RIP Pepe: death of an alt-right icon

Matt Furie, the artist who created Pepe, has symbolically laid the character to rest in response to the cartoon's use by the new far right as a racist symbol. The image was officially designated a hate symbol in 2016 by the Anti-Defamation League. Furie tried to re-establish Pepe as a figure of peace in his 'Save Pepe' campaign, but was unable to scrub the frog clean of its antisemitic associations.

If it seems odd that a cartoon frog has multiple meanings, consider these famous examples that show how meaning can shift over time:

The Barber's Pole

Barbers were generally known as barber-surgeons up until the late 18th Century, and they provided a lot more than just a shave and a haircut. Barber-surgeons might set a bone-fracture, lance an abscess, pull out a rotten tooth or let your blood.

This practise would be conducted by your friendly neighbourhood barber-surgeon while you gripped a pole to make your veins easier to see and cut into. Later, the barber would hang the bloody bandages he mopped his floor with out to dry – these would twist themselves around the rod in the wind, forming the familiar barber's pole we know today.

The Pink Triangle

The pink triangle was originally conceived as a badge of shame for homosexual concentration camp inmates. By the end of the 1970s and with the publication of Heinz Heger's memoir The Men with The Pink Triangle, the inverted pink triangle was adopted as a symbol for gay rights.

Today, the triangle is second in popularity only the the Rainbow Flag as an emblem of the gay rights movement and a marble version commemorates victims at Berlin's Nolledorfplatz station.

Awareness Ribbons

In 1991, a group of artists were working on a project to raise awareness and generate support for those living with HIV. Inspired by the yellow ribbons traditionally used to welcome U.S servicemen home, they came up with a simple red ribbon looped and pinned to the wearer's lapel and a design icon was born.

Simple to make and easy to replicate, this symbol has been adopted by causes ranging from Breast Cancer Awareness to the opposition of violence against women. One of the main reasons for the ribbon's ubiquity is that it is not copyrighted: the artists believed it was important that the ribbon be used as a consciousness-raising symbol, not as a trademark or commercial instrument.

Is this symbol on the turn?

Although "far from being irreversibly co-opted", the OK symbol or 'air pinch with thumb and forefinger' is becoming increasingly connected with the alt-right. One of Trump's most recognised hand gestures, the association of the sign with white supremacy may relate to a version of 'Smug Pepe' where he can be seen looking remarkably Trump-like.

Interestingly, although most Americans and Brits recognise this symbol as a positive gesture, in some European countries it means that the person you direct it at is a 'zero'. Moreover, in some Mediterranean countries and parts of South America, it indicates an anus.

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