The Art Angle Podcast: How Pepe the Frog Explains America’s Toxic Politics

The documentary 'Feels Good Man' won a special jury award at Sundance this year.

Pepe the Frog, the subject of Feels Good Man, a documentary released in 2020.
Pepe the Frog, the subject of Feels Good Man, a documentary released in 2020.

Welcome to the Art Angle, a podcast from Artnet News that delves into the places where the art world meets the real world, bringing each week’s biggest story down to earth. Join host Andrew Goldstein every week for an in-depth look at what matters most in museums, the art market, and much more with input from our own writers and editors as well as artists, curators, and other top experts in the field.

When San Francisco-based artist Matt Furie created a zine in 2005 featuring a rag-tag group of immature adolescent animals, including a heavy-lidded frog named Pepe, he had no idea that his humble drawing would become a flashpoint for roiling cultural and political tensions across the world. The lovable frog, who likes to indulge in what “feels good, man” soon became Internet shorthand for a particular brand of alt-right activism, garnering attention from the likes of Richard Spencer and Alex Jones, prompting Furie to initiate a series of lawsuits to save his creation. After years as an arbiter of hate, in 2019 Hong Kong pro-democracy protestors adopted Pepe as their own mascot, this time redeeming him as a symbol of peace and hope.

A new documentary titled Feels Good Man, directed by Arthur Jones and produced by Giorgio Angelini, charts the story of Matt Furie and his creation. On this week’s episode of the Art Angle, Jones and Angelini speak with Artnet News’s chief critic Ben Davis about cultural appropriation, freedom of speech, and the power of images in the digital landscape.

The story of Pepe is a story of Internet culture at its best and worst—from being transformed into an innocent meme to its designation as a hate symbol is both a cautionary tale and a triumph.

Feels Good Man was awarded the US Documentary Special Jury Award for Emerging Filmmaker at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival, and is available to watch on PBS through November 18, 2020 or through these outlets.

Listen above and subscribe to the Art Angle on Apple PodcastsSpotifySoundCloud, or wherever you get your podcasts. (Or catch up on past episodes here on Artnet News.)

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