The evolution of the Pepe the Frog meme provides a case study of how online meme culture can appropriate non-political imagery, codify it and redeploy it, sometimes for extreme political purposes. American artist Matt Furie created Pepe the Frog, with his catchphrase ‘Feels good man’, for his comic series Boy’s Club in 2005.
The laidback character was quickly adapted as a meme on internet forums such as 4chan and Reddit. By 2014 and 2015 politicized Pepe memes began appearing against Furie’s wishes, notably from the emerging ‘alt-right’. Late in 2015, Donald Trump retweeted a caricature of himself as Pepe at a US presidential lectern.
A stream of racist and anti-semitic Pepe renderings led to the meme being added to the Anti-Defamation League’s database of hate symbols in 2016. Three years later, democracy activists in Hong Kong began using images of Pepe in protests.