Little does the artist know that he can kill Pepe, but Pepe will live on in our hearts.
The cartoonist who created Pepe the Frog has killed off the character in a rebuke to far-right extremists who transformed a benevolent internet meme into a racist, anti-Semitic symbol.
A Pepe cartoon released Saturday in comic book stores shows Matt Furie’s creation in an open casket. Furie didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking comment Monday.
In a Time magazine essay last year, Furie described Pepe as “chill frog-dude” who debuted in a 2006 comic book called “Boy’s Club” and became a popular online subject for user-generated mutations.
But internet trolls hijacked the character and began flooding social media with hateful Pepe memes more than a year before the 2016 presidential election. Pepe became a tongue-in-cheek symbol of the “alt-right” fringe movement and its loosely connected brand of white nationalism, neo-Nazism and anti-immigration.
Pepe memes promoting Donald Trump’s presidential campaign became so ubiquitous that Trump himself tweeted an image blending his likeness with the cartoon frog in October 2015.
The Anti-Defamation League branded Pepe as a hate symbol in September 2016 and promoted Furie’s efforts to reclaim the character, with a social media campaign using the “#SavePepe” hashtag.
“That’s a huge challenge,” said Oren Segal, director of the ADL’s Center on Extremism. “It just didn’t pick up.”
Segal said he doubts Pepe’s cartoon death will erode his iconic status with the “alt-right” movement.
Richard Spencer, a white nationalist who popularized the term “alt-right,” said it could have the opposite effect.
“The artist isn’t in control of his work once it enters the culture in the way it has,” Spencer said.
Pepe might have been the artist’s creation, but he belongs to the people now. And this might cause a massive backlash and turn Pepe into a bigger symbol against globalism, the left, and neocons than the creator can possibly fathom.
The artist should know better than to piss off the followers of Pepe. I hear those over at /pol/ are very efficient once they set their minds to something. Including making Pepe live on forever.