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Pepe appropriated by alt-right

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Memes are a strange thing. There are memes about winter coming, about nearly every scene in SpongeBob and, my personal favorite, a dead gorilla. But of all the obscure and soulless memes, there is only one that’s stirring the pot of political discussion: Pepe the Frog.

As of Sept. 27 the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has labeled Pepe a hate symbol in their database. The ADL has placed Pepe on their database as the result of a recent spur of memes by the political alt-right movement. They have begun creating white supremacist and racist memes using Pepe and spreading them on well-respected websites like “4chan,” “8chan,” and the highly regarded site “Reddit.”

In an article on CNN, CEO of ADL Johnathan A. Greenblatt stated: “Once again, racists and haters have taken a popular internet meme and twisted it for their own purposes of spreading bigotry and harassing users.”

While his use of the word hater is comical, Greenblatt emphasizes the fact that it is a minority of Pepe posts that are being used for the alt-right agenda. While the ADL clearly means well, Pepe is but one example of a host of racist and offensive memes found on the internet. If the ADL labeled everything that has been manipulated to be offensive a hate symbol, no pop culture symbol would remain untouched.

If you spend more than ten minutes on Reddit you will find something offensive, graphic or just plain weird. If you really try, you can find any character, image or meme “twisted” into something more offensive. The focus of the ADL on the Pepe meme is way too specific and I cannot help but wonder how politically motivated this action was.

Hillary Clinton’s campaign website stated that, “In recent months, Pepe’s been almost entirely co-opted by the white supremacists who call themselves the ‘alt-right.’ They’ve decided to take back Pepe by adding swastikas and other symbols of anti-semitism and white supremacy.”

This statement makes Pepe sound like a weapon of mass destruction captured by an evil empire, but in reality it’s just a simple drawing.

As the creator of Pepe the Frog Matt Furie stated in an interview with “The Atlantic,” “I think that it’s just a phase, and come November, it’s just gonna go on to the next phase, obviously that political agenda is exactly the opposite of my own personal feelings, but in terms of meme culture, it’s people reapproppriating things for their own agenda. That’s just a product of the internet. And I think people in whatever dark corners of the internet are just trying to one-up each other on how shocking they can make Pepe appear.”

If everything that is used for shock value is deemed a “hate symbol,” things that are actually causing real problems will slip from the attention of society.

Because of this I do not believe the ADL should have placed Pepe on their hate symbol database. It is just an illustration being manipulated for a racist agenda. If they labeled every image on the internet that is similarly twisted, things like SpongeBob, Harry Potter and numerous other pop culture symbols would be labeled as symbols of hate as well. The ADL’s hate symbol database would be much larger if they took into account every single manipulated image like Pepe.

Anders Mattson ’19 (mattso1@stolaf.edu) is from Dana Point, Calif. He majors in English and philosophy.