Symbols of power, oppression, and hate have a long and sordid history. Germany’s Nazi swastika, Russia’s hammer and sickle, and Japan’s rising sun, branded three of the world’s most brutal regimes.
Enter a more recent symbol known as Pepe the frog. Created by comic book artist Matt Furie in 2005, its popularity grew as an internet meme on 4chan and the character’s image was appropriated as a symbol of the alt-right movement. In 2016, the Anti-Defamation League, an organization opposed to antisemitism, added Pepe to its hate symbol database.
As a result, it was surprising to see Pepe adopted by Hong Kong’s pro-democracy activists in 2019 as a symbol of liberty and resistance to police brutality. When asked about the amphibian’s link to the alt-right, most protestors were confused and simply viewed the frog as a symbol of youth. So is it a symbol of hate or not? Can a negative symbol transform its meaning over time? Attorney Brittan Heller explores the fluid nature of symbols in today’s fast-moving world in an excellent article in the New York Times.
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