—have you ever seen who’s develop into an emblem of protest in Hong Kong, as an illustration?—this movie makes the tragedy clear to anybody… as long as you did not create the Web’s most notorious frog, that’s.
Feels Good Man continues to play the pageant circuit (Ars caught it by means of Fantasia Fest this month). The movie can also be accessible by means of VOD platforms like Amazon Prime, Microsoft Retailer, Google Play, Vimeo on Demand, et al. At the moment—Sunday, September 27—there’s even a special online screening with a put up movie Q&A hosted by This American Life’s Ira Glass.
Itemizing picture by Feels Good Man