How Conservative Trolls Turned the Rare Pepe Meme Into a Virulent Racist

Source: Reddit
Source: Reddit

On Monday night, Newsweek's executive editor Margarita Noriega was accused of racism. Her crime? Sharing a popular meme featuring a cartoon frog known as Pepe.

This led at least one follower to ask the obvious: Since when is a cartoon frog racist? 

What's more, is tweeting a meme at Rubio inherently a racial attack? In this case, not likely. (Noriega, herself Mexican-American, declined to comment on the record.)

If you don't know about Pepe, he's a fairly simple meme. Pepe is a green cartoon frog once popular as a mascot on the online forum 4chan, a site often referred to as the "dark heart of the internet." Originally a comic strip character with the catchphrase "feels good man," Pepe's various iterations were collected in folders and traded like online baseball cards. 

So how did he get so racist? Memes are as good as they are versatile and remixable — and since Pepe is so permutable, Pepe can be adapted to various causes. So over the past few years, as memes became a social currency of internet culture, you probably caught Pepe in news posts, on Black Twitter, Facebook comment sections and teenagers' Instagrams.

But the virulent trolls of 4chan have also spilled out into mainstream culture as well. Online conservative movements like Gamergate and the Donald Trump campaign have brought a troll constituency that uses dark humor, racist tropes, memes and the affectation of white supremacy. If you thought Pepe was hard to understand, have fun decoding the ethos of the emerging "alt-right."

Read more: Conservative Trolls Are Determined to Destroy the GOP by Any Memes Necessary

And in the online media channels for these trolls, like 4chan, Twitter and Reddit's Trump hub /r/The_Donald, Pepe's been brutally reclaimed by his original masters:

 

Source: Reddit
Source: Reddit

Though journalists might be accused of killing a meme by over-explaining it in the media, this transformation has been underway for some time. Memes are a part of the way we have conversations online, and like any internet conversation, this one was bound to devolve into racism in the end — especially a meme originally championed by a hate mob.

In a cornucopia of rare Pepes that change faces like infinite masks, maybe Trump is the most common, archetypical Pepe of all.

How likely are you to make Mic your go-to news source?

Jack Smith IV

Jack Smith IV is a senior writer covering technology and inequality. Send tips, comments and feedback to jack@mic.com.

MORE FROM

White House says it knows of potential Syrian chemical attack, warns Assad of "heavy price"

The Trump administration did not provide any evidence backing the threat.

Serena Williams responds to John McEnroe's comments saying she would rank "like 700" against men

Williams said his statements were "not factually based."

People are way less likely to be helpful when it's hot out, according to study

Sorry, it's too hot out to help you move.

Democrats, the American Medical Association and US bishops blast the Senate health care bill

According to the Congressional Budget Office, 15 million more Americans will be without health insurance next year if the bill passes.

Dow Jones won’t talk about its reported pay gap problem

A study released by the union representing Dow Jones employees found evidence of a "significant pay gap between men and women" who had the same job title and level of experience.

Mom slams ACA repeal, shows what's at stake in a tweetstorm about son's health

This mom says that without the ACA, her son wouldn't get the medical care he desperately needs.

White House says it knows of potential Syrian chemical attack, warns Assad of "heavy price"

The Trump administration did not provide any evidence backing the threat.

Serena Williams responds to John McEnroe's comments saying she would rank "like 700" against men

Williams said his statements were "not factually based."

People are way less likely to be helpful when it's hot out, according to study

Sorry, it's too hot out to help you move.

Democrats, the American Medical Association and US bishops blast the Senate health care bill

According to the Congressional Budget Office, 15 million more Americans will be without health insurance next year if the bill passes.

Dow Jones won’t talk about its reported pay gap problem

A study released by the union representing Dow Jones employees found evidence of a "significant pay gap between men and women" who had the same job title and level of experience.

Mom slams ACA repeal, shows what's at stake in a tweetstorm about son's health

This mom says that without the ACA, her son wouldn't get the medical care he desperately needs.