Feels Good Man (CREDIT: YouTube Screenshot)

Starring: Matt Furie, Pepe the Frog, 4chan

Director: Arthur Jones

Running Time: 92 Minutes

Rating: Unrated (I Would Put it at a PG or PG-13)

Release Date: September 4, 2020 (On Demand)

After he’s all been put through, Pepe the Frog somehow still feels good, man. That’s the nature of a meme that hangs around for a while. It may get stripped of context and remixed to no end, but at its core, it still maintains some piece of its essential self. And Pepe has been on quite a journey, as laid out in Arthur Jones’ documentary Feels Good Man. He began his life as an anthropomorphic amphibian with big eyes and a wide grin in cartoonist Matt Furie’s comic Boys Club. His visage was then adapted into various Internet subcultures, particularly on the image posting forum 4chan. Bizarrely enough, that led to him being co-opted into a symbol of the alt-right, and he broke through into mainstream culture in a big way when he became associated with Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign. Soon thereafter, he was designated as a hate symbol by the Anti-Defamation League. Meanwhile, Furie was left in this maelstrom to struggle to regain control of his creation.

Feels Good Man works best when it functions as a deep-dive investigation into how Pepe got to where he is today. Furie reveals the origins of Boys Club and how Pepe’s signature catchphrase arose from his propensity to drop his pants all the way to the floor while relieving himself. Internet experts and cultural scholars explain how memes spread online and what memes even are in the first place. A 4chan veteran lets us in on NEET (“Not in Education, Employment, or Training”) culture as we discover how 4channers became a significant segment of Trump’s coalition. Oh, and also did you know that celebrities like Katy Perry and Nicki Minaj have shared images of Pepe on social media?

The segments of Feels Good Man that focus on Furie attempting to transform Pepe into something positive again are more frustrating, not necessarily because of any filmmaking decisions but due to the Sisyphean nature of this pursuit. Simply put, the world has been flooded with so many versions of the alt-right Pepe, and there’s no drainage system that can work fast enough to fully counteract that. That also makes it tough for the documentary to have a full sense of context when the focus is on the present. Really, that’s a struggle faced by any documentary that focuses on the here and now. In a way, Feels Good Man is about that struggle, as the context of Pepe becomes impossible to fully keep track of. But then at least a glimmer of hope emerges as Furie secures some legal victories and Pepe is reborn as a symbol of pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. His story isn’t over, and that weirdly makes me feel optimistic about humanity.

Feels Good Man is Recommended If You Like: People who understand the Internet explaining the Internet

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Memes