FEELS GOOD MAN: One Man’s Battle In The Culture Wars

There are few things more powerful to a cause than a symbol. Think of any movement, any product, any company, and you will likely be able to conjure an image associated with it. The reason these symbols are so powerful is because they can convey a multitude of things in one succinct image that can be twisted and reformed into anything the context needs. Once that happens, the image itself is, perhaps forever, indistinguishable from the cause. No one knows this better than Matt Furie. The Bay Area artist drew a comic book in the late noughties depicting a group of stoner frat bros called Boys Club. It was an innocent idea derived from some of Furie‘s own experiences and featured a variety of characters such as Brett, Andy, Landwolf, and Pepe the Frog.

Pepe the Frog

If that last name sounds familiar it’s because you’ve probably seen Pepe the Frog. He adorned Richard Spencer‘s jacket in the infamous “Nazi punch” video where the alt-right leader took a hook to the jaw while explaining Pepe to a journalist. You might also be familiar with Pepe if you’ve ever visited the notorious internet site 4chan. In fact, if you have ever watched an alt-right conspiracy theory video, or read an article, or watched Alex Jones, you will probably find mention of Pepe somewhere. The anthropomorphic amphibian has become synonymous with the alt-right to the extent that he was branded a hate symbol by the Anti-Defamation League (after which Furie‘s friend suggested, only slightly tongue in cheek, that Furie sue the Anti-Defamation League for defamation).

FEELS GOOD MAN: One Man's Battle In The Culture Wars
source: Amazon

Caught in the midst of all this is Furie, a good-natured, laidback guy (bearing a striking resemblance to a young Mark Hamill) who is frequently perplexed by the co-opting of his character into this world. Furie is said to have been naive about the popularity of Pepe and the potential for appropriation – he originally refused to sue anyone over the use of the frog – and seems to have been caught off guard by the whole thing. This is where Feels Good Man, the documentary by Arthur Jones, comes in. For anyone blissfully unaware of how the darker sections of the internet works, Feels Good Man uses Pepe to charter the deep waters of meme culture and explain how this could have possibly happened.

There could – perhaps should – be books written on the rise of Pepe and how the cultural zeitgeist of the time enabled it. For all that Feels Good Man could have arguably been about one man’s battle in the culture wars, there is a remarkable depth to this. At the beginning, Jones takes the viewer on a dizzying exploration into the history of memes, the psychological impact of our society on disaffected adolescent males, the brutal nihilism of anonymous online “shitposting”, and the rise of Donald Trump through the 4chan message boards. It is scary, bewildering stuff, and handled expertly by Jones, who never lets Feels Good Man drift too far from Furie‘s perspective on his creation. Alongside these shocking moments are wonderful animations (Jones himself is an animator) of Pepe and friends, illustrating Furie‘s plight. It adds another layer of stoner hallucination to this frankly surreal story.

The Culture of Nihilism

While Feels Good Man is ostensibly about Furie‘s attempts to reclaim his creation, it feels strongest in the moments where it analyses this culture. Historians will likely one day write about this moment and the effects of the disenfranchised on popular culture, and there is an argument to be made that this disenfranchisement helped Trump into the White House. Jones captures all of that with a shocking rawness that will make your jaw drop. One scene sees a man pay $40,000 for a rare Pepe meme using “Pepe cash” a cryptocurrency based off of ownership of memes featuring the frog. That in itself is ripe for a documentary feature about the downfall of Capitalism but is only skimmed here. Another scene chronicles the moment Pepe became a hate figure, beginning as an underground meme culture and then gaining traction in mainstream circles. This angered the aforementioned disenfranchised males who decried the ‘normies’ and ‘sex havers’ for co-opting Pepe, who they had seen as a symbol of their own loneliness and detachment from society. The decision was made somewhere along the lines to turn Pepe into a nihilistic figure in an attempt to discourage his rising popularity. Typical of “shitposters” the intent was to depict Pepe say things such as ‘we need another Holocaust’ and ‘Kill Jews Man’ or dress him up in Nazi regalia to make him unacceptable to the mainstream audiences who had come to love him. From there it’s not a far jump to the alt-right sensing the moment was ripe to recruit these young men to their cause, using Pepe as a means to do so.

FEELS GOOD MAN: One Man's Battle In The Culture Wars
source: Amazon

It’s shocking and the blows come fast and thick, leaving you reeling from the truth of it all. Quite how a cartoon frog was able to expose an entire culture of hatred is astonishing, but to his credit Jones doesn’t miss a beat, ensuring the whole history is told, albeit in such a brief way that it may leave you wishing this was a documentary series exploring more, rather than a feature which sticks to its subject diligently.

Furie’s Fury

Furie himself anchors Feels Good Man, as you might expect. He is – perhaps too – sanguine about Pepe and what has happened to him. At one point a friend suggests Furie doesn’t understand the internet at all. This is easy to believe, as interviews with Furie‘s good-natured shrugging is juxtaposed with the reality of the situation. It pulls its punches with Furie (who is old friends with Jones) and doesn’t stray too far into suggestions that Furie had a responsibility to his creation he failed to fulfill (apart from one notable scene which suggests Pepe is an entry point into radicalisation). Instead, Feels Good Man highlights Furie as the victim; a cartoon drawing dad who doesn’t want to hurt anyone, shocked that his drawings have unearthed a world he probably knew very little about. It’s when Furie is stirred into action by Alex Jones that he starts to become more compelling. Alex Jones began selling posters on his website featuring Pepe. This looked to be a bridge too far for Furie, who took Jones to court. Again, all of this is captured by Arthur Jones and it is nothing less than utterly compelling. Alex Jones‘ own beliefs about the First Amendment contrast with Furie‘s experiences of losing his creation and you’re left shaking your head in disbelief at it all.

FEELS GOOD MAN: One Man's Battle In The Culture Wars
source: Amazon

If this sounds like an intense experience, know that Feels Good Man is also very, very funny at times. For instance when Furie takes the stand during Jones‘ deposition and has to explain his career. A hilarious montage ensues where Furie holds up pictures of some of his creations (a robot-like male engaging in forcible sex with a tree-like woman, which Furie states is “ an allegory on the way nature is going”) interlaced with Jones‘ own statements to emphasise the vast differences between the two men. It’s a good decision by Arthur Jones; Pepe was meant to be a kind, happy creation by Furie. He is emblematic of the typically laidback stoner type that seems to appeal to Furie. In that regard, imbuing this documentary with humour feels like a way of fighting back against the miserable hatred which began this whole thing.


Feels Good Man should be required viewing. It is an excoriating insight into the rise of the alt-right and the underlying issues that propelled it. Complete with a wild history of meme culture, tracing its evolution all the way to the White House, Jones has captured a critical moment in our civilisation’s culture and distilled it through the experiences of one man desperate to reclaim his creation. It is a very human, very engaging story told with vigour by Arthur Jones and it’ll have you thinking about it for days after you’ve watched it.

What is your opinion of Pepe the frog and his place in culture? Let us know in the comments below.

Feels Good Man is now available to stream on Amazon.

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