Sunday, October 2, 2016

Pepe the Frog as a Visual Symbol

In my Visual Literacy class, we have been discussing visual symbols. One visual symbol that has been in the news a lot this past week is Pepe the Frog. Pepe has a long history of usage, but he was originally created by Matt Furie for a comic called Boy's Club. To be perfectly honest, I didn't even know Pepe the Frog existed until he was all over social media, and I didn't know he was a sensation until his recent features in the news.

Image used with permission from 9vj on Wikimedia Commons

So why has Pepe been in the news? Perhaps surprisingly, Pepe has been populated by none other than Donald J. Trump (and, consequently, Hillary Clinton has chastised him for it).

Almost a year ago, Presidential hopeful Trump posted this Tweet representing himself as Pepe:

However, Pepe's inclusion in the Trump campaign is not the only reason Pepe has been in the news recently. On Tuesday (September 28, 2016), the Anti-Defamation League added the Pepe the Frog meme to its list of online hate symbols. (You can read the statement from ADL here.) This caused an outcry from many who are familiar with Pepe, including Pepe's creator. According to Furie, Pepe the Frog was never intended to become a symbol for racist, anti-Semitic, alt-right, and white supremacist themes. But now, due to Internet trolls illegally infringing on copyright, Pepe could be considered an image representing these ideas.

As we were discussing symbols in class, we talked about how the meanings of symbols can change over time based on how they are perceived by the current population. It appears that Pepe is our most recent symbol to "turn to the dark side."

It is important to point out that just because a certain symbol is used does not mean it is representative of a particular meaning. Therefore, though Pepe has been twisted into a symbol of bigotry does not mean that he always representative of discriminatory ideals. For example, as you can see below, Katy Perry used a meme of Pepe the Frog to illustrate her feelings of jet lag.

The meaning of a symbol depends on the context and the interpretation of the symbol by the viewer, but I personally doubt that Katy Perry intended to promote racist ideals with her tweet.

Have you seen Pepe on social media? Where did you see the symbol, and do you think he was used to represent supremacy? I encourage you to share about it in the comments.

For further reading about Pepe the Frog, check out:

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