As I swiped past the various posts on my Instagram feed, each began to gradually muddle together until they all formed a single blur. Each swipe of my finger gave selfies and snapshots of gaudy quinceañeras less and less importance. And as I reached the feed’s end, my brain felt like a rotten apple.
I don’t remember how long my Instagram binge lasted. I sat in my dark bedroom and the vicious glare of the glowing screen weakened my eyes so they felt like jelly. On and on, I continued scrolling until I lost track of time.
My phone was sucking away my soul, but there was one post which wasn’t so leechlike.
It was a smug, green frog; and he stirred about him a hurricane of controversy. Sometimes innocent, sometimes racist, Pepe the Frog became inseparable with comedic themes and public figures, such as Donald Trump. Nevertheless, he grew attached to the hearts of millions of Americans, myself included.
So let’s see where it all began.
Pepe was born to the internet in the tranquility of 2005. His creator, cartoonist Matt Furie, intended Pepe to be a chill, anthropomorphic frog relatable to the average college student, according to NBC. And so he was. A binge-drinker and weed-smoker, Pepe symbolized the hedonistic party life of collegiate dorms.
But according to the Verge, it was in 2010 when Pepe hit his biggest stride yet. The internet blew up Pepe to magnificent proportions, and he quickly assumed his role as a favorite among memes. His quirkiness combined with his unforgettable grin earned him a prominent role among internet message boards. But such innocence was short lived, for he was soon to become a sadistic face in the meme world.
In 2015, during the midst of the 2016 presidential election, Pepe was adopted by a white supremacist sect of 4chan, an online imageboard website. From there, he became associated with white nationalism, the Nazi party and the alt-right. Soon after, his image became likened to that of Donald Trump, reported NPR.
“Eventually, a popular meme of the smug frog with Donald Trump’s hair started circulating online and then eventually got retweeted by the Donald Trump campaign. When that happened, the meaning of Pepe as kind of a white nationalist or alt-right symbol kind of exploded.
It was considered by many to be a tactic of dog-whistling from the Trump campaign to that sect of white nationalists online, and it became a new symbol for white nationalists maybe not online. It essentially amplified that specific meaning of Pepe,” wrote Matthew Shinkowitz, an editor at Know Your Meme.
Thus, Pepe’s image became what is is today – an anthropomorphic, sometimes-racist frog.
But as quickly as Pepe rose to fame, his exciting life ended on a whim. On May 8, Furie officially pronounced Pepe dead though a comic strip which showed Pepe’s roommates pouring beer on his corpse which lay dead in a casket.
“Honestly, I thought about killing off Pepe just simply when he became a meme, before it was even associated with hate speech,” Furie told NPR. “When an artist loses control of their creation, it’s never that great.”
In short, Pepe became too powerful to harness. A hurricane of controversy, his bittersweet death came all too soon, yet it might have been for the best.
The meme world is a harsh jungle. Ferocious and unforgiving, it is reminiscent of the Darwinian concept of “Survival of the Fittest.” Pepe had a good run, but I believe the time has come to pass the torch to another, fitter meme.
Here’s to you, Pepe.