By Erin Brady | firstname.lastname@example.org
Anything is up for grabs on the Internet. In the past few years alone, there have been numerous debates on whether or not certain online postings (such as Tweets and Vine/TikTok trends) can be copyrighted. As the Internet evolves, the rest of our modern society must evolve with it.
However, what happens when the Internet takes something and makes it stray so far away from its original meaning that it is no longer recognizable?
That is the question posed by Arthur Jones’ 2020 documentary ‘Feels Good Man’ spotlighting cartoonist Matt Furie. Although his name might not sound familiar, you have most likely seen his work circulated on the Internet numerous times, as his most infamous creation is a character by the name of Pepe The Frog.
Originally appearing in his comic series ‘Boy’s Club’ as a stereotypical college slacker, the character has reached Internet infamy due to his adoption by the Alt-Right.
‘Feels Good Man’ does not only feature Furie’s perspective on his creation’s downfall in real-time (the documentary spans between 2016 and 2019), but it also features the perspectives of a number of different experts, from journalists to meme scholars and even a magic historian for a particularly bizarre yet surprisingly logical segment.
Although the documentary could have been slightly stronger without some of the superfluous contributors (I did not find much use in the interview segments featuring prominent 4Chan users), these different subjects all come together in an effective way to tell one crazy story.
The film itself is shot beautifully, providing a great contrast between the real world and the hate-filled Internet spaces that are displayed throughout the film. However, the most aesthetically pleasing segments were the animated sequences. Sprinkled throughout the film as a way to sort of canonize Pepe’s Internet downfall as a part of the ‘Boy’s Club’ mythos, they are remarkably animated and actually make the intentionally-offputting designs of the characters more endearing.
If there is one thing that Furie wants the audience to take away from the film, it is that he was not entirely innocent in this ordeal. Throughout the documentary, he talks about how he wished he did more in the early stages of Pepe’s adoption by the Alt-Right. This aspect of the film is what elevates it from a timeline of unfortunate events to a meditation on why creators wait until the last minute to speak out over misappropriation of their work. In both his initial reluctance and his first naive attempts to take back control of Pepe’s image, Furie shows not only that he had a very small role in fueling the fire, but that he is imperfectly human as well.
This glimpse is important, especially when many documentaries (such as fellow Fantasia entry ‘Hail to the Deadites’ on fans of the ‘Evil Dead’ film franchise) put their subjects in an infallible and unwavering light of positivity.
‘Feels Good Man’ presents a cautionary tale that is more timely than ever. It presents a tale of how seemingly innocent characters or symbols can easily be co-opted by racist, sexist, and bigoted Internet trolls. However, it is also a tale of how there is always light at the end of a long and dark tunnel, as the documentary concludes with Furie winning $15,000 in his lawsuit against Alt-Right website InfoWars over copyright infringement.
Pepe The Frog might not be fully liberated from the Alt-Right, and perhaps he never will be. However, Arthur Jones’ portrait of both him and his creator proves that his original characterization of a peace-loving slacker will never be faded into obscurity.