MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
I remember seeing the image of a cartoon frog popping up all over the place as a symbol connected to hate groups, Nazi groups, and school shootings. Richard Spencer, an alt-right leader, wore a frog lapel pin and far-right Info Wars broadcaster Alex Jones also embraced the symbol. I just figured that this frog was a kind of shorthand for the folks that I wanted to steer clear from.
Pepe the Frog did not start out as a sign of evil and hate, but as a character in a series of comic books called Boys Club created by Matt Furie in 2005. Along with his three slacker roommates Andy, Brett and Landwolf, Pepe liked to goof off, get stoned and eat pizza. He also liked to drop his pants while standing up to use the toilet because it “feels good man”. This is just as juvenile and stupid as it sounds, but fairly on point with what it means to be in your early twenties and hanging out. There was a childlike innocence to the comic, and there was little in these panels to cause much of a stir.
Feels Good Man follows the history of Pepe the Frog, first as the expression “Feels Good Man” becomes a popular meme on the internet and then as the image of Pepe gains popularity on 4Chan and Tumblr. The film explains everything you need to know about how internet communities can adopt, transform, and promote intellectual property in ways contrary to their creator’s intentions.
In just a few short years, Pepe was used by pop stars and politicians and then the aforementioned troublemakers. When the Jewish Anti-Defamation League officially listed Pepe in its database of hate symbols, Furie decided that he needed to “lawyer up”. The movie shows him in conversation with the ADL as he begins his battle to reclaim Pepe. It’s a tough challenge. This film should help.
Matt Furie is presented as a loving father and a genuinely sweet person with a distinctive artistic voice. His spirit of goodwill is shown in the documentary’s incredible empathy with even those who are responsible for subverting the character.
Director Arthur Jones is also an animator and uses a team of animators to bring life to Furie’s artwork. There are many moments of humor and warmth in this movie.
I would encourage churches and youth groups to consider using Feels Good Man as an intergenerational discussion starter. (With a lot of casual swearing and objectionable stuff in the film, advance screening is a must.) I think the takeaway from the conversation would be worth it. Be sure to wear face masks.
Right now, the only way you can watch Feels Good Man is by digital rental ($4.99 for two days), but the film will be shown on PBS’s Independent Lens on Monday, October 19th at 10:00 p.m. That’s late, but that’s why God made DVRs.
Halo and Pitchfork Rating:
Four halos: An entertaining and timely cautionary tale about the internet.
Three pitchforks: For brief but disturbing racist, anti-Islamic, and anti-Semitic images; pervasive strong language; cartoon characters getting high, partying and dropping trow to use the toilet.
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Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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