Out of all the issues that plague the Clinton campaign, as of late she has made it clear that her greatest contender is not Trump, but something far more nefarious. Something more sinister, more racist, something coldblooded that crawled from dark underbelly of the American political system. A cartoon frog meme.
The Clinton camp thought it wise, then, to address the the impending threat of now-notorious Pepe directly. Of course, the Mass Media that march in lockstep with her every word, with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow leading the sycophant brigade, parroted the call-to-arms. Across outlets were issued a number of increasingly confused statements that predictably swayed no one but the most die-hard of her supporters. Despite their rallying cry, few people were convinced enough to grab their pant suits out of the closet and join in on the match.
As an aficionado of all things dank, I’m the first to state that waxing intellectual about an internet meme is the epitome of cringe, however it seems necessary at this point to clarify a few notions.
The public enemy no.1 du jour, Pepe the frog, has been around for over a decade under various iterations and, like Trump, has never been called a ‘symbol of bigotry’ until it ended up in the crosshairs of the liberal PR machine. Even the most superficial trek off the internet’s beaten path will reveal that there is no single, definitive Pepe: happy, smug, mischievous, sad, angry; there are as many variations of him as there are human emotions.
Such revelations are lost on Maddow and others. They, seemingly in earnest, claim that he is the modern incarnation of a ‘white supremacist signifier’, and believe that this cartoon frog meme, shared by teens for over a decade, has effectively replaced the swastika as a symbol of American Nazism. To suggest that he’s the icon for a sinister hate movement is obviously more than ludicrous; it’s yet another example of the liberal media imposing meaning onto symbols which are many things to many people.
The idea that ‘Pepe is a neo-nazi symbol’ is the same as saying ‘the confederate flag is a symbol of oppression’ or ‘all six-pointed stars are anti-semitic’. It’s an attempt to monopolize meaning to benefit their historicist doctrine; i.e. the idea that certain symbols should be retired due to their problematic historical context.
Sentences such as ‘Pepe’s been almost entirely co-opted by the white supremacists who call themselves the alt-right’ are so misguided, so out of touch with internet culture as a whole that they’re indistinguishable from satire (See Poe’s law), not to mention barely coherent. Take this unbelievably pedestrian turn of phrase for example; what does ‘almost entirely co opted’ actually mean? Talk about hedging your bets. In an astonishingly shoddy article for Washington Monthly, Nicole LeTourneau closes with a statement which illustrates the histrionic tone adopted by the liberal media:
Fallows says that all of this reminds him of the incident with the Trump campaign’s use of the Star of David. He’s right. But this one is even more sinister. Perhaps that’s because it seems to be flying under the radar a bit and is more reminiscent of a dog whistle. The use of Pepe the Frog is designed to send a message to white supremacists: “We’re with you.” I don’t know of a better way of describing that than “deplorable.”
LeTourneau is clearly not in a position to define what ‘the use of Pepe the frog’ means in any context. To claim it is ‘designed to send a message to white supremacists’ is another attempt to paint a section of the public – in this case the group of internet neer-do-wells who adopt Pepe avatars – as racists boogeymen. The use of Pepe by the Trump camp is indeed a signal though, and a very obvious one at that: the omnipresence of this cartoon frog among their most vocal supporters is not lost on them, and by incorporating him into their imagery they are effectively saying “we get it, we understand internet meme culture”, something which can not be said for the Democratic frontrunner.
A recent poll by CNN, showing Hillary leading by 9 points, conveniently omitted voters aged between 18-34 from their sample, a revealing insight that perhaps Clinton’s ‘millennial outreach’ has been less than stellar. Her knee-jerk reaction to a cartoon frog meme is a symptom of a greater disconnect between her message as she intends it to be conveyed, and its reception among millennial voters. Similar to the 1950s tirades against rock and roll as being ‘the devil’s music’, Hillary has shown the extent to which she is out of touch with pop culture as a whole, and in this new frontier of political discourse the perception of ‘Old Lady Clinton’ as being out of the loop cannot be un-memed.
The fact that Hillary’s PR team, by all accounts a seasoned band of provocateurs, would post the message shown above – on Hillary’s official website no less – shows the extent to which they’ve completely lost control of the narrative. Hillary’s evident health issues, previously derided as ‘baseless conspiracies’, have since been covered at length by the mainstream media. Her mishandling and subsequent deletion of subpoenaed emails have irrevocably tarnished the immaculate public image which she and the liberal media have tried so desperately to project.
What is the rationale behind the quixotic move, then, of flailing wildly at Pepe and the rest of the alt-right windmill? For one, it’s clear evidence that Hillary’s campaign is in full defensive mode with regards to its online presence; Hillary’s official Twitter posts are flooded with more frogs than the old testament, and her ‘online team’ of Correct the Record shysters have yet to make even the slightest dent in the collective consciousness. Predictably, Hillary’s public statement against Pepe has been met with widespread hilarity from all corners of the internet, and I’m sure that if there was an algorithm that tracked the amount of frogposting over time (F/t), one would see a marked increase on social media since her statement was first issued.
Similar to the everyman’s adoption of the ‘deplorable’ moniker after her previous outburst colloquially known as BasketGate, the mainstreaming of Pepe is now complete, and everyone is now in on the joke – everyone except the woman running for President, unfortunately. Unwittingly, she has managed to transform a meme that, a few years ago at most, was rarely seen outside of a handful of image boards into an inescapable fixture of today’s political iconography. The more Hillary’s MSM acolytes try to project bigotry and racism onto this innocuous frog cartoon – and, by proxy, Trump’s supporters as a whole – the more the average American is inclined to adopt Pepe as a symbol of their own political alienation.