Pepe, the sometimes-racist Internet frog, is dead

'Pepe the Frog' labeled as hate symbol
'Pepe the Frog' labeled as hate symbol

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    'Pepe the Frog' labeled as hate symbol

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'Pepe the Frog' labeled as hate symbol 01:07

Story highlights

  • Illustrator Matt Furie killed off Pepe by drawing him in a comic strip lying in an open casket
  • Pepe gained fame as a harmless meme but was co-opted by far-right Internet trolls during the 2016 election

(CNN)Pepe, the involuntarily appropriated alt-right cartoon frog, was laid to rest this weekend.

His death was both a filicide and a mercy killing. His creator Matt Furie, having seen the rudderless, soulless troll meme Pepe had become, illustrated him in an open casket in a one-page comic strip released in conjunction with Free Comic Book Day. Pepe was 12.
Furie's Tumblr page, showing a comic panel with Pepe's funeral.
Born as an innocent comics character in 2005, Pepe led a troubled life. He emerged as a favorite -- and mostly harmless -- meme of message boards and Internet wastrels in the 2010s, but his legacy took a hard downturn when he became an unholy experiment for far-right trolls during the 2016 election.
While it's nearly impossible to pin down a singular message from the political Pepes, the general feeling was one of trolling sadism and mischief. Remorseless social media users appropriated his image as Adolf Hitler, a Klansman and racist caricatures. Pepe was deployed again and again to represent beliefs that sometimes upset others, and he was often used to ridicule overly sensitive "snowflakes" or those with liberal or "social justice" views.
He also became closely tied with the self-identified "Deplorables," Donald Trump supporters who saw no reason to apologize for their views and in fact seemed to gain energy from others' hatred of them.
Even Trump himself re-tweeted a depiction of Pepe in 2015, though it was before the meme became closely associated with blatant nativism and xenophobia.
Isolated sections of message boards like 4chan and Reddit became hot crucibles of Pepe memery, bubbling forth with depictions both obscenely bigoted and benignly irritating.
By fall 2016, Pepe's possession was so complete, the Anti-Defamation League labeled the frog as a hate symbol. They did note, however, that not all Pepe depictions were inherently hateful.
Furie, having seen what the Internet had done to his creation, spoke out against the appropriation. Fantagraphics, the independent publisher who printed the comics in which Pepe first appeared, also denounced the bizarre creature Pepe had become.
Furie even launched a campaign to reclaim Pepe from hate groups. But it was too late.
In a fascinating and ironic turn of events, Pepe's death occurred the same weekend that Marine Le Pen, the favorite French presidential candidate of the far right, was soundly beaten by centrist Emmanuel Macron.
Le Pen's image had been insinuated into countless Pepe memes, an extension of the creeping, unapologetic far-right ideology that Pepe had come to embody. In fact, many noted that "Pepe Le Pen" had a convenient cadence to it.
Now, Le Pen has been defeated and Pepe is dead. While the jimmies of hard right Pepe-appropriators and rabid Le Pen fans (that Venn diagram is a circle) are undoubtedly rustled, there are already discussions on 4chan boards about which of Furie's characters they can appropriate in retaliation.
Hence, the problem with trolls. They're less like the monsters under a bridge and more like a hydra: One you lop off one head three more appear, and all of them look like something you once loved.
If you understood none of this, just remember this, as both moral and epitaph of Pepe the Frog: The Internet is bad, and we should feel bad.