The internet is a vast, ever-evolving landscape, home to many phenomena, none perhaps as pervasive or as controversial as memes. One such meme, Pepe the Frog, has traveled a particularly tumultuous path, finding itself in the spotlight for both negative and positive reasons. More recently, it has been thrust into the limelight due to its association with cryptocurrencies and non-fungible tokens (NFTs). But has this recent foray into blockchain technology truly saved Pepe, or merely added another layer to its complex narrative?
The Birth of Pepe
Pepe the Frog was born in 2005, as a character in Matt Furie’s comic series ‘Boy’s Club’. This laid-back amphibian was no different from any other comic character. However, by the late 2000s, Pepe had been adopted by the internet as a popular meme, often accompanied by the phrase “feels good man.”
Over time, the Pepe meme diversified. Variations appeared, each expressing a different emotion, but the most prevalent was the so-called “sad frog meme,” a melancholy Pepe that became a common sight on internet message boards.
However, in the mid-2010s, Pepe took a dark turn. It was co-opted by online hate groups and far-right activists, becoming a symbol of discrimination and divisiveness. This was to the consternation of Furie, a liberal and outspoken critic of Donald Trump, who saw his creation being used by Trump supporters during the 2016 U.S. Presidential election. In 2016, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) even added Pepe to its database of hate symbols, sparking Furie to launch a “Save Pepe” campaign. Despite his efforts, the friendly frog had become a symbol of controversy.
From Controversy to Crypto
In the wake of this controversy, an anonymous group of developers saw an opportunity. They used non-fungible tokens (NFTs) – unique digital assets stored on a blockchain – to create “PepeCash” and “Rare Pepes”. These tokens depicted Pepe in various scenarios, and were sold as collectibles.
A New Controversy: Coinbase and the ‘Hate Symbol’ Label
Just when it seemed like Pepe might have found some respite in the world of crypto, a new controversy emerged. On May 10, Coinbase, a prominent cryptocurrency exchange, sent out an email to its customers describing Pepe as a “hate symbol” co-opted by alt-right groups. This description was based on a 2016 decision by the Anti-Defamation League to include Pepe in its database of online hate symbols.
The email drew immediate backlash from the PEPE memecoin community. Prominent crypto influencer Borovik.eth shared the newsletter with his 96,000 followers, sparking widespread outrage. Fans and holders of the frog-themed memecoin demanded an apology from Coinbase, with some users even advocating for a boycott of the crypto exchange, leading to the trending hashtag: “#deletecoinbase”.
This controversy escalated when Pseudonymous Twitter user and solidity developer Kenobi declared that Pepe is not a symbol of hate and that he would be moving funds to the United States-based crypto exchange Gemini as a result.
Interestingly, while the controversy raged, the price of Pepe fell 2.6% following news of Coinbase’s description circulating on Twitter. At the time of publication, Pepe was trading for a price of $0.00000184, down 10.4% in the last 24 hours, according to data from CoinGecko.
Coinbase has yet to make any indication of whether it intends to list the Pepe token on its exchange. The exchange’s spokesperson said they had “nothing further to add” in response to the controversy. Meanwhile, Gemini, another major crypto exchange, listed the memecoin for trading, describing the token in more neutral terms.
This latest incident underscores the complex nature of Pepe’s journey. Even as the memecoin community seeks to reclaim the symbol from its controversial past, others continue to associate it with hate and division.
Redemption or Just Another Chapter?
For some, this move represented an attempt to reclaim Pepe from its negative connotations and restore its original, innocuous meaning. The Rare Pepe NFTs gained popularity, attracting a community of enthusiasts who saw value in these digital collectibles. Even Furie embraced this shift, releasing official Pepe NFTs in 2021.
However, not everyone agrees that this move fully disassociates Pepe from its controversial past. Some argue that the layers of internet irony and the often inscrutable world of crypto make it difficult to separate this new incarnation of Pepe from its previous uses.
The story of Pepe is undeniably a complex one. It highlights the power of the internet to shape and reshape symbols, and the potential of technologies like blockchain to influence these narratives. Pepe’s journey from comic character to controversial symbol, and then to a crypto collectible, serves as a mirror reflecting our ever-changing digital culture.
But the question remains: Has the world of cryptocurrencies and NFTs truly saved Pepe, or just written another chapter in its contentious history? As Pepe continues to evolve, the answer to this question will likely be just as dynamic.
What do you think? Has the world of cryptocurrencies and NFTs truly saved Pepe, or just written another chapter in its contentious history? As the saga of Pepe continues to evolve, the answer to this question remains as dynamic and elusive as the meme itself. We’d love to hear your thoughts.
Is Pepe a symbol of the alt-right or a just a meme? I have my opinions but I would love yours. Pls vote. Like and rt.
— Mal | BAYC 5362 (@mal_nft) May 11, 2023