Tom Spurgeon's Web site of comics news, reviews, interviews and commentary

September 29, 2016

Go, Read: Matt Furie On Becoming A Name-Along-With-Image Rabidly Popular Internet Meme

Here's the first interview I've read with cartoonist Matt Furie talking about the experience of having his Pepe The Frog character become a hugely popular visual element in alt-right and pro-Trump visual presentations, on-line and in the physical world. Pepe was recently identified as a hate symbol in the context of specific uses by the Anti-Defamation League, which is an extraordinary thing, both the naming and the qualifications used in the naming.

So this has to be super-weird for the creator, doubly so because as he points out this use is rare in that the artist's name has been brandished at various times throughout.

Without my knowing him personally, Furie comes across to me in that piece like a nice enough guy a little disengaged with certain elements of the world and how art works within it right now. He also seems incredibly eager to maintain that distance between what he creates and how it might be used. Is he too eager to keep out of it? I've heard from three different people I like and respect wishing that Furie would respond more forcefully. This interview is, ironically, a reasonably forceful response in a way: declaring you're voting for Hillary Clinton is a nice soundbite to release into the wider world when your work is supporting the other guy. It's a counter-idea designed to make the users look a bit foolish.

I imagine there is a lot more Furie could do beyond make a few statements and wait it out, even when obnoxious, hateful super-shits like the image's users are involved. I'm also pretty sure it's not up to me to decide that for him -- I wouldn't suffer the blowback. But imagine the possibilities. Billing sites for use would be a funny way to take another shot at the candidate in question as a person that does not pay their contractors. If there's a bit of annoyance but no money raised, these are maybe people that should be annoyed. I also don't think this is a natural thing to have happen as Furie seems to assert. I think it's generally inexplicable which visuals will pick up that kind of attention, but I don't think it's a process we should allow to remain inviolable due to its assumed inevitability. We could perhaps help by constructing a broad counter-idea that can be presented whenever anyway absconds with an artist's work to reconfigure it in pursuit of a noxious idea or belief system. .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) Let me know.
posted 12:55 am PST | Permalink

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