If you have been on the Internet over the last several years, you have probably – either intentionally or not – come into contact with a green, semi-anthropomorphic frog named Pepe. Though Pepe fits into the current classification as an Internet meme, this wasn’t always the case. Indeed, Pepe has shown a resilience and adaptability that is often uncommon with traditional meme topics.
Going back to the beginning, Pepe the Frog started out as simply as 1 of 2 characters in a zine called Playtime created by American cartoonist Matt Furie sometime before or in early 2005. After being introduced via the zine, Furie fleshed-out his idea by including Pepe with 3 other teenage friends in the comic Boy’s Club, chronicling the group’s hedonistic exploits, which he then posted on MySpace in 2005. One of the original and longest enduring images of Pepe from the comic involve him urinating and rationalising the action by using his catchphrase “feels good man.”
Images of Pepe (along with his catchphrase) soon started to be used on other MySpace posts and, through Internet forums, became a sort of inside joke. From there, it was only a matter of time before Pepe arrived at the imageboard website, 4chan. While the original Pepe meme can still be found in abundance, the creative nature of 4chan is mostly responsible for developing multiple Pepe memes in order to reflect multiple responses to a post, such as the Sad Frog, Angry Pepe, and Smug Frog.
Until 2014, Pepe’s growth was mostly slow and mainly confined to 4chan; however, since then, 2 major events have accounted for his explosive growth as a meme. First, in 2014, multiple celebrities, notably Katy Perry and Nicki Minaj posted images of Pepe on their social media accounts, which naturally spurred usage among their followers and beyond. Second, several months after launching his presidential campaign, in October 2015, Donald Trump retweeted a Pepe-based representation of himself, introducing the meme to the political world and further entrenching it into popular culture, where by 2016, Pepe came forward as a symbol of the alt-right movement.
Typically, once an object becomes associated with a particular ideology or political stance, this often marks the high-water mark of the object’s popularity and market penetration; however, due to the flexibility of most memes, particularly Pepe, this doesn’t seem to be occurring.