Why is The Mainstream Media Labeling Stale Memes “Hate Symbols?”

Look, I’m not usually the political type. This election has been more entertaining than most -- I'll give it that. The candidates worth voting for are out of the race or won’t win a single state. Both front-running candidates have come out against freedom of information, encryption, and private online communication, and advocated for equally distasteful things, so any skin I had in the game is long gone at this point. I’m still voting, mind you, just not for a winner. Truth be told, I was on the fence about bothering with the whole ordeal until the ADL made Japanese cartoon characters and an image of a frog from an old comic a hate symbol, and college campuses started banning material containing photographs of an infamously slain great ape.

My choices are between a vaccine truther and a man that would be wearing a fedora and buying small anime figurines had he been born any later, but I’ve decided to take my chances. Why? The popular choices are perpetuating garbage that should have stopped polluting my social media feeds months ago, instead of treating the race to become the leader of the free world with the gravity the position necessitates.

For those not in the know, the Anti-Defamation League has dubbed Pepe the Frog, dated french comic strip character, a hate symbol, motivated by its pervasive use in the dumpster fire that is social media politics. Similarly, the mere mention of Harambe, late captive Cincinatti gorilla, can lead to a shitfit about who should be president and what moral frameworks are acceptable in the right (read: wrong) company. Sure, it’s irritating, and for sane people it helps inform decisions about who to avoid socially in meatspace, but attempting to class Pepe in the same league as Nazi propaganda and Klan cross-burnings is nothing short of a travesty. I would go as far as to say it cheapens the suffering of many millions of oppressed people.

This newest development in American Politics outlines the true absurdity of our choice in the election. Trump is supported by people of the intellectual caliber needed to find stale memes compelling, and Clinton is supported by an infrastructure so out of touch with humor and the human condition that it believes labeling a cartoon frog a hate symbol, or a gorilla social taboo will somehow sway the opinion of said stale-meme-lovers and sane moderates.

News Flash: internet memes are propagated and originate in places that socially maladjusted people congregate. If something is taboo, they flock to it far more than if it previously weren’t, for the same reason Rappers use racial slurs and bad language: they want to signal as edgy and different. Pepe the frog has not lost any steam since being conflated with actual symbols of evil. In fact, it probably revitalized the image boards and forums that started shitting out images of him in the first place. This move was not only completely misguided, but had and will continue to have the opposite of the desired effect.

The ADL tried to kill an idea. You can’t kill an idea, especially if that idea is completely harmless and has mass appeal. Memes propagate because they are entertaining to large numbers of people, and I firmly believe the absolutely titanic number of people who have saved, shared and discussed badly drawn frog pictures online are not Goose-Stepping-Cross-Burners. If they were, shoulder pads would be in, white would be fashionable after labor day, and my street would be far better lit at night.

Never mind that dozens of popular internet images and characters in anime exist that are arguably very racist and hateful (Popo from DBZ anyone?), Pepe has become a sort of populist, public domain branding, there are products everywhere sporting the frog, from clothing to coffee table books. Fact: There are people, as with any wildly popular product, platform, or brand, that like Pepe and harbor hateful ideas. Also a fact: This will never make those things racist or wrong in any other way. Imagine if Trump came out tomorrow and called iPads and Vaporwave deplorable because he saw someone managing a Neo-Nazi Twitter account from their tablet while wearing a Macintosh 420 T-shirt and Windows 95 bucket hat. Ridiculous, right? Right.

Anyway, vote any way you want, it’s your life. But take these concepts away from this election if nothing else: Pepe isn’t a hate symbol, the ADL is about as credible as the average Pepe shit poster for saying that it is, people are often too easily entertained, and remember your sense of humor when talking to people of differing opinions. I’m not very outspoken about my political views because I know no one wants to hear that garbage, but I don’t think it’s too much to ask that 4chan remains on the outskirts of mainstream politics. Please don’t prove me wrong.

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