Runtime: 92 Minutes
Director: Arthur Jones
Writers: Giorgio Angelini, Arthur Jones, Aaron Wickenden
Stars: Matt Furie, Pepe The Frog
By Bianca Garner
In Episode 3 of the second season of “Black Mirror” there is a CGI Blue Bear called Waldo, who ends up becoming a member of British Parliament. What starts off as a ‘joke’ soon becomes deadly serious and the episode ends with a dystopian vision of the future with Waldo as a dictator. Back in 2013, it seemed like an unlikely scenario dreamed up by Black Mirror’s creator Charlie Brooker. Flash forward three years, and we end up with a cartoon frog helping Donald Trump in his presidential victory. Fiction has become reality and nobody is laughing now.
The cartoon frog’s name is Pepe. You’ve probably seen his little green face with his big smile and his catchphrase “Feels Good Man”. However, you probably aren’t aware of Pepe’s history or creator Matt Furie. How does a seemingly innocent little green frog become associated with the warped minds of the Alt-Right. How does a meme become bigger than viral and start actually impacting real life politics. What even is a meme, anyway? A word that probably anyone over the age 40 is completely unfamiliar with- In fact, it wasn’t until watching this documentary, that I became fully aware of the history of the ‘meme’- and why do some memes spread across the internet, while some crash and burn?
All of this is explored in Arthur Jones’ fascinating and very energetic documentary, “Feels Good Man” which attempts to explore the myth that is ‘Pepe the frog’ and it does a pretty decent job. Pepe’s creator, Matt is a pretty laid back guy. He’s not exactly what one would expect the creator of Pepe to be. In fact, Matt seems too chilled at times as if he’s living in his own little bubble, completely oblivious to what Pepe has become. Still, you can’t help but warm to Matt and his attitude. He simply wants to draw comics and wants to be left alone.
The character of Pepe was part of Matt’s comic strip called “Boy’s Club”, a comic that was hardly political or really that sophisticated but is a reflection on Matt’s time in college. Matt’s always been obsessed with frogs, in fact, the very first time we see him is when he’s at a lake looking at frogs. Pepe’s little catchphrase “Feels Good Man” came about when Pepe is caught peeing with his trousers completely down, and his response to why he does this weird act is “Feels Good Man”. It’s a simple origin story, and one that has been forgotten.
“Feels Good Man” attempts to explore the myth that is ‘Pepe the frog’ and it does a pretty decent job.”
At the same time “Boy’s Club” was launched, social media was beginning to take off in the form of MySpace (remember that?) and photos with the comment “Feels Good Man” was beginning to become popular. The Mid 2000’s was a glorious time for Internet culture- speaking from my own experience here- things hadn’t become political, and social media platforms such as FaceBook and Twitter hadn’t really morphed into the massive Goliaths that they are today. It was during this time that the concept of a ‘Meme’ was formed. And Pepe was ‘adopted’ by those on 4Chan. There was something about the amphibian that they identified with. You may be lost already, but luckily the documentary features some great interviews with the likes of Susan Blackmore and Dale Beran which explain in great detail the world of 4Chan and Meme Culture. Sadly, the filmmakers seem to fall back into the stereotypical viewpoint of the ‘typical 4Chan user’ by featuring interviews with ‘Mills’ a 4Chaner who does in fact live in his parent’s basement.
The issue with this documentary is that it’s clear that Jones’ is very critical about the 4Chan community, but I can’t help but recall another documentary about ‘Meme Culture’ that I caught earlier this year called “TFW No GF” which really went into depth about the current mental health crisis among millennial men who have retreated into the virtual world. The documentary showed a more ‘human’ side to these ‘trolls’ who live their lives on the internet sharing memes. And, it helped me realise that ‘trolls’ are just people too who somehow need to be integrated back into society.
“Feels Good Man” doesn’t seem interested in exploring the current political and social climate in any real depth, but rather takes a quick glimpse at it.”
With “Feels Good Man” I feel that there’s quite an attempt to demonise those who are from the 4Chan Community, and maybe that’s not exactly the best approach to take. Yes, some of the Pepe memes are terribly offensive as well as racist, sexist, homophobic, anti-semetic and Islamaphobic, and by no means are they funny to anyone who isn’t a troll. However, why do these young men post such stuff? What is their reasoning behind it? Why did they decide to rally against Trump? These questions are left unanswered, perhaps it’s just too recent for anyone to attempt to answer them.
“Feels Good Man” doesn’t seem interested in exploring the current political and social climate in any real depth, but rather takes a quick glimpse at it. Certain aspects such as Furie’s legal campaign against Infowars and Alex Jones is given barely any screen time, which is a shame because it’s an old fashioned story of the Little Guy taking on a co-operation and winning which we rarely heard of at times. And, at times Matt Furie seems to be let off the hook and isn’t really grilled about his delayed response to the Pepe meme going viral. Perhaps, it’s just me but I feel that this documentary and it’s director are biting off more than it could chew. It’s clearly that there’s more to Pepe the frog, 4Chan, the Meme Wars and the Alt-Right that needs to be explored…Unfortunately, we’ve barely scratched the surface here.
“Feels Good Man” will be showing at Fantasia Film Festival from 20th August to 2nd September.