By GRACE SMITH
Matt Furie, creator of Pepe the Frog, is suing Alex Jones’ “news show” “Infowars” after a poster featuring the character showed up for sale on the site’s merchandise page.
Though it started out as an innocent comic character in Furie’s comic “Boys Club” in 2005, the image and its various versions such as “Sad Pepe” or “Smug Pepe” quickly spread across the web as a popular meme.
Many consider it to be the first major meme and was used by Katy Perry, Nicki Minaj, and was the most retweeted meme on Twitter in 2015.
However in 2016, as the presidential election began, Pepe was adopted by the republican party after candidate Donald Trump retweeted a version of “Trump Pepe” that featured his blonde hair, suit and stance at the presidential podium.
His son, Donald J. Trump Jr. also retweeted a parody of the movie poster for “The Expendables” that featured Pepe as part of the Trump family on the poster and other popular right-wing and conservative figures.
As the right wing became more and more extreme and radicalized up to and following
the election, so did the causes, groups, and alt-right news sources Pepe was associated with, to the point where the Anti-Defamation League, a watchdog group opposed to antisemitism, added Pepe to its hate symbol database.
The image became deeply associated with hate groups and white supremacists and the Trump campaign did not distance themselves from it.
“Infowars,” a sensationalized “news source” hosted by extreme conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, is yet another outlet taking Furie’s image and continuing the misconstrued message now associated with the character.
Jones called the lawsuit “frivolous” and insists the suit is part of a larger attempt by news media outlets to make Infowars “public enemy number one.”
This will not be the first time Furie has had to sue over the depiction of Pepe however. A children’s book that used the Pepe promoted “racist, Islamophobic and hate-filled themes,” according to a federal lawsuit filed by Furie, and the out of court settling required the removal of the book from sale.
Furie also killed off Pepe from his comic as a reaction to the corruption of his character.
This issue brings into consideration the way a meaning can be attached to an image and how quickly it can be propagated as such. Social media’s speed with condemning or supporting an image and inventing the unspoken meaning behind them is a powerful one and is frequently carried over into real life.
Even in the earlier days of Pepe’s alt-right association, news outlets struggled with dividing the comic character frog from the hate symbol he had been painted over as and they raised the unspoken question of where to draw the line between the creators intent and the current usage. I consider it similar to the swastika.
Though it was created and used across many eastern religions as a symbol of good luck, awareness, and even the footsteps of Buddha, today we know it as the symbol of the Nazi party and their acts of hate and genocide. However, Furie’s quick rebuttal to all attempts to use his character and hopes to redefine him could change how we see Pepe five years down the road.