As an artist, you can never predict who your work is going affect. You might have an intention of who your target audience might be or who you expect to like your work, but there is really no way of knowing who will connect with your work.
For illustrator Matt Furie, one of his pieces connected with a group he never would have expected and a group he wanted nothing to do with. That is the subject matter of Feels Good Man, an at times funny, at times horrifying, but always captivating documentary.
The film starts off with Furie hanging out in a retro thrift store with his daughter. This is where Furie’s illustration career all began. While working in the toy office, Furie would get inspiration from the toys he saw on a regular basis, which eventually led to him creating the comic Boys Club, which features a character named Pepe the Frog, who says the phrase “Feels good man” in a comic strip which involved Pepe urinating with is pants fully down.
Little did Furie know what would come from Pepe and his “Feels good man” saying. It first started on MySpace with guys using to to describe their latest work out of their latest body weight, nothing too harmless. But Pepe soon became one of the first memes on the internet and became a mascot for internet trolls who made a living roaming online while living in their parent’s basement. These trolls turned Pepe into a symbol of racism and hate and he eventually became a symbol for white supremacist groups all over the country. The once cute, funny frog had now become a symbol of everything bad in our country.
Director Arthur Jones does a great job of diving into the progression of Pepe as a symbol, from simple comic character to a character that got put on the ANTIFA Hate Symbol Database. Though somewhat technical and speedily told, Jones shows us the world of the trolls who made Pepe into this hate symbol and shows us how they think and how Pepe got to be not just a symbol of hate on the internet, but how Pepe’s popularity got so big that President Donald Trump and his supporters used him, making Pepe the face of the Alt-Right political party. It’s honestly scary how powerful a group of people living in their parents basement can become through online trolling, but Feels Good Man is a cautionary tale and shows that they are more powerful than you can actual think and that their actions can have an effect on the whole world.
But what was most interesting about the film was the affect this had on Furie. Furie is a relatively chill guy. He’s soft spoken, quick witted, and just an overall nice guy. He gave Pepe his name because he thought it sounded like “pee-pee”, which he found amusing. He never expected one of his creations to become a symbol of hate, but it did and he himself hated it. Furie tried reversing the tide a number of times, even going as far as to “kill” Pepe in one of his comics, all of which failed and only made the trolls come out stronger. Furie unintentionally became tied with these hate groups and it made him and the people in his life look bad. Though the film ends on a positive note about the future of Pepe and Furie, watching him struggle and thinking about the position he was put in is quite sad and infuriating.
Feels Good Man is one of the best documentaries I have seen in 2020. A compelling look at an artists nightmare and those responsible for it. What started as a simple comic book character unexpectedly turned into a symbol of white supremacy and hate. You’ll want to give this documentary a watch. It’s good, man.
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