FANTASIA 2020 FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW! Poor Pepe the Frog. In the new doc, Feels Good Man Pepe’s tragic story from an obscure indie comic character to a neo-nazi, alt-right icon is graphically recounted. Amusingly directed by Arthur Jones, the documentary utilizes original animation, interviews, and modern psychology to explain how humorous internet imagery (aka memes) are born. Feels Good Man also dives deeper to explore the disconnect between the creator of art and the life that it assumes once an audience makes it their own.
Created by San Francisco artist Matt Furie, Pepe the Frog began on Myspace of all places in a comic known as Boy’s Club. As the “Elaine” of a larger ensemble of anthropomorphic animal characters, Pepe lived in a house with three other characters, fresh out of college, where they would party, drink, and just live their best lives. At one point in the comic, Pepe is caught peeing with his shorts pulled down to his ankles. His roommate asks him why, and Pepe simply replies, “Feels Good Man.” This evolved into memes of every conceivable fashion, as you can imagine.
“…exploration between the artist, his creation, and what happens when the public reacts to it.”
While recounting Pepe’s downfall, Jones cuts away to experts on modern psychology to explain the need for one-upmanship. Here director Jones dives into the culture of teens outdoing one another online, pushing the envelope of bad taste in discussion threads on 4chan. It is on this site where Pepe turns into everything from Hitler to Trump. Meanwhile, Furie, Pepe’s creator, never acknowledges the problem with losing control over one of his creations until it is far too late. “Once the genie is out of the bottle, you can’t put him back in again,” one person explains.
What I particularly enjoyed about Feels Good Man is its exploration between the artist, his creation, and what happens when the public reacts to it. There is a certain level of release an artist must assume in the act of creation. However, here, Pepe goes from a simple cartoon frog to being added to the recognized registry of hate symbols. That is extreme by any standard, and something artist Furie could never have anticipated. In several moments, mild-mannered Furie laments the effect that losing control over his art has had on him and his career.
Thankfully this is a story of redemption told in a tongue-in-cheek style that would be right at home on the net. Keeping things fast and glib, Jones keeps up the momentum and the progression of the story of little Pepe. While not offering an entirely happy ending, we do see how ultimate victory is gained. Nastiness and hate are proven only to have one trick up their sleeve while the artist can continue to create. Ultimately affirming Feels Good Man is a fun, feel-good doc.
"…...Pepe's tragic story from an obscure indie comic character to a neo-nazi, alt-right icon is graphically recounted."