Belmont University Research Symposium (BURS)
Theology and Christian Ministry, College of
BURS Faculty Advisor
The internet meme Pepe the Frog is an excellent avenue for exploring the relationship between post-truth politics, new media, and viral ideas. While memes as conceptualized by Richard Dawkins are essentially timeless components of human society, internet memes as exemplified by the hijacking of Pepe the Frog by the Alt-Right and the Trump campaign are a novel force with uniquely dark implications for liberal democracy. In this study, I attempt a leftist analysis of the best thinking about Post-Truth Trump-era politics and the communication tactics of the Alt-Right, which suggests that some of the same cultural and material forces that propelled Trump to office have also directly caused more people to turn to anti-semitic, fascist, and white nationalist ideologies. Such radicalizations are accomplished mainly through the use of disingenuously ostensibly ironic rhetoric, humor targeting the hypocrisy of neoliberals, veiled symbolism, and individual anonymity. Tracing the history of the Pepe meme, this becomes tragically apparent. Memes have become the medium for this message, and despite the electoral defeat of Donald Trump, the post-truth train is not slowing down. Memes are a ubiquitous force for unity on the contemporary Right in a way that is not yet true for the Left. Much like the cleanup after each economic boom-bust cycle, the post-Trump ‘return to normal’ of the Biden presidency cannot be enough to divert America’s stage of cultural hyperreality and Capitalist Realism from further decline towards fascism. The Left needs an accurate material story to be
represented in the signs of the times, lest we cede the discourse to bad actors on the margins. This study concludes that political organizing for the preservation of democracy (let alone, progressive values) must consider strategies that embrace this new technology of internet memes and the new media through which they proliferate.
Webb, Jaq, "The Epic Journey of Pepe The Frog: A Study In Post-Truth" (2022). Belmont University Research Symposium (BURS). 119.
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