Trailer for Feels Good Man.
There's no shortage of documentaries about our current political climate or the fact that the internet could be bad, but Feels Good Man focuses on the craziest intersection of these two modern realities: Pepe the cartoon frog.
If you already know Pepe, chances are the character has become synonymous with alt-right, that extreme online demographics associated with modern day white supremacists and Nazi movements. Or maybe you've heard of Pepe before when that frog became the meme du jour by 4chan, the anonymous message board that has been linked to all sorts of nefarious behaviors in the real world. Although Pepe's best-known 15-minute celebrity was undeniably a cameo on then-candidate Donald Trump's Twitter feed, it led some of his most extreme supporters, like conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, to adopt the character.
Feels Good Man will understand, of course, but this documentary opens with the tadpole days of the now poisonous toad. That way, the movie is likely to show viewers something they didn't know or hadn't considered before, regardless of previous familiarity with Pepe and the madness that swirls around him. By tracking Pepe's development, Feels Good Man manages to remind everyone of a fundamental truth of communication, especially in the Internet age. Once you hit the send button, things like the original intent and context may become as ephemeral as a single tweet.
A film that really understands the internet
While Feels Good Man is supposedly being marketed on the festival site as "The Pepe Doc", he actually has another central character: Matt Furie, a comic book artist from the Bay Area. In the days of MySpace, he created a Gen X-ish group of animal lovers for a series called Boy & # 39; s Club that existed in constant slackerdom after college. Furie's lifelong frog fandom resulted in an amphibian named Pepe becoming one of the comics' leading foursome. "Feels Good Man," the phrase has been literally deleted from Pepe's worldly adventures, especially the one where he discovered how nice it was to pee standing up when your pants were completely off.
The documentary documents things from here thoroughly and comprehensively in chronological order. You'll see the early Boy & # 39; s Club comics that Furie drew at a thrift store in San Francisco. The posts document how Pepe became the preferred badge for self-deprecating irony on 4chan or a mountain of Pepe merch that Furie had once produced, but can not give away or sell with a clear conscience these days. While Feels Good Man leads viewers through all of this, it seems remarkably smart to identify turning points for the cartoonist and the character he once controlled. It's pretty obvious that director Arthur Jones understands exactly how culture can snow between disparate internet communities until it becomes too big for society at large to ignore. Perhaps Trump's retweeting a Pepe meme is an obvious touchstone in hindsight, but this movie gives equal weight to moments like weightlifters showing a fondness for the frog, or eventual proportions of celebs like Katy Perry and Nicki Minaj.
"When 4chan wanted to defend their memes, they made them as offensive as possible so they couldn't be co-opted, see Pepe with 9/11 or Nazi messaging for example," said Dale Beran, a writer who studied 4chan. says in the film. “Back then, it was just the most insulting thing you could do. But it reads like a strange prologue now as the irony melted away. "
Feels Good Man remains exciting because of the multitude of interviews Jones conducted. Furie participates in full, as does his partner and close friends (one of whom got a Pepe tattoo in the early days 🤦♀️). So do other illustrators on projects as big as BoJack Horseman to believe Fury's skills and work. However, the same holistic approach is applied to voices examining Pepe's internet evolution – scientists like Beran studying memes, people working with a name during their extensive 4-channel experience like Mills or Pizza, and the damn strategy director for the "Trump The 2016 campaign is displayed. These people understand the Internet the way Furie could when it got too late.
"(We analyzed) over a billion posts on Twitter, reddit, / pol / and 160 million images in just one year," said Jeremy Blackburn, a data scientist who studies weird online behavior and takes a "quantitative look at hate speech "I wanted to throw all over the web," says Furie in the film. “There tends to be a Pepe variance in every cluster. You pick a random meme and Pepe was inserted in some form. Pepe becomes the entry point into radicalization. "
<img alt = "The poster for Feels good on man. "src =" https://cdn.arstechnica.net/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/Screen-Shot-2020-09-26-at-11.31.55-AM-640×406.png "width =" 640 "height =" 406 "srcset =" https://cdn.arstechnica.net/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/Screen-Shot-2020-09-26-at-11.31.55-AM.png 2x " /> Enlarge /. The poster for Feels Good Man.
Feels Good Man ultimately finds Furie at a point where enough is enough – he's finally sought legal counsel for the past few years to fight back against some of the most egregious and offensive uses of his laid back frog. He fought Infowars and won (Alex Jones had to pay a severance payment and stop selling a poster showing Pepe in an Avengers-like squad alongside characters like President Trump). Furie fought a well-known anti-Muslim cartoonist and won (this guy wanted to write a "children's book" called Pepe and Pede as a Trojan Horse for Bad Ideas). The list goes on and includes reprehensible opportunists of white supremacy, from The Daily Stormer to Richard Spencer. Overall, Furie, with his legal assistance at WilmerHale, successfully enforced Pepe's copyrights against almost 100 companies that were "associated with images or hate messages" at the time of this documentary.
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But Furie still naively believes that his character can be saved in the eyes of society. He seems to see one particular struggle as the way to do this: in 2016, the Anti-Defamation League officially added Pepe to their list of well-known symbols of hatred. If the frog can finally be removed, Furie seems to think that this would restore Pepe's original, sane idea once and for all. Feels Good Man plays like a postmodern horror as he sees this unattainable goal fury through all sorts of endeavors (including an official Boy's Club funeral for the Pepe they knew). In real time, you can see the internet's worst impulses keep pounding down on someone who just doesn't understand what they're dealing with. "I didn't even know what a meme was," Furie once admits. "I still don't even know if I'm saying it right. Pepe taught me what a meme is."
From 10,000 feet, however, Feels Good Man has a more philosophical idea at its core. This film reminds the viewer again and again of a basic communication and rhetoric principle: Regardless of the intention of a person who puts a message into the world, this idea / work / message / whatever no longer belongs completely to the messenger. Part of the meaning is always in the reception. In this sense, a message becomes at least in part owned by the people who receive it, and through interpretation and use it may soon change and evolve its ultimate meaning (aka the understanding of a larger society).
Fan-service creative works like Snyder Cut or The Rise of Skywalker may be remarkable manifestations of near-complete recipient involvement, but Pepe embodies that concept in its most extreme form. Furie obviously didn't go wrong in creating Pepe, a kind of amusing, easy-going frog that stems from the artist's lifelong frog fandom. And never in a million years could he have imagined how his character would be received, reinterpreted and reused after uploading a few flicks to MySpace. But by doing nothing in the early days of co-option, Fury lost his creation (illegitimate sense) forever. No matter what he does now, Pepe's ultimate fate is simply beyond Fury's control. And although Feels Good Man tries to leave an optimistic door open – have you seen who has become the symbol of protest in Hong Kong, for example? – this film makes the tragedy clear to everyone … as long as you have not created anything this is the most notorious frog on the internet.
Feels Good Man continues to play at the festival (Ars caught it through the Fantasia Fest this month). The film is also available through VoD platforms such as Amazon Prime, Microsoft Store, Google Play, Vimeo on Demand and others. Today – Sunday September 27th – there will even be a special online screening of post-movie Q&A hosted by This American Life's Ira Glass.
Listing image of Feels Good Man