There’s no scarcity of documentaries about our present political local weather or the truth that the Web is perhaps dangerous, however Feels Good Man focuses on the craziest intersection of those two trendy realities: Pepe, the cartoon frog.
For those who’re conscious of Pepe already, chances are high it’s as a result of the character has change 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, through the time this frog had change into the meme du jour of 4chan, the nameless message board related to all types of nefarious real-world conduct. Although Pepe’s most high-profile quarter-hour of fame have been inarguably a 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, in fact, however this documentary begins with the now-toxic 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 elementary fact of communication, notably within the Web age. When you click on ship on one thing, issues like authentic intent and context would possibly change 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 really 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 associates current in perpetual post-college slackerdom for a sequence referred to as Boy’s Membership. Furie’s lifelong frog fandom led to an amphibian named Pepe changing 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 along with your pants eliminated totally.
The documentary completely and exhaustively paperwork issues chronologically from right here. You’ll see early Boy’s Membership comics Furie drew at the back of a San Francisco thrift retailer, posts documenting how Pepe turned 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 conscience give away or promote as of late. Whereas strolling viewers by means of all of that, Feels Good Man appears remarkably sensible 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 huge for society at giant to disregard. Possibly Trump retweeting a Pepe meme is an apparent touchstone looking back, 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 wanted to defend its memes, they’d make them as offensive as possible so they couldn’t be co-opted, see Pepe with 9/11 or Nazi messaging for instance,” Dale Beran, an writer who studied 4chan, says within the movie. “Back then, it was just the most offensive thing you could do. But it now reads as a weird 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 associates (considered one of whom acquired a Pepe tattoo again within the early days 🤦♀️). So do different illustrators from tasks as huge as BoJack Horseman to lend credence to Furie’s capability and work. However the identical holistic strategy will get utilized to voices inspecting Pepe’s Web evolution—students like Beran who research 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 turned too late.
“[We analyzed] over one billion posts across Twitter, reddit, /pol/ and 160 million images just from one year,” Jeremy Blackburn, a knowledge scientist who appears to be like at bizarre on-line conduct and needed to take a “quantitative look at hate speech throughout the Web,” tells Furie within the movie. “There tends to be a Pepe variance in every cluster—you pick a random meme, and Pepe has been inserted in some form. Pepe becomes an entry point to radicalization.”
Feels Good Man ultimately finds Furie at a point where enough is enough—he has finally sought out legal aid in recent years to try to fight back against some of the most egregious and offensive uses of his slacker frog. He fought Infowars and won (Alex Jones had to pay a settlement and stop selling a poster showing Pepe in an Avengers-like squad alongside figures like President Trump). Furie fought a known anti-Muslim cartoonist and won (that guy wanted to write a “children’s book” called Pepe and Pede as a trojan horse for bad ideas). The list goes on and includes reprehensible white supremacy opportunists, from The Daily Stormer to Richard Spencer. In total, Furie’s legal help at WilmerHale says it successfully enforced Pepe copyrights against nearly 100 entities “connected to images or messages of hate” at the time of this documentary.
However Furie naively nonetheless thinks his character might be salvaged in society’s eye. He appears to view one specific battle as the way in which to do it: in 2016, the Anti-Defamation League formally added Pepe to its listing of recognized symbols of hate. If the frog can lastly be eliminated, Furie seems to suppose, that may restore the unique, healthful concept of Pepe as soon as and for all. Watching this unattainable purpose 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 does not comprehend what he is up towards. “I didn’t even know what a meme was,” Furie admits at one point. “I still don’t even know if I’m saying it correctly. It was through Pepe that I learned what a meme was.”
From 10,000-feet, nonetheless, Feels Good Man has a extra philosophical concept at its core. This movie reminds viewers time and time once more of a primary 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 not totally belongs to the messenger. Some a part of that means all the time lies in reception. So in that sense, a message turns into not less than partially owned by the folks receiving it, who can quickly change and evolve its final that means (aka how bigger society understands it) by means of interpretation and utilization.
Fan service inventive 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 improper when creating Pepe, seemingly a sort 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 acquired, reinterpreted, and reused after importing just a few strips to MySpace. However by not doing something within the early days of cooption, Furie misplaced his creation (non-legal sense) ceaselessly. 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 go away an optimistic door open—have you ever seen who has change into an emblem of protest in Hong Kong, for example?—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 obtainable by means of VOD platforms like Amazon Prime, Microsoft Retailer, Google Play, Vimeo on Demand, et al. At this time—Sunday, September 27—there’s even a particular on-line screening with a post-film Q&A hosted by This American Life‘s Ira Glass.
Itemizing picture by Feels Good Man