Feels Good Man
Runtime: 92 Minutes
Comic creator Matt Furie never intended for his creation, a little green frog called Pepe, to be an internet sensation. He certainly never meant for Pepe to be a symbol of white supremacy, but that happened anyway. Arthur Jones' documentary Feels Good Man digs into how something as innocent as a frog who pees with his pants around his ankles can become a symbol of virulent hate.
While you can find dozens of YouTube channels documenting the bizarre history of internet culture, full-length documentaries have yet to dig into the weirder side of the web. Feels Good Man is an excellent starting point for both the internet illiterate and those who have spent their time in the old forum trenches. While it delves into some complicated and deeply confusing topics like cryptocurrency and the psychology of the average 4chan user, Feels Good Man is always entertaining and accessible.
The doc goes into the history of Pepe, starting with his origins in Furie's MySpace comic, Boy's Club. Boy's Club centered around Pepe and three of his friends in their college dorm escapades. The panel that led to Pepe's infamy featured him urinating with his pants down, his froggy butt displayed in all its glory. The caption "feels good man", became one of the most popular memes in recorded history. From there, Pepe's legacy became entangled with the hive of scum and villainy known as 4chan. Feels Good Man does right by its subject by not only interviewing Furie and his friends, but a handful of people who subverted the meme for their own uses as well. The 4chan troll talking heads are fascinating, and the doc never paints them in any particular light, allowing the viewer themselves to draw conclusions. While there are certainly some deeply cringe-worthy moments during these segments, the filmmakers wisely never linger there for long.
That isn't to say there aren't some rough spots in Feels Good Man. Screenshots from 4chan message boards contain some seriously foul imagery, and Pepe himself ends up depicted in numerous, horrible ways. The nihilistic view of 4chan users and other trolls is examined at length. It's more than a little disturbing to stare into the face of absolute nihilism. Their mentality is best summed up in a video one of the 4channers streamed in which he danced in front of spree-killer Elliot Rodger's video manifesto. It's abhorrent. Furie himself describes it as "a window to this kind of darkness".
If 4chan is our window into the darkness, then Furie is the light that brings back some balance. Pepe's creator is a humble, sweet, empathetic artist whose naivety is both endearing and a little frustrating. He remains hopeful in the face of the horrors of the internet, even when his own creation is completely taken from him. One segment follows his attempt to "save Pepe" by creating new memes with positive messages to drown out the bad ones. Instead, the trolls just used the new images as ammunition to create even worse things. After that, he became reluctant to do anything with Pepe, and had to store or destroy nearly $45,000 worth of merchandise he had made long before the alt-right made the frog their mascot.
The documentary navigates all of this with the same warmth Furie emanates. Interviews and exposition are paired with Furie's colorful animations. Editing is regularly used to comedic effect, including a fun transition into an English garden to interview a woman with a PhD in Memetics and an abrupt cut and needle scratch after Furie decides to kill Pepe and says he "didn't think anyone would notice."
Feels Good Man is the most important cultural documentary of 2020. This silly, bug-eyed frog drawing has become the symbol of everything from the basement-dwelling man-children to the alt-Right to the 45th President of the United States to the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. It's a fascinating look at the power of symbols, and how art stops being the creator's once it's out in the world.
5 out of 5
How to Watch: Available for rental on streaming platforms 9/4/20!