Pepeganda

Pepeganda

In human history, the need to convince others to fight for your cause (or not oppose your cause) was assisted with the use of propaganda. Sure, armies can serve their own interest by marching and fighting, but their effectiveness is increased if the population they conquer greets them as liberators rather than invaders, and the support they receive from home is greater if the army is fighting for their liberty and safety. The history of propaganda is a fascinating example of how the human psyche stays the same, even as society changes - fears and desires are shaped by the image shown to its audience, and beliefs can be changed or reinforced with enough exposure. Be it through statues, newspaper stereotypes, posters, films, music, sports or speeches, propaganda has been used by all sides, for all causes. The modern day we live in brings a new vector for disseminating propaganda - the internet.

The creeping dominance of the internet over human culture has brought great emphasis to the word "meme". By definition, a meme is a behavior that is passed on through imitation - this behavior could be a phrase, an image, or a political movement. Internet memes generally have a short expiration date - the more a meme spreads from its point of genesis, the likelier it is to get stale, and further usage of the meme gets diminishing returns of likes, comments, reblogs, and other affirmations of the self one strives for when they post to the internet. But like trends in real life, the occasional meme has staying power - Pepe the frog is one of these.

Pepe has his origins in a comic strip called Boys Club. The comic itself had a moderate interest when compared to more prominent webcomics like 8-bit Theater, Perry Bible Fellowship, and Joan Cornella. Memes don't only arise from prominent cultural influences, though that certainly doesn't hurt. Sometimes, a reaction is good enough, be it from somebody famous or somebody not, and illustrated emotions are definitely not exempt from becoming memes. Pepe's legacy began like many netizens spend their day - with his pants down. His facial expression resonated not only because it was a casual acceptance of weirdness, but because it was adaptable.

Netizens are people that spend most of their casual time on the internet. It is their main social outlet, and there is a very strong trend for netizens to be anxious, self-loathing and craving for validation. Memes are a way to express being part of the in-crowd, as opposed to the "normies" that are outside the joke, and the collection and creation of these memes gives some semblance of social interaction to the young and socially incapable. The evolution of a meme is a gradual process, involving alternate iterations of the meme - in the case of Pepe, happy Pepe begat Sad Pepe which begat Crying Pepe, and then all bets were off. Countless iterations of Pepe began to cover every emotion, action, sports team, pop culture reference, political position, historical role and national background.
 

This extension of ennui and angst was eventually paired with another such meme, that of Wojak. Alternatively known as "Feels Guy", Wojak had his beginning on a German imageboard and eventually leaked to the rest of the internet. Wojak's purpose was to showcase what its poster was currently feeling, and what caused it - the most frequent being having no girlfriend, social anxiety, lack of purpose, and applying depression onto pop culture. As both Wojak and Pepe were vehicles for their creator's emotions (and by extension, whoever posted them), their synthesis was almost inevitable. Memes very frequently reference other memes to maintain their "dankness", and the combination of both Pepe and Wojak, for some reason, struck a chord. And over time, the two memes had their relationships develop - Wojak stayed the relative straight-man and had his depression and anxiety exacerbated and abused by Pepe, who increasingly became portrayed as a sociopath with violent, scatological tendencies.

As it turns out, many of the people who could relate to Pepe and Wojak because of their own feelings of isolation and inadequacy related to white nationalism in the same way. There is no shortage of Pepe and Wojak receiving other political portrayals - usually those considered "edgy" - but white nationalists took to Pepe and Wojak with vigor. The world at large may have remained blissfully unaware about how white nationalists took a cartoon frog as one of their symbols, but then a wild card gave white nationalists exposure they hadn't seen in half a century - Donald Trump.

Exactly how much influence netizens had in getting Donald Trump elected is something that will be figured out later with thorough analysis, but Steve Bannon consciously harnessed the current of white nationalism that flowed through the internet and connected it to Trumps' campaign. The memes followed - casting Trump as Pepe made him the dominant alpha in compared to the unsure continence Wojak, and Pepe gradually became as tied to the Trump campaign as red hats. The fact that the original author of Pepe was disgusted by Trump and made Pepe officially dead in the comic did absolutely nothing to stop the memes - Pepe did not belong to him anymore.

The thing is, Pepe doesn't belong to anybody. An internet meme is freely adaptable to anything suiting its purpose, and the best way to counter propaganda that you cannot remove is with opposing propaganda. As much as "normies" may immediately attribute Pepe to Trump, that doesn't mean he can't be utilized by those who oppose him. A gauge on the pulse of the internet, adequate photoshop skills and efficient saturation can make any meme effectively politicized. Trumpites have false-flagged low-quality pro-Hillary memes to paint her side as out-of-touch, and to be fair, they are. Trump, through Bannon, used internet culture more effectively than any other politician. It is apparent that this is a new political front that must be won.

Propaganda is still as useful and effective as it ever was. The lamest sort of arms race may be the ability to develop and stockpile memes, but if some sourceless infographic or politically-incorrect humor is enough to convince somebody to vote one way or the other, then you can not discount the effect pictures shared online have on the political process.

Even if they look like this.

Ain't No Test for the Wicked

Ain't No Test for the Wicked

Lingua Frankly

Lingua Frankly