18th Aug2020

Fantasia 2020: ‘Feels Good Man’ Review

by Chris Cummings

Features: Matt Furie | Written by Giorgio Angelini, Arthur Jones, Aaron Wickenden | Directed by Arthur Jones

Pepe the Frog… a cartoon frog. He’s just a frog. Nothing more, right? Just a simplistic, somewhat ugly cartoon creation in the guise of a frog. A meme, a silly meme, that’s all he was. Well… he’s much more than that now. This documentary film looks into the creation of Pepe by cartoonist Matt Furie. Pepe was created in the early ’00s as a character that depicted life after college as a laid back fella. That was it. It wasn’t a big deal. Then, in the most surprising and destructive of ways, the alt right and white nationalist movement took Pepe and made him into a symbol of hatred for their own racist, prejudice and mind-bogglingly ignorant ideals.

Feels Good Man takes that frog and looks at how this all happened, in a true story of these fringe groups, the remarkable intensity of online information and the way it’s spread, of intellectual property ownership, and of reclaiming what is yours from the bowels of something terrible. I was very interested in this film before I even pressed play. I knew about this story, of how the image of Pepe had been taken by Donald Trump and alt right groups as a way to spread their hate propaganda, but I didn’t know the whole story, and this does a damn good job of telling it.

With the topic on hand here it would have been easy for Feels Good Man to have become a very straight down the line and serious look at the power and negative impact internet culture can have on things, but instead there’s humour here, and the way the story of what happened is told is constantly entertaining and interesting. It’s a psychological look at the internet and the way things can become wildfires, but at the heart of this it’s about a creator looking to reclaim an idea that was taken and bastardised, and reinject that creation into the world as an image of peace, love and… feeling good, man.

I was really fascinated by much of this story and the manner in which it was told in this film was powerful in its own way, with those bursts of humour to lighten a mood that could easily have become even more dark and worrisome. It’s dependent on your own personal views, but you’re likely to stumble through a variety of emotions, from amused to horrified and back again, within minutes. The case for Furie is strong and it’s hard not to empathise and take sides with him as you learn more about his experiences here. My struggle with the narrative being offered was the sympathetic opinion I was supposed to have for Pepe as a character, as well as an understanding of his success throughout all of this mess. I don’t. The culture from which Pepe has thrived and fallen and reentered his pond are odd to me, and while there’s a lot of meat on this film’s bone, there’s also a disconnect in the way I don’t really “get” meme culture and the like, nor really care to.

Arthur Jones, the director, does a fine job weaving us through this bizarre tale, and with Furie telling his story too, we’re given a very clear side of the fence to sit upon. Jones’ view of Pepe and those destructive and invasive corners of the internet is riveting and easy to align yourself with at times. There were many occasions of my feeling angry and blown-away by alt-right ignorance and hatred that led to Pepe being hijacked in the first place, and that can be rough going in any documentary that deals with subjects of that ilk, with the redemption arc of this true account feeling difficult to fully believe in at times. Still, this is a highly intriguing, concerning, insightful and mind-boggling roadmap of events, worth the time of anyone who may be curious about the subject, but I hope, moreso, that this helps to educate some people and turn their minds around about the spreading culture of online hate.

***½  3.5/5

Feels Good Man screens as part of the 2020 Fantasia Festival, which starts on August 20th.


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