Even 4chan creator Christopher Poole eventually became fed up with his site’s propensity for the shockingly hateful, misogynist, racist and homophobic, ultimately stepping down in 2015 following the particularly nasty two-pronged controversy of celeb nude leaks and Gamergate (Google them if you must—they’re horrible). But what became the stomping grounds for self-identified freaks and outcasts, incels and the alt.right was once an anonymous playground for the stranger denizens of the internet, the birthplace of hacktivist group Anonymous—and it’s where the character Pepe the Frog fell from grace.
In director Arthur Jones’ first big foray, Feels Good Man, we learn the genesis of artist Matt Furie’s slacker frog creation and the resultant Boys Club series of comics which inspired everyone from Tuca & Bertie creator Lisa Hanawalt to any number of clothiers, curators and beyond. Pepe was never meant to be evil, but when 4chan users got their mitts on the laid-back amphibian, he eventually became a symbol of straight-up vitriolic hate—perhaps even playing a key role in the election of Donald Trump—and Jones’ film follows Furie’s quest to reclaim his character and sanity.
Jones cuts a wide swath, chatting with data experts, psychologists, occultists, NEETs (Google that, too, if you must), artists, crypto-traders and Furie himself. Through these interviews, we gain a deeper appreciation for how quickly things can spiral, how fraught copyright laws can be and why Furie’s tendency to embody “Que sera, sera,” nearly ruined his life.
Pepe wound up on the Anti-Defamation League’s list of hate symbols, and a rallying cry for basement dwellers, conspiracy theorists like Alex Jones and horrifying Nazis like Richard Spencer. But did you know he also became a beacon of hope for Hong Kong protestors? Or that a concerted effort to bring #PeaceForPepe spawned some of the coolest and most thoughtful memes of our time?
By the time we catch up with Furie, he’s at the tail-end of some grueling legal battles and personal strife, trying to write children’s books and speaking to crowds fascinated by the speed with which he lost control. But there is light at the end of the tunnel and still a chance for Pepe.
Feels Good Man thus becomes a gripping tale of the internet’s scary reach, real-world politics and the power of art to sway the people. Is its democratization a good thing in the end? Yes, of course, and much like the bizarre world of music copyright infringement suits still in their infancy, it raises interesting questions that might not be answerable just yet, but will surely impact shared global culture forever.
+Fascinating; amazing animated bits
-Emotionally challenging; gross players