Journal for Cultural Research
School of Arts and Humanities
This article offers an examination of the meme known as Pepe the Frog. In 2015, the Pepe the Frog meme was crowned ‘biggest meme of the year’ by Tumblr. However, only one year later, the Pepe character was branded as a hate symbol by the U.S. Anti-Defamation League. Having begun as an innocuous joke, the Pepe meme took on a range of other complex characteristics. One of the most important was its incorporation into alt-right politics. We discuss this incorporation, especially as it relates to Donald Trump’s deployment of the meme. We propose that the Pepe meme became such a viral phenomenon as a result of the ways in which the meme articulates a mood of Trump-era politics. In order to unpack this proposal, we situate the arguments within the theoretical context of the Darwinian Absurd, especially using the work of Kathleen Robin Hart. We then move to an analysis of the meme as it functions across the broader memescape. By using the work of Derrida and Kristeva, we analyse of the role of intertextuality in generating the Darwinian Absurd. This examination reveals the complex mechanisms through which the alt-right movement mobilises and draws cultural currency from broader Internet culture. © 2020, © 2020 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.