When cartoonist Matt Furie created Pepe the Frog, he had no clue that his seemingly benign humanoid frog character would take over the internet and evolve into a symbol of hate speech. Directed by Arthur Jones, the documentary Feels Good, Man chronicles the long journey that Furie’s creation took over the years and it offers revelations about fringe internet culture that are eye-opening and alarming.
Furie’s story is an extraordinary one. This mild-mannered artist is the opposite of who you might think would be behind an internet hate meme. He draws images of toys, creates children’s books which he reads to his daughter and drew Pepe the Frog as a vessel through which to make jokes about bodily functions. The problem with the image of Pepe is that it could easily be co-opted; anyone could draw him, his identity could easily be adapted to trending memes and Furie did not and could not take ownership of Pepe in a significant way in order to control how his creation was used online.
I won’t go into all the specifics of how Pepe morphed from hand drawn comic book character to a symbol of radicalization. The documentary does such a good job revealing each and every stage of Pepe’s evolution that it’s what makes this film so engrossing. Pepe went from a “Feels Good, Man” meme, to a mascot for outsiders, to a trolling personality then is now a symbol for dangerous radicals, white supremacists and the alt-right. Jones’s film does an exemplary job demonstrating how Pepe became a key element in Donald Trump’s presidential election campaign. We also see Furie fighting back and disconnecting from the creation that became bigger than himself. The documentary features interviews with Furie, his family and friends, fellow cartoonists, psychologists and other experts.
Feels Good, Man is a riveting documentary that offers many insights into the dangers of internet culture.
Feels Good, Man is part of the virtual 2020 Fantasia Festival.