You might have missed Feels Good Man, one of the year’s most essential documentaries (which is now available to stream). The film follows how Pepe the Frog became a symbol of the alt-right, triggering a mission from his creator to save him from the forces of darkness.
For around the last five years or so, I’ve often felt like I’m losing my mind. I fluctuate between wanting to scream at everyone for acting so calmly about all the awful insanity going on, seemingly ignoring it—then I switch to just ignoring it myself and carrying on. I mean, what can you do?
Batshit conspiracy theories are terrifyingly popular, many theorising about sinister international cabals that secretly run everything and want to do evil things to us all. What’s so infuriating about that is the sinister international forces that are actually real and doing shit in the open. They are actually doing evil things to us that are demonstrable and really, really serious.
Pretty much all of the constant fear I carry comes from the internet. I don’t mean because that’s where I get 99 percent of my information, like most people. I mean because it seems to be so powerful that it’s probably a bit too much for us as a species, which has only become apparent over the last decade or so as social media became the overwhelming force it has.
Now the internet’s true horror is beginning to reveal itself—there would be no President Trump without social media. There would be no Christchurch terror attack without social media. There would be no Q-Anon without social media. The explosion in popularity of anti-vaxxers and other harmful anti-science movements would be seriously inhibited without social media.
Feels Good Man is an extraordinary documentary that taps into this insanity in an insightful, meaningful way. It’s a crazier-than-fiction tale that all started with an artist flippantly drawing a comic about a stoner frog who likes to pee with his pants pulled all the way down. Thanks to the random nature of the universe, that cartoon frog was eventually officially recognised as a hate symbol and associated with some of the worst groups on the internet, before the artist embarked on an impossible quest to claim his creation back. This film is not trying to broadly explain the internet, of course; but it does a great job of encapsulating the current zeitgeist with this one specific, unique, unbelievable situation.
It’s also just a bloody great story that’s expertly told.
The filmmakers use animation extraordinarily well, which is understandable given director Arthur Jones’ background as an animator. What’s more surprising is how astutely the diverse interviews are in telling not only Matt Furie’s story as the creator of Pepe the Frog, but also Pepe’s own story.
From a snarling propagandist who worked on the Trump campaign and used Pepe in doing so, to a cringeworthy ‘Rare Pepe’ trader, and an occultist who wrote the Encyclopaedia of Natural Magic, some of the interviewees seem like unusual choices, but somehow they all just click into place. By the end of the film, it all comes together to tell the definitive story of Pepe which in turn gives a greater understanding of what the hell is going on all around us.
Do I feel any better about our current reality? Nope. But I do feel like I understand it a bit better and got there with an incredible documentary that’s equally entertaining and harrowing, hilarious and tragic. One of the most essential films of the year.