Harmless Meme or Hate Scheme?
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Once a harmless meme, now transformed into a national hate symbol.
‘Pepe the Frog’ has been known as a harmless and humorous meme for some time in the online world. Now, it is known as one of the three nationally declared hate symbols. The roster consists of the confederate flag and the swastika, with Pepe taking the third spot.
On October 11, the Anti-Defamation League added Pepe to its “Hate on Display” database of symbols used to spread hateful messages. The unique frog character based on a 2004 comic by Matt Furie began as an image commonly associated with a wide variety of emotions ranging from frustration to sadness and everything in between. Appearing in plenty of remixes, trolling videos, and in many variations, Pepe has grown into an internet phenomenon. By late 2014, the meme had spread from the online meme world to mainstream media.
Then, what was used for entertainment began to increase in association with white supremacist themes as Pepe memes were used more and more by white supremacist accounts. A relationship was becoming evident to the eyes of the public: Pepe was becoming more than just a harmless meme.
This past May, an “anonymous white nationalist” told The Daily Beast that the shift was intentional and called it “a dedication campaign to ‘reclaim Pepe from normies.’” This user was intending to transform the innocent frog into such an unacceptable character that the mainstream media would not use it, and only the ones to do so would be those acting with intention to harm.
Pepe the Frog has not only impacted the online media world but has made an effect on the presidential candidacy currently happening. Donald Trump tweeted an image of himself as a variation of Pepe the Frog with the caption, “You can’t stump the Trump.” Trump’s son as well posted a variation of Pepe with the same context as his father’s tweet. HIllary Clinton released a widely mocked video that featured both posts and reacted in disgust to the content and associated the meme with white supremacy. With the growing presence in harmfulness, the ADL had to step in and label the frog, a hate symbol.
The artist who drew the original frog, Furie, told The Atlantic the he thinks the association with far-right ideology is “just a phase.” He went on to state that “in terms of meme culture, it’s people reappropriating things for their own agenda. That’s just a product of the internet”.
Whether you agree or not with Pepe the Frog being declared a hate symbol, it is an eye-opener to the world that memes aren’t always just harmless images. Some of them are now being associated with harmful topics and creating sections of the online world that are not just using them for entertainment. Either way you look at it, this news forces us to proceed with caution when dealing with memes and realize the real-world impact it now plays.
With such an important job to do, shouldn’t the Anti Defamation League have better things to do than discuss the severity of a meme’s symbolic representation? As silly as it may sound that a meme has been declared a hate symbol, it happened and many others are in disagreement with the decision. East Leyden senior Julian Hernandez believes that “memes are the way people connect and smile through quirky little pictures” not to hurt people. When asked if he believes memes are becoming more than just that, Leyden Senior Adam Obrzut responded with “that’s what is always going to be, I don’t think it’s going to be anything more.” The decision by the ADL is quite odd considering that most would not associate the meme with hurtful or discriminating natures. But the ADL has made the decision and now the innocent frog will be portrayed as a symbol of hate.