The world lost an icon this weekend: Pepe the frog. Pepe was just 12 years old.
If you’ve spent any amount of time on the internet, you’ve probably seen Pepe. He’s this guy:
Pepe was created by artist Matt Furie in 2005. He debuted in a comic series called “Boy’s Club,” but he soon took on a life of his own as a meme. Pepe became a favorite of the infamous 4chan set, who cranked out dank Pepe memes and imagined a meme market for “rare” Pepe images that somehow spread to eBay:
It was high times for Pepe the frog. But what 4chan giveth, 4chan taketh away, and the internet’s most feared basement-dwelling army was destined to destroy Pepe’s good and dank name.
When the so-called “alt-right” began to emerge ahead of Donald Trump’s election, it made its internet home in the 4chan boards – specifically /pol/, the political board within 4chan. 4chan is Pepe central, so it was only natural that Pepe began to spring up in alt-right memes on /pol/ and, later, Reddit’s r/the_Donald.
Pepe’s creator wasn’t worried. Furie called Pepe’s racist streak a “phase” and predicted a return to his dank roots “as early as next week.”
It was not to be.
Soon, Pepe was familiar even to people who don’t know anything about the internet, like your grandfather and Hillary Clinton. The Anti-Defamation League declared Pepe a hate symbol, and the once dank amphibian became widely known as the “Nazi frog.”
The alt-right usage and media frenzy fed off each other. White nationalists used the meme online and printed it out on protest signs. The frog emoji was used as shorthand for Pepe-signaling on platforms like Twitter.
Too late, Furie tried to save his creation. He and his fellow non-racist Pepe fans rallied behind the #SavePepe hashtag. You may not have heard of this hashtag, because pretty much nobody used it, and Pepe just kept getting more and more racist. Reclaiming a meme that everyone thinks stands for Nazism is a tricky business, and plenty of memers seemed content to cede Pepe to the alt-right, which continues to use him to this day.
— David Duke (@DrDavidDuke) April 20, 2017
Furie, it seems, has finally had enough. He released this one-page Boy’s Club comic to mark Free Comic Book Day this past Saturday:
Yes, Pepe is dead, taken from us at the age of 12 by his own creator. But, in a grander sense, it was not Furie that did Pepe in: ’twas Nazis killed the frog.
Pepe’s death is an unfathomable loss for the meme world, and a chilling reminder of how our most treasured symbols can be used against us.
But let me leave you with this: if it is the rarest Pepes that are the most valuable, then the Pepe of hate has been rendered valueless. The rare Pepes of kindness, tolerance, and love for our fellow man appear almost extinct; but maybe the rarest Pepes were inside us all along, nurtured by the most virtuous parts of our souls, ready, when the time comes, to spring forth and put an end to this hateful post-Pepe world. I’d like to think so.