Our story tells the very strange and unlikely journey of this comic book character becoming an Internet meme that was wildly popular and then ultimately becoming sort of a propaganda sort of tool for the. All right. And officially designated a hate symbol by the Anti Defamation League in late 2016. And the story is kind of twofold. It's the story of Matt Fury, who created this with no ill intent. Obviously, it becoming a meme and then a hate symbol had nothing to do with him.
And then the other part of the story is about how trolling moved off of message boards and into mainstream politics, because Pepé was really used as basically a tool for trolls. And really, that is this watershed moment that happens in 2015, where there's in the span of two weeks, you have a mass shooting at the Umpqua Community College in Oregon, which still today is the deadliest mass shooting in Oregon history. And on 4chan, someone posted the day before the shooting a kind of warning, don't come to the school, my 4chan friends, whatever.
And then it had at the bottom it was an image of Pepé holding a handgun. And then the next day the shooting happened. And then that was sort of the first time that Pepé really made it into mainstream news. Yeah. And then two weeks later, we had this moment where Donald Trump retweeted an image of himself drawn as smug Pepé so his pepé with like the yellow hair standing behind the sort of podium as if he was at a press conference in the Oval Office or in the White House.
There was a wink. It was sort of like his a precursor to the kind of stand back and stand by comment. Right. It was a very deliberate use of a meme that was trying to activate a certain group online who they knew was, you know, starting to gain momentum as a support base for them. The moment that Trump tweets that smug PEPY, I think is sort of like the harbinger for this moment that we're still kind of trying to make sense of at this point.
But if anything like the film is really a story about how these Internet areality is folded into real life and how we're still trying to make sense of what is up and down, that's Arthur Jones and Giorgio Angelini. And this is the retro podcast. The Rich Roll podcast. Hey, everybody, welcome to the podcast. Quick reminder, this is the last week to save on our planet our meal planner. So if you would like access to thousands of amazing plant based recipes customized to your preferences, if you would like the groceries to prepare said recipes automatically delivered to your door, plus tons more bells and whistles, all for just a dollar fifty a week, then act now before midnight, January 31st by going to meals.
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So to reserve your copy, go to Rich Roll Dotcom Slash v.C. OK, my guests today are Arthur Jones and Giorgio Angelini. They together are the dynamic filmmaking duo behind the documentary Feels Good Man, which premiered at last year's Sundance, where it picked up the US documentary Special Jury Award for Emerging Filmmaker. And on the surface, this is a film about how Pepe the Frog, this essentially cartoon character from a relatively obscure comic book, morphed into one of the world's most popular Meems and later, a symbol of hate and avatar of chaos, a lover for radicalization.
And it's a story of how its creator, Matt Furi, goes on this journey to reclaim his creation. But beneath the surface, this is really a film about artistic agency. It's sort of a sociological excavation of how culture spreads from mind to mind. It's also about how a meme incited a regressive Internet subculture that ended up shifting the social and political landscape, fomenting chaos and violence, and in this case, ultimately tipping a presidential election. It's an absolutely insane ride.
Definitely one of my favorite documentaries of the year. And this conversation is absolutely wild and it's coming up in a few.
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Feels good, man. Many of you likely heard Adam Skolnick and I discussed this documentary several weeks back. And I left that conversation wanting to better understand and learn more about the film, the ideas it presents, what it says about our current reality and what it means for our culture moving forward. So that's what we're doing today.
This is me, Arthur Jones and Giorgio Angelini.
Feels good, man. Welcome, gentlemen. I'm super happy to have you guys here today, very happy to be here. Thank you. I love the movie. I truly think it's one of the best documentaries of the year. So it's exciting to break it down with you guys today.
And I think first we should we should kind of synopsize it for people that have not seen the movie. So I guess I can allow you guys. Sure. The opportunity to tell us a little bit about the movie. You'd think after, like, months of explaining this would be really good at it. But it's always very nerve wracking to be like, what does this movie actually about it really did?
Well, it's about so many things. So it's hard to, like, nail down specifically what it's about.
I mean, there's things that it's about on the surface. But what the what the movie is really about is what's going on beneath that veneer of what's happening specifically with Pepe the Frog. Exactly. Yeah.
And I mean, I think it's that complexity that drew us to the story initially. But, you know, the inciting incident for the movie is a pretty simple and kind of weird thing. It's a single panel of an obscure comic book called Boys Club. And there's this one panel in which Pepé the Frog, which is this anthropomorphic anthropomorphic stone green frog character that if you haven't seen Pepé the Frog, you just stop the podcast and Google it, really go away and then immediately come back, close that tab, you know, come back in two weeks.
Yeah. You finally wrap your head around it. Exactly. Is going after you've taken a disinfectant shower and then come back to the.
But so there's this one panel of this comic that's done by Matt Fury, who's the subject of our documentary. And in this panel, Pepé is saying, feels good, man. And it's this one single image of Pepé that was cut and paste out of that image and then became this like viral phenomenon globally. And our story tells the very like strange and unlikely journey of this comic book character becoming an Internet meme that was wildly popular and then ultimately becoming sort of a tool and a propaganda sort of tool for the.
All right. And officially designated a hate symbol by the Anti Defamation League in late 2016. And the story is kind of twofold. It's the story of Matt Fury, who created this with no ill intent. Obviously, it becoming a meme and then a hate symbol had nothing to do with him.
And it's the story of him sort of realizing that and then dealing with it in the ways that he felt were correct to him. And then the other part of the story is about how trolling moved off of message boards and into mainstream politics, because Pepé was really used as basically a tool for trolls.
And so when we started making the film, we realized that this could be like a really unique story, because the way that Pepé was sort of like taken from Matt was a way that we felt like a lot of viewers would potentially see consensus. Reality is sort of being stolen from them in the attention economy. Right. And so it was something that also myself as a cartoonist was excited to just have a movie that talked about cartoons seriously. Right. You know, in the way that, like, cartoons carry all of this kind of like visual baggage to them, that they're that they are these things that are like intellectually sticky, that people often sort of dismiss.
But, you know, they're important and potent. And stay with us for decades. And Pepé, was this, I don't know, emotionally flexible avatar that people were using.
And speaking of cartoons, seriously and as important as they are, the the panel in which Pepi's says feels good man is in response to his friends making fun of them for peeing with his pants around his ankles. Right.
So it's perhaps like the most benign innocence, you know, ridiculous thing ever.
And the idea that that image could get co-opted and evolve over time into such a pernicious icon of regressive culture is baffling.
Right. And I just remember personally, the first time I came across Pepé the Frog late in the game was just seeing that that that emoji popping up on people's Twitter profiles and being used in posts that were very much in the. All right.
Bent and being confused, like, why is this frog being aligned with this particular political perspective, doing a little bit of research into it, but still not really grokking what exactly was going on?
And the story that you tell is just so much more astounding and exasperating than you could possibly imagine.
Yeah, and I think that's that's sort of how I understood Pepé at the beginning. Like, I had spent a lot of time on Reddit in the early days and like was familiar certainly with Pepé as a meme. But when Arthur. Told me that he was starting this project like I it came from a relationship that he personally had with Matt and so, like, I felt kind of totally embarrassed that I didn't know anything about the back story. But like in those first early conversations, it was just very clear that this was such an incredible opportunity to tell at least what I find like to be the most interesting kind of documentaries that are about something on its face, very specific and eccentric and strange, but really speak to like a broader cultural situation, right?
Yeah, in the broadest sense, it's about how about how information travels and shapes culture right through the lens of this one specific image.
But, you know, the idea of the meme, you know, as it's as it's most broadly defined and I love this woman that you have on who, you know, the color with all the crazy hair and everything like that. She's a character, right.
And she's into like the paranormal and all this crazy stuff. But the idea that the idea of the meme harkening back to Richard Dawkins in this book that he wrote that there are genes that influence human behavior and its means that influence cultural behavior and evolve over time to shape not just political philosophy and ideology, but cultural identity and everything that gets packed into that, like the power of that cannot be overstated. And yet we kind of think of Meems as a very, you know, kind of casual temporal thing.
Oh, yeah. We're just beginning to understand, like, the true. Grotesque potential things can do both to like coalesce political bodies, but also be deployed as political propaganda. There's just so much embedded within the way images operate on the Internet. Yeah, this is definitely at its core. The film is like really a media studies or media literacy project, right?
Yeah, kind of in the back of my head when we were starting it two, I was observing how my father, like I grew up in rural Missouri and a very conservative family. Angelical, right? Yeah. Evangelical family, Southern Baptists.
And my dad had been like a Bob Dole supporter. He'd been like kind of a family values conservative. And he's a very, like, moral guy, like he's never had a beer cigarette. You know, he's someone that really walks the walk. And I would have thought that he would have been shocked and horrified by Trump. I would have thought that he would have found Trump's morals to be reprehensible. And I was surprised that all of a sudden he was really kind of completely enamored with Trump.
And I was also surprised how he just got an iPhone and wouldn't stop staring at it. He was using the iPhone like a teenage girl, like he was just scrolling constantly the Fox News media feed.
And it was something that I was kind of trying to, like, think about and deal with. And even though none of that is like in the film specifically, that was the stuff that I was thinking about as we were beginning to make the film. How can we have this story that's about these? For me, it was kind of like this twin passion of like cartoons and iconography and then also kind of trying to decode what is going on in in the country.
Right. And so, you know, those were the conversations that Giorgio and I were having about in the beginning. And we thought Pepé was just such just an amazing vehicle for this discussion, because ultimately we can make a movie about this hilarious, stoned, weird frog and then we can sort of like within all of that, have all of this like really kind of important informational stuff that is pointing towards a seismic shift in culture. Social media is changing culture in a way that we are just beginning to understand, you know, feels good.
Man is like a cave painting at the beginning of a new era. Right.
You know, and I think it's just like the way the Internet is kind of like downloading our psyches into the machine is something we have to be aware of. And Pepé is like a way in which we can kind of like talk about it. It doesn't feel like overly intellectualized. That doesn't feel like, you know, too important. It's still this kind of like weird frog. Right.
And yeah, it was just something that we just became completely obsessed with over the two and a half years we were making it.
It also underscores just how strange the whole thing is, because, Pepé, is this bizarre, you know, figure it's like it's this amazing entry point to explore a very serious subject with this veneer of kind of lightness at the same time.
So you are there. Your background is as a cartoonist, you're like, yeah, and graphic designer. So you were friends with Matt.
Like, take us back to I want to talk about Matt a little bit like and the impetus for the film. Sure.
You know, at the outset let's go back to the beginning is I bought his comic book boy's club at Quimby's Bookstore in Chicago, and that's an independent bookstore.
And it was a pretty obscure comic. It's not a comic book store that you would buy like a Spider-Man, you know, an issue of Spider-Man. Right. This was more of like a, you know, bespoke kind of indie store. And I thought his comic was really funny and I really liked it. And it had stayed with me for several years, just kind of like in the back of my head. So when I saw Pepé start to pop up on the Internet, I found it baffling.
I wondered if the people who are using it had any knowledge of its context or the comic.
And then I met Matt when I moved to California through some mutual friends. He was friends with my girlfriend, Carrie McGlocklin, who's a coproducer on the film. And actually some of the archival footage used and feels good man was stuff that she had shot. And we took a hike to a hot springs that took two days. We hiked out like ten or 12 miles with a group of friends. We stayed at a hot springs overnight and then we like hiked back.
And it was something that Matt and I just bonded. We bonded over cartoons. We bonded over the things that we were most excited about. And then we started to run into each other around Los Angeles. And when I ran to him, I would try to figure out ways to talk about Pepé a little bit because I'd see him in the news. I'm like, what do you think about this?
And I could tell that Matt's opinion about it was still forming. It was something where initially I think he just wanted to, like, ignore it. And he just figured this was just kind of like part of the Internet that he had nothing to do with. And then as it started to get weirder and weirder, he just kind of as a friend, just asked me for help.
He could see that I was like maybe thinking about this a lot and that he trusted me. And so initially we thought. About trying to produce like a cartoon and the cartoon would be sort of an updating a boy's club, it would be we would take that as sort of the initial source material. And then we would tell sort of like Alice in Wonderland kind of story where people get sucked out of the comic book and then into this, like, kind of dystopian existence.
And he has to find his way back home.
Right. And then we pitch that around Los Angeles. And surprisingly, no one wants to start in the Pabey evolution.
This is take place. This is like 2015 fifteen. So. Yeah, yeah. So it's insane at this. Yeah. It was twenty sixteen.
It was a little bit insane for us to do it for sure. Right. Just because you have to realize some some people thought Matt was somehow like a member of the alt.
Right. Right. They would see his comics course and they would just all of a sudden be like, oh no, no, no, we can't go there.
And that's the thing that's baffling about the ADL stuff.
When when Pepé gets listed as a symbol of hate speech, they put his name alongside it, which was confusing because then it really did align him with that.
And that had to be unbelievably painful for him. But couldn't they just get rid of the reference to him personally?
They've rewritten to have the entry a number of times. And, you know, the ADL has you know, we've talked to them at various points during the making of the film, and they've been pretty generous with us.
I think they were just kind of trying to do what they felt was best in the moment and did not think about the repercussions. I think the issues Matt had with others, they just didn't reach out to tell him that this was about to happen.
And all of a sudden, Matt wakes up one day and he's a news item and he is obviously, like, horrified that his name was attached to this.
And also, it's just like he's trying to make he's trying to eek his career out, basically as an independent cartoonist.
And all of a sudden, if you're the guy that popularized the. All right.
You know, if that's what people are. Yeah, you're radioactive. Completely, completely.
And so, you know, that was another motivation for us wanting to make the film is because I just realized that almost no one knew Matt's story. They did not understand where they came from.
And we thought that, like, if people understood the true context for the character in the back story, that we would basically be able to like, you know, we've talked talked about before is like kind of like canonise Pepé.
So at least people would know that if they see a meme of Pepé, that's not the original version, because there's been a lot of cartoons that have been remixed, redrawn in really hateful ways, like there's a lot of like racist SpongeBob Internet.
But the difference is that, yeah, the difference is that there's a huge studio that created it and everybody has a prior context for that. But Boy's club was this hidden little thing that almost nobody knew about. So they didn't have that history to contextualize the whole thing.
No, I mean, it's kind of remarkable if you look back on it, as you know, the full totality of the story, like Matt creates Pepé, what, in twenty twenty six. Yeah. And I don't have the numbers, but I would guess that Pepé is probably like in the top ten most recognizable cartoon images across the world, and it has nothing to do with like a company just, you know, pumping billions of dollars into it as a brand.
It's just purely in the power of Mat's initial image and its ability to have, like, connected with a particular audience online and just grown from there and, you know, dimension like it started off innocently and it really metastasized into something much different. But like. In a sense, the film was trying to reverse engineer that context, that in on the Internet, in the absence of that context, like the hive mind of the Internet, just kind of injected its own narrative into bebé.
And so I think we're happy to see that in the release of the film. It's kind of operated just as we would have hoped that like it's really that's all that's ever really wanted to do is to tell the story, not to like. I think sometimes he gets castigated by certain trolls online for like being naive about wanting to, like, take back Pepé. I don't think there's not an interest in taking it back. It's just telling a story, right?
Yeah. I mean, there is a there is a narrative that he was somewhat naive in thinking initially that, you know, it would just go away until it gets so out of control that he's, you know, realized that he's got to step in and do something.
So the underlying theme is really this journey from passivity to participation on behalf of Matt specifically, but also on behalf of, you know, the 4chan community and all these other people who become activated to participate in the political process in a way that previously, you know, didn't didn't appeal to them because of feeling disenfranchised or whatever. So that's the real power, that kind of engine beneath the whole thing that created this metastasised, you know, icon and also, you know, the result of the 2016 election in so many ways.
I mean, that sort of alone in that experience. Right. There are really many other artists that have had to go through what he's gone through. And so he's really had to make up the game plan along the way. And so as documentary filmmakers, it was really a gift to be able to capture that sort of coming off the proverbial couch moment happening in real time to really track someone, have to confront something that they thought would just go away on its own and really feel like they're kind of this reluctant hero.
And that, as filmmakers was really potentially powerful, because I think for a lot of Americans, they might see themselves in him a bit like in the way that his artwork was taken away from them. They're yeah. Like Arthur just mentioned, like their sense of. Making sense of the world of crime had been taken away. Yeah, I mean, you see this guy, you know, this expectation that he's going to hire a lawyer the instant he finds out that Pepé is, you know, being used in a way that he didn't intend is preposterous.
It's like this is a you know, he's a very sensitive, you know, artist. Seems like a really sweet guy. Like, that's just not the kind of guy who's going to do that stuff costs money, you know.
Yeah, yeah, exactly. You know, so a lot of money in a weird way.
It had to get as bad as it got and nobody could have predicted that anyway. Exactly.
So I think it's I understand why people might consider that naive, but I think it's important to point out that, like, obviously this has never happened before and Pepé has outlived a lot of the platforms that was even popular on things on the Internet. Do disappear and Pepé, for whatever reason, has stuck around now for more than a decade.
And so I think Matt initially thinking that it would go away the same way MySpace and Friendster did, made sense.
And then also it's kind of important to point out we documented the films that Matt was a new father when all of this was happening.
He was a lot more concerned with providing for his family and changing diapers than necessarily taking on the. All right. Right.
And so he just kind of didn't have, like, the emotional or financial bandwidth to deal with it. And so, you know, I think he's in the film. He realized at a certain point that this obviously had to he had to use copyright because it was kind of the only tool that he had.
But before that, he tried initially to reach out to his artistic community to remix and read kind of meme pepé in a positive way.
And I think that's the moment that people often would say Matt was naive. But I think Matt knew that going into it.
And it was a way for him basically just to reach out to his community in that moment and say, like, hey, I need help. Yeah. You know, can you help me?
And it was a way for him to talk to his friends about it and then for them to make artwork about it.
And it was like a very earnest thing. Yeah. And ultimately, something like 500 kind, loving people emerged from that. But, you know, that's a drop in the sea of, you know, hundreds of millions of of, you know, pernicious versions of that. There's that scene near the end where he's in that like it looks like kind of a think tank situation in San Francisco with all these data scientists. And they're analyzing hate speech on the Internet.
And he says there's like 100 million that this is by far the most. Yeah, it's like, yeah, there's no way that you can he's like, I wish you luck with that.
But, you know, it's basically like, you know, this is this is not the way forward in terms of, like, shifting that perspective.
But it's a shame that, like, it had to get to a point that it reached such a fever pitch that this very large and powerful legal institution that Wilmer Hale Lewis, Tom and Stephanie Lynn were able to come help Matt pro bono. Right. Like it had to get to a point at which a law firm could see a kind of greater social good and donating their time to help him. And without that, I mean, I don't know where he would be.
And it was really like I don't know. It's bears mentioning to you that there was this break point for Matt where. Well, I guess now. No longer assistant principal of a middle school in Texas had published this children's book that had once again co-opted Pepé, but in the context of like a pretty racist. Yeah, that's the the the bridge too far.
He really got activated after that.
Yeah. I mean, it was propaganda directed at four and five year olds.
And, you know, in the in the movie we also show that Mad as a children's book author and illustrator. And I think he found the fact that this propaganda was sort of being pointed at such a young audience as he found to be really disturbing. And it was also just easily accessible on Amazon. It wasn't just as simple as like asking an Amazon to take down the book. Mm hmm. And so, you know, we've even noticed that, like, you know, there's all this bootleg Pepé stuff that's on Amazon and it's actually quite hard to get them to take it down.
Yeah. You know, none of this is like just an easy process. It takes a lot of time and a lot of intentionality. And so he realized that that was kind of the moment that he needed just to seek out help. And yeah, luckily he found this law firm that was willing to do it.
And they continue to kind of fight for Pepé in various kind of ways now.
I love the hero shot of the lawyers coming into the conference room. I got a standing ovation. Yeah.
Yeah, that was yeah. That was an amazing moment.
Sundance Lewis. So the Lewis, the main lawyer there, was sitting just down the road at Sundance. And when the hero shot happens, like what I saw his life like reach over and like, squeeze. Squeeze. Yeah, yeah there was.
But yeah, it was a very validating moment, right. To have like this audience.
Yeah. Because people already in the movie for something to happen. Right.
Because we do sort of like well because it goes to such a dark and despairing place, you know. And I was concerned about that. I was like, how are you going around this out? Like, I wasn't aware of how it ended and that was quite uplifting and interesting. And maybe we should we should leave that for audiences to discuss themselves. But but it it does. And on a very hopeful note.
But I think what I'd like to do is walk through the a little bit of timeline in the evolution of Pepé so that people can, you know, wrap their heads or share my share of what's happened. I mean, it basically begins, as you said, with him uploading a panel from his comic book to MySpace.
It then seems to get adopted by the kind of fitness subculture on the Internet who start saying feel feels good man after their workouts, which is an innocent and kind of fun thing.
And were you able to actually connect the dots from that back to Matt?
Well, I mean, nothing on the Internet is a straight line sort of all spread out.
I mean, you know, we were we weren't able to connect things back to like certain people or certain sort of moments on things.
But it did seem like there were a few message boards that one one was about mushrooms. And that kind of made sense. And then there was another one that was bodybuilding.com message board. And for whatever reason, that message board has always had a relationship to the fit message board on 4chan. Fit is often kind of a board that will introduce like young guys to 4chan because it's guys who are like maybe like 13 or 14 and they're looking to just, you know, kind of like shape up a little bit.
So they'll go to fit and they'll sort of like, you know, talk to other young guys about how to lose weight, how to gain muscle, how to basically just become men in the world.
And so it seemed like that was probably the moment that Pepé passed from the bodybuilding forum in the Fortunata into the 4chan community, where we're talking about this like covid tracing like.
Oh, yeah. Well, you know, to extend the evolutionary analogy, that's like, you know, the the the water-borne animal finally climbing up the ladder.
You know, it's like a big leap in in how this thing ends up evolving.
Well, I mean, there isn't an emotionally linear line. I mean, I think you can correlate a lot of this, you know. The inroad is through bodybuilding.com, but it like the metastasise happens really in like understanding the kinds of people who are coming to those kinds of forums. Right. Like there's, of course, a huge number of people who are there just to seek out information. But then there's also like this. Kind of other maybe more pernicious cultural problem, which is of men who feel like they've been scorned specifically by women who are coming onto these boards to kind of share a struggle and feel like they have to improve their bodies and kind of like who kind of see the world and maybe binary ways and feel like that the only way that they compete is through like improving themselves physically.
And you start to really see how like the marrying of the image of people and the sort of catchphrase that feels good man. And then these kind of nascent emotional problems all kind of coalesce at that moment, right?
Yeah. And on 4chan, there's I mean, it's a lot of different message boards and each one of them kind of have their own little communities attached to them. But there's one message board in particular named R9 K, and this is a place where a lot of guys would just go basically to kind of like tell a story about their rejection. They would go there to talk about how maybe a girl didn't sit next to them in the cafeteria or about how, you know, they'd had a one night stand and then they felt like rejected afterwards.
And Pepé became the kind of like Avatar for that. And it's an anonymous place. People don't use their faces or names. And so Pepé became a stand in for that. And so he went from the feels good man Frogh to the feel sad man frog, the symbol of rejection. And so we used Pepé basically as this like emotional through line to tell the story. And as Pepé got angrier, the country was getting angrier. You know, the country was becoming a place where, you know, outside of the mainstream media, there was this aggrievement that was becoming slightly irrational.
And so we traced Pepé from the feel sad frog to the feels bad frog to the mad frog, to the smug frog to Donald Trump. But I know that sounds like a silly narrative device, but it was powerful for us because ultimately we're trying to make a film that tells this emotional journey. And the thing that's interesting about Pepé is how people felt attached to the character. This jpeg really meant something to people. And when they started to see the mainstream using it, it felt like a personal affront.
They were like, that's our thing, right? Like, how dare you use our thing? This has been our safe space to share it amongst ourselves. It's not for you.
And, you know, we found that to be interesting. Like, it surprised me going into it, just the connection that people were feeling towards this frog. Yeah, that was silly.
Like as a way to structure an otherwise super complicated story. It actually was soon as we discovered that parallel that became an incredibly powerful narrative device. And just like like Arthur just said, just tracking the descent of Pepé into depravity. Correlated so neatly with right, and really that is this watershed moment that happens in 2015, where there's in the span of two weeks, you have a mass shooting at the Umpqua Community College in Oregon, which still today is the deadliest mass shooting in Oregon history.
And supposedly, I mean, this did happen, but we don't know for sure if the shooter posted it. But it's in all likelihood, it seems like on 4chan, someone posted the day before the shooting a kind of warning, don't come to the school, my 4chan friends, whatever. And then it had at the bottom it was an image of Pepé holding a handgun. And then the next day the shooting happened. And then that was sort of the first time that Pepé really made it into mainstream news.
People referred to him as a Grinch like creature. Yeah, but but then two weeks later and there was a little moment of like Pepé panic, right? There were a number of colleges that were like, all right, you know, we're like we're shutting we're shutting down tomorrow because we've had this anonymous threat. It would be a pepé image holding a gun or a pepé with a ski mask. Yeah. And then two weeks later, we had this moment where Donald Trump retweeted an image of himself and it would be as Pepé.
Yes, he retreated. He retweeted an image of himself drawn as smug. Pepé So it was pepé with like the yellow hair standing behind the sort of podium, as if he was at a press conference in the Oval Office or in the White House.
And so and it seemed like the media wasn't kind of connecting the dots between those two things. Right. You'd have thought in an earlier era that would have like but unless you were steeped in 4chan culture, you wouldn't be able to decode that totally.
Exactly. And that's exactly what it was. It was a wink. It was sort of like his. A precursor to the kind of stand back and stand by comment, right? It was a very deliberate use of a meme that was trying to activate a certain group online who they knew was, you know, starting to gain momentum as a support base for them. Right. Because you have all these kind of aggrieved men online who otherwise it's kind of on its face.
It's kind of ironic because, like, there are people who presumably would get bullied a lot in high school and like here they are supporting someone who's kind of like the biggest bully of all. But for them, it's like their own bully. Right. And they share a sense of common disdain for women, people of color, PC culture specifically. And so they like rally around him. And so that moment that that Donald Trump tweets himself as smug Pepé is kind of like, yeah, you're right, it went completely under the radar.
But it's actually incredibly significant moment that really. The nature of politics and trolling just become completely intertwined because the aggrievement that's felt on unfortune, there's also kind of an entitlement to it.
People feel as though in a previous era they would have had a much different life. They would have like met a girl in high school. They would have got a job in their hometown that the sort of like social options that people have now because of the Internet means that they will be out of work and unloved for the rest of their lives. And this is sort of also happening in parallel to obviously different parts of the country, feeling as though they're being left out of the national conversation and that that growing population of the aggrieved.
Coincides with the maturation of these platforms that allow these communities to congregate and unite around these ideas, which is like, you know, that's a very kind of powerful machine that's humming in the background that's basically allowing all of this to percolate into real life totally.
I mean, you see, for example, the last Republican National Convention, I think was the first time that the party didn't put forth an actual platform. It was just if you watched it, it was just like unbridled, unmitigated anger. And it's kind of situation we have now where there is no political discernible political ideology behind it. The only way to coalesce that body is through iconography. And like Pepé, it really was became the first vehicle through which that happens.
And then I would argue, like Pepé kind of lost its usefulness and other things filled in that vacuum, whether it's like Kuhnen and who knows what it's going to be in twenty or twenty one. But these are this is kind of the world of politics and, Meems, that we're having to confront right now.
Well, the inflection point where Pepé tips from 4chan into broader Internet culture is super interesting, you know, and kind of backing backing up from that. You have this neat culture, right, that not in employment, not in education, employment or training. Right. Which is like the catch phrase for this 4chan community. They claim ownership to Pepé and this is their kind of safe space for their community. Right.
But the minute Pepé migrates outside of that and people like Nicki Minaj and Katy Perry and these sort of, you know, beauty YouTube ers are doing makeovers in the likeness of Pepé, that was the ultimate personal affront to the 4chan community. And their reaction to that, to protect this symbol was to kind of defame it themselves so that it couldn't be co-opted and used in any other context. So it didn't germinate necessarily out of a white supremacist anti-Semitic sensibility that that image was marked up in that way to prevent it from being stolen and used in a way that they didn't want it used that ultimately it ultimately becomes a stand in for that ideology.
But that's not how it originated.
Yeah, I mean, a lot of it came out of the competition between 4chan and Tumblr and Tumblr is not exact. I mean, it's another image posting site and it's a very inclusive community, at least it was at the time.
I mean, Tumblr is kind of now faded away a little bit, but it was a very, like, vibrant, extremely, you know, diverse, very feminist. And they started to use Pepé. And that was kind of the moment the 4chan was like, no, no, no, you can't go there. And so their response was actually to kind of like literally smear Pepé and shit. Like there was this moment before PEPY became a Nazi.
We don't get it into the movie, but it was just like the scatological moment where they're just like drawing the grossest weirdest versions of Pepé.
And so that wasn't politicized in that moment.
But then Pepé kind of makes its way into the politics board on 4chan, the poll board and that board was having this moment where it was getting very fashi it was getting like very fascist because he had other things like GamerGate and other sort of exacerbating events online that were really serving to radicalize people in real time. But you're right. I mean, it's like a big critique will get sometimes from 4chan people is like you guys, Normy. Idiots like Pepé was never a Nazi symbol.
The media turned him in into that. And it's like, well, yeah, I know we made the film like that. We we tend to agree with it. But you need that boy. It is also it is also the case that it is like a hate symbol for some people and that that switch that you're talking about is really important one. Right, because you have a group of people who are kind of responding to the coopting of their culture by by mainstream culture, which is fairly typical.
I mean, like in the punk movement, the same thing happened when, like, basically Wal-Mart started selling like, you know, Sex Pistols or whatever. Yeah.
But like so that's kind of innocent enough. But then you have the kind of professional racist and opportunists who see in this a kind of opportunity to take hold of this very powerful icon that obviously people care a lot about. And the kind of people that care about a lot are aggrieved young white men. And like in the history and lineage of professional racism, like it's always been about how to find these out of work, aggrieved young white men and tell them, like, where their problems are coming from and how to solve them and who to blame.
And like Pepé, was this perfect kind of flag that allowed these opportunities to identify and and kind of radicalize them. So, you know, both things are true. Bebé is not a hate symbol, but also like people were very eager to turn him into. We'll be right back. But first, we're brought to you today by Thoroughgood, gone by far, one of the best additions to myself care routine over the past year has been my therapy on June four, which is a very sturdy handheld percussive therapy device that releases deep muscle tension using a scientifically calibrated combination of depth, speed and power.
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All right, let's get back into it. When you see Trump retweeting that image of him as Pepé, you know, the immediate question that comes to mind is what is his self-awareness right around that at the time like?
Is he consciously tapped into what that represents? Is he doing it because somebody in his campaign said, yeah, you should tweet this like, where's his head at?
Well, that's what I feel like. That's the problem you have like I've got into a lot of conversations with Trump supporters, and there's always this moment where they have to acknowledge, acknowledge that Donald Trump's a little crazy.
They're like, yeah, yeah. He just does some crazy stuff sometimes.
But, you know, I know he doesn't mean it. And so, I mean, he always has this plausible deniability built into everything that he does because we all assume that he's a little like unhinged or erratic or he's up on Adderall at 2:00 in the morning or whatever it is. But we sort of are able to explain away all of the terrible stuff that he tweets, whether that's Pepé or someone yelling White Power at the Villages retirement community in Florida.
And so Pepé is another one of these, you know, plausible deniability moments where it's like we don't know. We can't understand what he thinks, you know.
But that's kind of baked into Pepé himself, right? Like, you've got the guy I forget his name, who he's like it's always shrouded as a joke. So you have that kind of deniability as well. Like, this doesn't really mean anything.
We don't intend it seriously, because it's all very, you know, kind of smug and comedic. Right.
And this, again, is like the part of the perfect storm. You kind of intimated it earlier is while these conversations are happening online, it's the rise of social media is is sort of incredibly powerful force. And what it what it serves to do in this case is like the culture of these boards is really shrouded all in sort of irony jokes and like, you know, irony poisonings, they call themselves. Right. And you're kind of trying to one up each other with who can be the most depraved.
And the way that 4chan works is a sort of reward's that kind of conversation. It's really not that dissimilar to Instagram. It just has different inputs. Right. But they're both essentially, at the end of the day, social media tools that reward a certain kind of behavior. And for Instagram, it's like, you know, posing on a yacht or whatever, that's going to kind of foment the most Fumo kind of reaction in the public. And then on 4chan, it's like who can be the most depraved?
And so that that's the edgiest. You can be the edgiest. And so, yeah, Pepé becomes like a great way to mask all of this stuff and shrouded in this idea of irony. But, you know, you start repeating the same jokes over and over again and suddenly it becomes a lot easier to believe these things to. Right.
And you mentioned at the very beginning of the conversation, this sort of moment where Frogh Twitter happened and it was this blip before Gabb popped up, where if you were someone who is into Trump, a member of the alt right, you would have a little frog emoji icon that you would put in your Twitter feed. And it was this moment that actually politics was getting commodified on Twitter, on social media. It was this moment where all of a sudden politics had a certain brand and all, you know, we are consuming these entertainment products from Fox News, from MSNBC.
This is the team, that moron. This is my brand loyalty. I'm either frog Twitter or I'm SJW Twitter or I'm Rose Twitter or whatever. And it's this sort of like taking on of this, like personal kind of branding thing that really kind of flattens out the conversation on social media.
And I think that people were responding to kind of this kind of knee jerk kind of consumerism attachment to politics that was being amplified on Twitter during that moment. And, you know, Pepé just became an easy, like, wink wink for. Right.
So on that subject of of Trump's awareness or perhaps his campaign's awareness around this trend that's percolating up from a dark corner of the Internet, you've got this guy called Matt Brainerd, who's the data chief.
He's a strategist on the on the Trump campaign.
And he was part of Corey Lewandowski staff. Right.
Like pretty high up in the campaign. And this guy's got like voter data wired. And he he's you're shaking your head like this is what I want to hear about.
Like, because he comes off as pretty tapped into, you know, how this whole thing kind of occurred and presented himself in a way that, you know, he was the chief architect of making this happen.
I think like everything that happens virally on the Internet, it's very hard to, like, take credit for things. But he's more than happy to do that. I think what I will say that was important that he brought to the film and why we wanted to talk to him was really explaining how like why memes were powerful, specifically politically, like he's the one that puts forth this really interesting idea that I think we're still needing to contend with. But the idea that means.
And politics has. The net effect of kind of democratizing political media, so if you're just a single person sitting behind your computer in Indiana and you create the right meme and the president retweeted, all of a sudden you're like at the forefront of the political conversation.
It's unbelievably empowering completely to the point that Donald Trump himself recognized that and over the last four years has hosted several events with like political memories. So, like, he's very tapped in and aware of how these narratives get built online and how to kind of take advantage of social media in that way.
Yeah, and I think what Matt understood was I mean, Matt is getting his data the same place that, like the Obama people got their data. I mean, if you've canvassed for anyone in the last decade, you know, that they basically have, like, winnowed it down to like who in the household might be a swing voter.
You know, it's like they pretty much have every single neighborhood in America locked in on who votes for who and when.
And so he recognized that there was this like very slim margin that was there for these people who were potentially open to Trump's message.
And I think that was something that he did kind of understand pretty early on that said, you know, I mean, he got he got let go of the Trump campaign when they switched to to Steve Bannon.
So, I mean, I think that some of it was just the catch. They caught the zeitgeist at the exact right moment, you know, and that was something that I don't think was like super premeditated on his part. Yeah.
You know, but he did say, you know, like no one controls Trump's Twitter feed except him. You know, like Trump is the person, you know, in control of that completely.
It's not like some group of guys that I'm sure at moments they were like, no, no, no, don't tweet that. And then there he was doing it. Right.
Well, Bannon exacerbates the whole thing. And the point is made in the movie that the whole position was that the Democratic Party is not the opposition, it's the media that's the opposition. And that becomes a very, you know, kind of powerful idea that I think, you know, allowed everything that you talk about in the movie to to be more potent and it would have been otherwise.
And he also realized that there had been this like, incredible. There'd always been this growing Republican base connected to AM radio in America.
And that's a completely factionalized and extremely angry group of reactionaries, sort of Republicans.
And it was something that I think the mainstream Republican Party always kind of viewed from a distance is like, I don't know if we want to totally go there. Like, we know those people are out there and we know that they're voting. But at the same time, we don't necessarily want to like, you know, play to the crowd. And then this is a much more banon's like, no, we completely play to the crowd. The crowd is the only thing that matters.
And so I think he just recognize that. And whether it was him just sort of knowing that, like he had this sort of army of Trump supporters listening to AM radio 24/7, or if he was just looking at the Breitbart comment section, as people have talked about as well, who knows? But he recognized this was emotion. People were coming to the rallies and they were way more passionate about Trump than Hillary Clinton. And he's like, how do we tap into this emotion?
And part of that is just galvanizing people through means, galvanizing people, through getting angry at the media, galvanizing people by telling them that they've been lied to their whole lives and they should be angry about it and their anger is justified.
And he did a pretty amazing job at leveraging that, but critically understanding also that we were in this moment that you could sort of hack the media, that the way that the clip based media economy worked and the way that Twitter and Facebook worked is if you could just kind of create these moments of reality that the pace at which media now needs to publish stuff and create clicks, you could basically manipulate your own narrative. Right. And so that's that's really the moment that that's that the moment that Trump tweets that smug PEPY, I think is sort of like the harbinger for this moment that we're still kind of trying to make sense of at this point.
But if anything like the film is really a story about how these Internet areality is folded into real life and how we're still trying to make sense of what is up and down.
Yeah. Meanwhile, the Clinton campaign did seem to be nearly as clued in as to what was going on.
And it was misstep after misstep, you know, on some level, just blithely unaware of how powerful this culture was that was sitting right beneath her feet. Yeah, that's actually like a perfect moment for for what I'm describing. Right. You have this moment where Hillary Clinton has this big political campaign event where she's going to sort of call out the alt right. For the first time and really call out Pepé. Right. Completely unrelated. A kid on 4chan happens to be attending this thing.
And he's like talking with people on the 4chan threads like, hey, I'm at this Hillary Clinton rally, what should I scream? And, you know, of course, the media is all there. And they're all like, oh, you should yell this or yell this, and then someone's like, yell Pepé like, yeah, you'll help you up. And this is all happening just on an anonymous message board. And like, it's this incredible event horizon where, like, the Internet fiction meets with real life and then becomes reality.
Right. Because what ends up happening is that he yells at it.
Exactly right. Yells Matt Bai. It gets picked up by the TV cameras.
Hillary is talking literally about the. All right. And before you even mentioned at this point and then like. An hour later, Rachel Maddow is on MSNBC talking about the moment and then like history is solidified at that point, but it all starts from like a very trolly place. Yeah.
And ninety nine point nine percent of people would see that and not know what to make of that at all. And yet it's so significant and meaningful in that community.
Totally. And it's really this moment.
They're like, yeah, politics ceases to be about kind of competing for votes through ideas and really just about controlling, like controlling, it turns out, as an incredibly powerful tool to coalesce movements like it's literally just about owning the Libs and just making people angry. And the frog is a great way to sort of.
Yeah, it's way easier thing to understand. Exactly. It's a way you don't have to intellectualize the feelings that you don't have to intellectualize the feeling of piling on someone when they're down.
Yeah. And also, Hillary had been someone who'd been the victim of trolling for decades before, like, you know, the whole, like, feminazi thing that was happening in the 90s. She'd been named, called and sort of dragged, you know, for years and years and years. And this was kind of the culmination of that.
And I think, you know, they I'm sure they had all the best of intentions and what they were trying to do. They were obviously trying to find a very convenient and easy to understand way to describe what was happening to the Republican Party. And pepé to them seemed like a very easy way to explain it, the kind of in the same way that we decided to do it, but maybe much less nuance. But what they critically misunderstood was. Well, we all need to understand about how to deal with trolling is like you can't play to the trolls, right?
This is much to the delight of people like Steve Bannon that she did that. Right, because you're just because you can just point of, oh, how ridiculous is this person? She's talking about us, like into this green frog. And it's crazy, you know? Yeah. No matter what you do, it plays into their favor. And so much of the energy has less to do with political ideology than just like let's see if we can meme this guy into the president exactly like it's it's a game of hide.
The whole thing becomes a gigantic video game of mass participation, 100 percent for sure.
Yeah. And like I think unfortunately, you know, what the past four years have borne out is like you cannot you can't build a society on that kind of cynicism that covid the things are real. The Internet is not real. Things are real. You know, it's real covid. You know, it's real is like not responding to it out of a completely grotesque, cynical, nihilistic perception of like how. Like society should operate and now we have like three thousand people.
Let's go back to 4chan and 4chan, would they would do these sort of like they would coalesced to troll someone in some way and they would talk about how they're basically like gaming reality. Yeah. You know, and it was this sort of idea that, like, we can try to, like, use the Internet to exert our will and then that will maybe that's for the lulls. But in this case, I think it was very exciting to realize, like, oh, wait a minute, we've sort of graduated to the next level of this.
We can actually like Gamma Phi, the system, control the country. And, you know, I think the way that they were sort of able to get all of these memes coming off of 4chan and then into these very, like, newly mainstream avenues on Twitter is something that was extremely potent. Critically, you had a group of people who all felt disempowered, who also felt like the Internet was theirs, that they created Internet culture. And now all of a sudden they're like, oh, this is how the media works.
We're actually in control.
We all have we have PhDs in exactly that level of disenfranchisement suddenly becomes tremendous empowerment, like talking about a minute ago, like now. And it's that it's that trajectory from passivity into being completely plugged in to.
Right and participating, not only participating actually like, you know, being almost in charge in some way of dictating results where they literally call it.
The more I mean, it starts out again, it starts off as a joke. But like, you know, it just it's cause playing. But like, ultimately, at the end of the day, if if that's all that animates your life, like, what's the difference between the joke and reality?
I mean, if the same way we we watch it again, we watch the movie again last night just to get my head around talking to you guys today and my wife, I've got two boys that are twenty four and twenty five. So they're big predators like they, they have a pretty solid sense of all this is not news to them. Right. Like they understand all this. My wife was like, I don't understand what's happening.
So it's it is like a foreign you're tapping into like some strange, you know, ancient culture that you've never been exposed to before that has its own rules and its own language and vocabulary.
You know, it's it's yeah. 4Chan is very much about self mythologising. Yeah. Does she understand it by the end of the film.
Well, she gets it, but she was still like, it's so baffling. Right, to try to wrap your head around that if you've never been introduced to those kinds of communities, how powerful they are. And that was really a big struggle creatively was trying to figure out like who is the intended audience for this film?
And then, like, once we decide that, how much how much, like, explanation do we have to give so that people can at least understand what the hell we're talking about and become engaged in the story.
Yeah, like deconstructing that and figuring out how to communicate concisely and effectively. This story must have been. Challenged, it was the right thing, it was challenging, but like dark as the story was, I mean, the collaboration was like pretty joyful. I mean, it was something where we felt like, you know, we and we watched a lot of documentaries and we started and we're like, we don't want to do that. We want to try to do something different.
Let's try to like you realizing that we had all of Matt's artwork in Pepé as a way to kind of like breathe new air into this story, because after Charlottesville, there was all this different media being put out and we just kind of wanted to make something that was like stylistically distinct and then also felt like a movie, not just like sort of a long form essay or, you know, a work of journalism. We wanted it to work like a movie.
So we have all of these like this unique material like Pepé Dies in the movie.
How are we going to how are we going to approach that? You know, is that something that we're going take seriously? Is it going to have a wink like is it going to be all of those things? And we knew that it could kind of give this film its kind of own vibration that we're pretty excited about. But, yeah, we definitely like like Giorgio is talking about, like the moment where someone yells Pepé at Hillary. Like, we tried that at a bunch of different ways.
And in the first edit we did. We just had someone walking you through the moment and a very like dry journalistic kind of way. And they're like, let's strip the voice out. Let's let the Internet tell the story. So we did that with no narration. And then it's like, well, how do we put another layer of this where we see that this information moves off of 4chan, pops into the mainstream news, pops onto YouTube, ends up on Twitter.
And it was this kind of like, oh, we're going to try to infuse these moments with as much stuff as possible, as many layers to the conversation, because we wanted the movie to feel like it had a viral intensity to it, like you had a million tabs open and you were looking at the one after another.
Right. Right, right. Yeah, definitely. You've definitely succeeded in that.
I mean, there is, you know, an intensity to it and and you have a score that's very propulsive, you know, so you're very engaged and there's a tempo to the whole thing.
But it's also this beautiful art film because the animation sequences are insane, like I mean, unbelievable.
Like what you were able to achieve with that, like, really gorgeous, beautiful work. Thank you. Yeah. Yeah.
That was so talk about like how that how you how you conceptualize that and how you figured out how to make that work narratively. That was another big thing that we talked a lot about in the beginning. We first thought about the movie. We maybe thought there would be like a lot more animation in it because we felt like maybe the story could hold a completely other sort of kind of narrative thread. And that was going to have Pepé in the boys club kind of going on their own adventure.
And we would hear them talking and they would kind of have their own character qualities. And then we very quickly realized that the movie just couldn't hold all of these ideas. The deeper we got into researching message boards and the message board culture, we just realized that if we started to insert these cartoons in it, it was going to steal away from the power of the information. And so we really need to figure out a way to kind of like have the two things worth side by side.
But the other thing we really wanted to do is make it seem like Matt's artwork had like a real sense of stage presence to it. We didn't want it to look like all the Janki, Jay Pegg's and the animated GIFs on the on the Internet. We wanted it to have like its own life.
And so that was something that initially, like, I'd never made a film before. I'd done animation on a film that Giorgio had made called it owned a Tale of Two Americas and enjoyed that process. And then I was like, all right. But this is what I can kind of like try to bring to the conversation. So the animation works in the film in two different ways. There's the world of 4chan and the motion graphics. And that was really a way for me to research the film.
Like I had to take all these 4chan posts, find them and then make them for K.
So if I'm tracing them, I'm reading 4chan, I'm down also trying to make it like one of the ugliest websites on the planet that looks cinematic, taking a Silkwood shower every night. Absolutely so.
And then the cartoon part of it, I collaborated with three amazing cartoonist Kaylan Woodrow, Jenna Caraballo and Nicole Stafford, and we really took Matt's comics as a jumping off, you know, place.
And sometimes we were just Trace's comics and make them animated. And then in other times we would really kind of like use these characters and then figure out a way to kind of like tell our own narrative.
And it was also just a way to kind of make the computer seem.
It was a way to tell feels good man in a way where the computer didn't have supremacy. Right. Like it is a cartoon. But ultimately we learned a story about how humans connect. And, you know, at the end of the movie, the hope is that we as humans can have connection to each other at the end.
And there's some spoilers will avoid. But ultimately, we're kind of returning Pepé to nature. And as the animation crew and also Giorgio co-wrote a song with Sharon Van Etten for that section that was like kind of our gift to Matt and our hope that the movie would have. You'll like this like a dystopian essay, you know, that it really had, like a heart the the closing sequence where he jumps in the water and then beautifully, like, swims up into the sun.
And did you write that song at the end? I mean, that's that's an incredible song. Yeah. Yeah.
Yeah, it was. Yeah. I mean, it's the gift of having animation be a part of this. It's also a realization that it's really fucking hard to end documentary. Yeah. Yeah, that's true. And so, like, we're like, well we have this frog and people have an emotional attachment to it. Let's create our own emotional ride for Pepé so that, like at the end there was different versions of how we were going to treat people.
But we always knew that the last thing that the audience would see would be Pepé, because our hope was if we were decent filmmakers, they would have their a newly found emotional attachment to our Pepé and that like that could produce the waterworks.
Yeah, Giorgio's very quickly, which is, you know, at the end I was like tearing up, you know, it's a very beautiful ending, but there's also a real world hopeful tone that struck at the end as well.
Yeah. I mean, look at like everything we've been talking about now is really just been about. The impact that Internet culture has had on real life and this the fact that like four years in the early Internet days, it was very clear delineation between your real life person and your online life.
And like these two things have become really blurred. And we're at a moment now where we have to decide as a society like. Which reality are we going to push forward, right? And the reality of the Internet is that it is a place, at least in its current conception, that teases out some of the worst aspects in us. Right. It's a place where you're encouraged to be as shitty as possible to one another, you know, and it's a place that, like, discourages any bit of authenticity.
And so the film, the way we wanted to and the film is a kind of stark reminder that those are choices we make. Right. Like, you don't have to engage the world in that way. And a reminder that, like, you shouldn't be shamed out of your capacity for empathy, which is kind of what social media does to you on a daily basis. Right. And so those were the kind of the emotions that we knew, the emotional truth that we knew we wanted the film to end on.
And it was just without spoiling the larger ending, like we were given a real gift in terms of Pepi's transformation that happened in real time while we were filming. That's like when you're making a documentary film, you can't plan for this kind of stuff. And it's like such an amazing gift.
Yeah, for sure.
So the film basically covers about two and a half years, right? From some point in 2017 through 2019. There's a lot of focus on on the the Trump election as well. But here we are in.
Twenty, it's about to be 20, it'll be twenty twenty one when this goes up, knowing everything that you know now as a result of making this movie and this archaeological dig that you've done on the Internet and how it works, how do you reflect on the election that we just went through and the state of the Internet currently in terms of how we're communicating, how it's being weaponized and how people are conducting themselves to either, you know, win an election or get their point across.
Yeah, I mean, the most obvious kind of parallel is Kuhnen, because in the same way, Pepé sort of started out as this joke on 4chan and then made its way into the mainstream. Kuhnen started out as a joke on 4chan. It was people sort of laughing as intelligence officers and then all of a sudden this became something that people were taking seriously.
And so, you know, the story of of all of this message board culture and trolling and stuff isn't insignificant in that kind of proves that.
But, you know, I think the story that we kind of tell in the 2016 election is how trolling went mainstream. And right now we're seeing how misinformation has really gone mainstream. And obviously there's they're connected.
But it's something that I think we're all contending with and it's something that I mean, we've talked a lot about.
We're having a moment in culture where all of the narratives that we've sort of taken to be true are eroding. This notion of American exceptionalism is something that people are having to think about in a critical way.
And that's really uncomfortable for the first time, for the first time. And so even if you and that's, you know, the idea of America being an exceptional place has always been the thing that, you know, the right wing in America has held on to is something that's sacred. And right now, through all of the protests that we're seeing, the mismanagement of covid, we're seeing that like whatever sort of like sacredness you felt towards America as being this special place is kind of something you have to question.
And people are choosing to believe in a fantasy rather than engaging with the reality. And because you're on social media and you're in these sort of siloed places where you're not talking to people with dissenting viewpoints, you're being fed kind of new things. If you're into misinformation, you're getting fed more misinformation. And also it's very hard to parse what's real and what's not.
You know, we're seeing kind of, you know, the intellectual fabric of America, road and fray. And, you know, hopefully this is Pepé. And the story of Feels Good Man is just like kind of a case study in which we can all kind of start to have conversations about this.
That's our goal, you know.
Yeah, I mean, I hope. That the film is kind of a youth culture film and certainly for people who are like under 35, they feel like it's like there's much less translation issues, like they understand implicitly what the story is about. And it feels like a youth culture movie for their for their generation. But it's been interesting to see older people's reactions to the film, because I feel like for a lot of them, they feel empowered that they finally understand what's happening in front of them in a way that felt really opaque and unclear.
But like. It's just moving forward, we just are going to have to, like, realize that we have to. I don't know, we've kind of incentivized bad faith operators and put them in charge of our our world, and you have a media that still seems to like take those bad faith operators in good faith and like that just has to stop. Right. And self-awareness around it isn't enough. That's not part of the solution. Like, we can all sit here and talk about it.
But meanwhile, it just seems like it's getting ratcheted up.
Like when you compare twenty sixteen to now it's night and day and, you know, the breakdown in our ability to effectively communicate and the distrust of information sources and the uncertainty around what's true and what's not true and the, you know, disconnection that we're now experiencing because of the pandemic, like all of these things are contributing to a denigration of the moral fabric of society. And I fear, you know, I've deep concerns about how we're going to see our way through this.
Even the people who are lording over these social media platforms are befuddled or insincere about the path forward.
Yeah, I mean, I feel like tech has to sort of come away from this, like, startup model or this kind of like boom and bust model and think about themselves more as like a public utility where there has to be different people sitting on the boards. There has to be ethicists. They have to realize that also, you know, this is affecting us here in the West, but in the global south, it's affecting people in an entirely different way.
You know, in those places where there's not as much sort of infrastructure, this stuff is also wreaking a different kind of chaos. And so, you know, obviously we start we have to have conversations where, you know, we can't have just kind of like the Silicon Valley boom and bust control the reality of seven billion people.
That's just not the way it's going to work.
But also the irony, like I've never met Mark Zuckerberg, but I think he's, you know, maybe not the most socialized person.
So they're just the idea that, like entire worlds are being defined by kind of deeply anti-social people is really problematic. But like, the way that we handle and confront these issues needs to be taken much more seriously. Like on Twitter. You know, every tweet at this point that Donald Trump puts out as a stupid little notification below. It's like but it's like being standing in front of a tidal wave, right?
It doesn't. It doesn't. It's ineffective. You just have to take him off. And and like so many of the things you talk about in the movie, it perhaps is even playing into the terms of his base, like.
Yes, that just that just energizes them. Right. To see that it's more us against them. Yeah. Yeah.
So they just have you know, you just have to take it more seriously. And, you know, I don't know to the extent that you have to produce returns, quarterly returns for your investors. Like, I just wonder at what point. I don't know. Yeah, well, the anonymous aspect of the whole thing is a big part of this story, like does 4chan exist if you can't post anonymously? Right. And there's an argument to be had that everybody who's saying anything on the Internet should get a blue check and be verified so that you can basically legitimize who these people are.
And yet, you know, Brian Fogel in here talking about the dissident the other day and how important it is for dissidents to be able to communicate from a safe place.
And that requires some level of anonymity in a place like Saudi Arabia, where 80 percent of the population is on is on Twitter. And the only bastion of free speech is Twitter because it's decentralized and can't be lorded over by the control of the kingdom.
Yeah, I used to think verification was a certain path towards, you know, positivity.
But I will say, like on all the social media platforms, probably the worst comments we get are on Facebook. Oh, my God. Like, I'll just click people. You know, it's a photo of a guy with his family, his two kids from Valdosta, Georgia, who's just saying, like, the most depraved worst shit about our film. It's like maybe that you've gotten a bunch of negative blowback like that.
I mean, if you look at the comments on YouTube or on Facebook, they're pretty predictable. But I have to say that in terms of like our personal engagement with people, it's been the opposite. Like we've had actually a lot of people reach out and say that the movie touched them in some way or they've been spending a lot of time on 4chan, maybe when they were a teenager and they're in the process of maybe aging out of it. And the movie spoke to them in a really positive way.
You know, I also think, like, you know, even Pepé in the media has shifted since we completed the film. Pepé on Twitch is basically like the de facto mascot for Twitch. He's back to being a reaction image where people are like excited or happy or angry.
So if you're on Twitch and you're looking at the comments field, you'll just see, like, you know, chunks of Pepi's floating by do with like white supremacy or anything at all.
Just that all the walls. Yeah.
So, yeah, it's each platform kind of has its own relation take on things.
But no, we've felt like actually we obviously had some understandable fear while we were making the film. But the reality is this is a conversation that people are kind of ready to have. And a lot of that like intense feeling that people had about Pepé kind of evaporated during 2016 and 2017. And this is something that it's time for us to all have a conversation about it because, you know, it's something we're cultures experiencing and we have to go through it together.
So you premiere the movie at Sundance, which is super dope.
Like this is like you've made one one movie premiere, right? This is your first this is the first film that you've been involved with. Right. So that's super exciting.
Guys are young guys. You make this movie, you get into Sundance, you go, you get crazy, turn out standing ovation. You get you win this award. Yeah, no, it was amazing.
I mean, also, we we got into Sundance with like storyboards. So a lot of like the animations were just like chicken. So you have essentially. Wow. And so we were just like sprinting, sprinting to get the film done. Yeah.
But everybody says that is you say that's like some of my favorite memories from the process is those kind of like sleepless in the same night. Right.
Yeah. That was like very emotional. Like there was one night where I was like I think it was like 5:00 in the morning and we had like we were trying to mix the film the next day. And it was just me and our assistant editor, Caitlin, in the office. And I just told Caitlin's like, I'm going to start to cry right now.
I don't know what else to do.
You're just going to watch me. I'm going to sit here and cry for like an hour while we're editing and assembling things because it's such like this emotionally kind of intense experience.
Sundance obviously was like a dream come true. But then once you're kind of there, you realize there's all these other sort of like other people with you, too.
You're just you're one of many people.
And you also have to finish the movie and then, like, throw a wedding for the movie at the same time, because you have to like the party and you have to make sure the parties at the right time so will come.
And it's like, yeah, it's this really kind of very fun and surreal, but incredibly stressful thing.
And then also we're trying to, like, sell the film. So it's kind of we're trying to present ourselves as like, oh, this is a product that we made by our product.
Yeah. Yeah. It's going to be xperia. You go in with the best of intentions were like packed house. Which scenery did you premiere at the Pioneer, the pine area on a Monday?
Yeah, like a Monday, Monday, Monday morning. So it doesn't matter what day it is when you're there though.
Well, it actually does rebound.
I mean, if you want to do you want to be at the Egyptian on Friday night or whatever. Yeah.
I mean the truth is the big sales all happened in the opening two days, right. And so like I think we recognized well, as soon as we found our Monday slot that like. OK, I was like you, though, I was like, OK, we're just the sun, if this is right, everything is gravy. This this is amazing.
But then it's like people are like, well, so-and-so can't come. And they might be interested in your film because it's Monday morning specifically.
I'm in the second.
So it's like, yeah, people are just sort of people are just sort of chipping away at your enthusiasm is kind of going into it. And, you know, I don't know.
I'm also like I'm a very like kind of private, self-conscious person like like red carpet stuff is like uncomfortable for me for sure. And so there's a part of me that's also like, well, how am I going to become like I'm an animator. I'm I'm used to like being behind the computer in the middle of the night reanimating. I'm not used to sort of like standing up and talking constantly and selling a film.
So that was like a pretty heavy experience. Right.
You know, I discovered the movie. I heard somebody talking about it and it just lodged in my memory. And so, you know, a couple of nights later, I searched for it. I found it on Amazon. I rented it. I watched it. But I did have to look for it. Right. It wasn't front and center in my Netflix queue screaming at me to watch. And, you know, as I said at the outset, like, I really feel like this, you know, this is a movie that everybody should see.
But I do think that that it's suffering from a lack of visibility and discoverability. So can we talk about, like, the distribution aspect of this whole thing?
I mean, we agree that part of why we're here. I want to I want to I want to help you guys out there a little bit. Now, the competition. Yeah, this is. Yeah, yeah.
I mean, we created our own, like, distribution company basically to distribute itself, distributed the film.
So we created a company called Ready Fictions, in part because, you know, we did go into Sundance and we'd heard a bunch of different stuff, people that were interested in the film. But I will say, like, this was always a hard movie to convince people to get behind.
And so we were able to make it independently, which was great because we found I mean, shout out to Wavelength Productions. They're an independent company, and they saw some early cuts of the film. And they always believed in us to make the movie. And they have been very supportive.
But they were supportive in a way that, like certainly none of the platforms were supportive and a lot of the other more established companies that we presented the film to and some in some cases, you could feel like people slowly backing out of the room as you were pitching the movie, because Pepé has this just knee jerk reaction.
When people see that frog, they're like, oh, man.
You know, even one of the programmers at Sundance, she was like, you know, I had all these movies to watch for Sundance. And then I was like the Pepé the Frog movie. Oh, man.
And then she watched it and loved it. Right. But that's been like a pretty common refrain. And then when we went to sell the film, we had a lot of the same kind of moments. Yeah, it's hard. It's hard to know. I don't know. Obviously, I'm sure there's like certain levels of assurances that distributors want to see. Right. You can pitch an idea. You know, the idea might be interesting, but they want to see it finished.
Right. So, like, when we were pitching the film, people like you guys have never really made a film of note before.
Yeah, it was understandable and it was understandable. Then we make this film.
It's like we win this award, like, OK, we proved it like a great film. It's getting great reviews, great reviews.
So like, all right, now now the offers certainly should be great. And then it's like crickets. And then you're like you're never getting a really clear answer from the streamers who have like now kind of totalizing monopolistic control over what people see. You're not getting a sense of like why they're passing on it. But, you know, I don't know. I would love to talk to someone about it because there was we would get the information we would get was like they really liked it, but it just wasn't a fit, you know.
Yeah. I mean, well, that's the issue, is there. That's not that's disingenuous.
Disingenuous. We were talking about this for the podcast. And this also goes back to a conversation I had with Brian Fogel and the struggles that he has undergone, trying to get his movie out there, because after winning an Oscar. Right. He wins the Oscar. You know, Netflix. That's those are that's his team. And they won't touch the movie Amazon.
You know, basically, there's a whole back story to that. And he thought like, well, Bezos also want to be on board with this because the subject matter they passed and you realize that there's a big difference between getting a domestic theatrical distributor who's going to put the movie in some theaters in the United States and a streaming platform where it's instantly globally available and these gigantic conglomerates live and breathe on expanding their subscriber base in foreign territories. And when you look at Saudi Arabia and you look at China, anything that is transgressive to those cultures becomes radioactive to distribute.
Right. It's just not worth it.
It doesn't matter how good your movie is. Like, if that's going to cause some kind of adverse reaction in those communities or the political powers that be, it's just not worth it.
To them, they're not going to pass on it. Yeah, and as far as the industry pushes more towards a subscription based model, I would assume that, like, the stakes just become much different. Right? If you're universal and you're putting out a film theatrically that's maybe edgy, people can boycott that film. They're not boycotting Universal. But if Netflix puts out a movie that there maybe aren't sure how it's going to be received and maybe has like a high level of potential for blowback and people boycott the subscription, it's like, you know.
Right. I can see how the stakes are much higher, but all the same, it's also it's really scary to think as like an independent filmmaker and storyteller like. As these as these platforms consolidate their power, like what it does to and, you know, coming out of Cauvin and seeing what's going to happen to the theatrical market, that's really like you like you said, without theaters, basically independent cinema doesn't exist. Right. You kind of have to prove yourself in movie theaters as a viable thing.
It's also harder if you're a young filmmaker because there was always this sort of like independent model or even if you had, like a small theatrical release or with a tiny, you know, sort of company, you would still have kind of a way into the industry. And so that's kind of actually getting harder, even though there's more stuff. And I think just realistically, like documentaries are kind of at this transitional phase this year, some of the best films or documentary films, and they're breaking genre.
They're doing very interesting things. And these streaming platforms really only care about documentaries that are about like some of them are obviously news oriented, but then it's celebrities and murder.
Right. And so having this story where if you have this tile of a green frog on your platform, you don't know which algorithmic sort of base that is, right? Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.
And so we were told it was like two nesh. We were told that it was to political. China definitely was something like at the end of our movie there's the China became like something that scared some platforms away.
And then also it was just like they were like, oh well we already have X movie or Y this. Yeah. Yeah. And so people would never watch both of those or the fact that we saw it might have its own Morato movies about what was the party in the Caribbean.
Oh yeah. The firefighter.
Right at the same time. Right. Yeah I know. Well what was fascinating, I wish I wrote it down because I can't remember specifically what they were. But when we when we finished watching the movie at an Amazon shows you, you know, people who watch this movie also like these movies. And Trapper, who is, you know, my my 24 year old, he was laughing.
He's like these movies have nothing to do with that movie. Like, it was a weird, like assemblage of bizarro films.
And that's the great irony is like you're like you're kind of psyching yourself up like, all right, we're going to do this. We're going to self release our film and like our EPS are on board and like, that's incredible. And everyone believes in this thing. And you're like, you know, the system.
We're going do this stuff on our own. And then suddenly you realize that, like, you have to give Jeff Bezos, right? Yeah. He's like, yeah, right, right, right, right, right. Yeah. It's like apple pies. They're going to take your body there. No matter what Bezos passes. The day is nothing to talk about. Yeah.
There's this moment where you're like like, for instance, one distributor offered a zero dollars for the film and then they would they would commit to X number of marketing spend.
And that seems like offensive to to me, it seemed like, well, this sounds like I'm going down like a payday loan scenario down the street.
But they can do it because they know the path to self to distribution is so difficult. And so we kind of thought that, like, well, we made this movie independently, like, you know, we have this kind of, like, mix resume. So like, let's just do it ourselves.
So something where it's like, all right, I we can cut the trailers, we can make the animation, we can figure out the strategy during this covid moment. We know as well as anybody kind of how to get the film.
And yeah, I like the way that Matt leaned on his friends to help him out. We really have a lot of thanks to give to our friends and friends of friends who really got behind the film like and even honestly, it was very meager, a little theatrical release. But like Tim League at the Alamo Drafthouse, I just sent him a cold email as we were kind of contemplating this. And he emailed back like almost instantaneously and was like, I'll help you have your school.
And like at all of them or just the one in every one of them happened in September. Yeah. So we had like twelve screens. But, you know, that was super meaningful.
When you're like wandering off into the wilderness, you're the people that go to that place are that's your audience. Totally.
So I don't know, hopefully like if things get better soon that we can get back into the theaters are a bit like those are really meaningful moments that kind of reassure us that we're doing the right thing and that people give a shit, because at the end of the day, like people are just in to your point, like it's hard to find, it's hard to find because there's just so much shit out there.
Yeah, good shit. There's some good shit. There's also a lot of shit shit. But like you have to sift through all of it and there's two morons at our own office like trying to figure out how to make this happen.
It's a daunting task, but like slowly but surely it's you know, I think it's, you know, a testament to this. Right. The film itself as well. It just gets passed on the streaming platform. Thing is, is is fascinating and how it's kind of being accelerated through this pandemic moment.
I mean, on the one hand, you know, when Netflix in the early days of Netflix, it's like this is the greatest thing that ever happened to a documentary filmmaker. Suddenly all of these films that would never get a theatrical release or if it did, it would be in one arthouse movie theater for a week or something like that now are being consumed by millions and millions of people. And yet you have to.
Taken a consideration at the same time that there is this weird, implicit, chilling effect on free speech when they're not going to platform films that are transgressive in any way, that's going to threaten the broadening of their subscriber base. And what does that how does that bode for the future? Right. You can always get it up like you guys did, but it does become a challenge to get people to see it.
And we were lucky. I mean, we had the the film is about a viral phenomenon. So we knew that we kind of had Pepé as like our best sort of right. Advertising chip for it. There was all those people that care about that.
Hopefully we knew we had that as an audience. But I think for for other films that for whatever reason, you know, don't get picked up by just like the four or five people who are the gatekeepers for the entire industry.
It's a harder path because you have to convince people to get behind the film, you know, without having the most popular meme that's ever been right on the poster.
Brian was talking about the idea that's crazy to hear about Brian. The dissident was being edited while we were doing color, like watching the stress involved with that.
Yeah, I can't imagine. I mean, yeah, that that the the computer graphics animation sequences in that movie, I mean, very different from yours, but also, you know, kind of amazing. Have you seen that. Have you seen that.
I haven't seen the final cut. I mean, yeah, they were in the same color house. Right. So it was all all the films that are going into some ads are going to the same place. So it's all like 2:00 in the morning. We're passing in the hallway. I didn't see Brian, but I saw one of his producers.
Yeah, but he had his idea was that there's a need for a new streaming platform to serve these kinds of movies that isn't about, you know, constant growth that can create some kind of revenue model that makes sense, makes it robust and profitable. Yeah, but the priority being kind of, you know, getting movies like this out that that aren't going to, you know, are going to be challenged in other way.
The truth is that there are like so many unbelievable documentaries that just the will premiere at festivals like Sundance that never get picked up and just kind of like get lost in the shuffle and the whole world is verité document.
Yeah. Like there's a genre of doch that doesn't get picked up by the platforms at all. And just the verité style, which is just sort of like letting life unfold in front of the camera. And, you know, like there's this movie, the mayor that people should seek out by David OSAT, who's about and that is about the mayor of Ramallah and Palestine, the Christian mayor of Ramallah and Palestine. And that movie is an example of beautiful, edgy, you know, verité filmmaking.
And, you know, those kind of films don't make it onto the platforms.
And in part because documentary is kind of having a secondary growth moment. And, you know, documentaries have kind of always been funded as if they're kind of like charity cases. They're funded by sort of people who are like wealthy. And this is almost like a donation they're making. But the reality is, you're right, like there's a lot of amazing films getting made and there needs to be like a platform for them where people recognize, like the the financial potential and like the artistic potential in them.
I talked to a software company who's interested in backing such a thing free as in terms of donating to the cause of death. I want to go straight. Exactly. Yeah. Yeah, we're ready to do it.
We know it's because we've been thinking about the same thing completely because like the information that we've gleaned from self releasing, like we want to be able to teach other people how to do it because it is daunting, but it is completely doable. You just have to know what to do, especially like if the only thing that's kind of hard to have people who care about, you have to be.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. And at the end of the day, no one's going to care about your movie more than you. Of course not. So yeah, in many cases, the best option really is I mean, that was a big mistake I think I made with my previous film owned. It's just like selling off of the first person who was interested in like kind of shooting myself in the foot rather than having done it myself. Wow. That's a scary movie, Ryan, considering he did so well with, you know.
Yeah, but I mean, I just, you know, the the it just speaks to the tension around the subject matter of the film for sure.
Which you'll you'll appreciate when you see it.
Yeah. We got to talk about the arch druid.
I'm not letting you out of here until I hear the story behind that dude.
Just I mean, how did you even find this guy? Like, what an unbelievable character I am. I mean, for me, magic was something people talked about on 4chan.
So for months before we found him, there was just a card on the on the bulletin board that was like magic.
Questionmark. Explain what we do. Magic is. All right. This is the movie. Well, so we talked about earlier how 4chan likes to self mythologised.
Right. And any time I can see these coincidences or stuff, it just it just. Gales and delights and any kind of sort of coincidences that happen in real life that they've kind of been talking about and so me magic, I know you're right.
So the magic is basically specific to Pepé.
You know, they already have an emotional connection to people as someone finds out that like there is an ancient Egyptian frog, God, who's the god of chaos. He's an anthropomorphic dog, and the name is no, his name, his name is Kek. But of course, I mean people. Yes. All right.
But people have sort of always kind of taken Meems more seriously than the rest of the culture. So, you know, and let's let's kind of like broaden the definition of Meems, not just sort of as like an image macro the way Pepé is or a cartoon, but even like something as simple as make America great again or a catchphrase or an idea that sort of filters out through culture. Fuck your feelings. That's just it's a meme. Excuse me.
Just do it. These are Meems. And so 4chan is always kind of considered themselves to take this stuff important as important and realize that it's powerful. And to realize that kind of they also recognize that they're like a community that has power with each other. They're a congregation of people.
And if they're sitting in front of the computer for 12 hours a day, looking at this stuff there is out into the world eating shit out into the world, there is kind of this quasi religious projection that's happening.
So people on the boards will talk about Meems as being important. And then Meems, also having like some sort of esoteric significance, like these are symbols. Symbols are important. They have history.
And so magic is something that people would talk about on the boards kind of half as a joke, but half of the way to like self mythologised and give importance to themselves.
And so when they started to use Pepé, they realized, oh, Pepé is sort of like our signifying meme. He's sort of like our God. Oh. And then there is a pantheon of Egyptian gods and one of them is a frog, and he's the God of chaos. And we're a bunch of shit posters who want this chaos to like, you know, you know, disseminate through culture.
And so people started to make all of these Pepi's that were kind of a mix of just like historical religious iconography, a lot of it from Egypt, but a lot of from other places, too. And of course, this fits in with like the Illuminati and all this sort of stuff. Right. And Pepé just kind of became this other, like, kind of like focal point for this kind of discussion that was happening.
And so people would talk about like these moments we were talking about where Pepé gets yelled at the rally and, you know, ah, the moment that Hillary falls because people on 4chan had been trying to, like, basically put it out into the world that that Hillary should be sick and have this kind of medical event. And these are moments of like kind of strange confirmation for them. And so people would talk about this is being me magic or chaos?
Magic. And so initially we wanted to find someone that could talk about this, though, from a greater historical perspective that would give the idea some gravity so that it wasn't just someone who's talking about shit posting in kind of a, you know, self aggrandizing way.
And so but also the way that also in a way that's like humor, like in the style of the film, too, because you're talking about magic, you have to accept the fact that it's a bit absurd, but you also have to accept the fact that it's also like, I don't know, it's like God, it's kind of interesting. The connections are kind of funny. And then, yeah, I just I had happened to done a podcast about my previous film.
And at the end of the interview they asked me what I was working on next and we were trying to be mum about the project. And I just said vaguely that we were doing a film about Pepé and someone who and I think I got mad at him afterwards.
You got to shut up and say, yeah, no, no, not that that's actually very specific. Yeah.
And then this this guy emailed it was like, hey, if you're doing a movie about Pepé, you should read the work of this guy, John Michael Greer, who is an arch druid. And I Googled him. And the first image that pops up is him as an arch druid. And he's got this incredible beard. And I'm like, oh, boy, I wish I was wearing a ceremonial business. Yeah. And I sent it to Arthur.
And then we start reading and stuff and listening to my radio, like, this guy is actually like pretty incredible and really brings a kind of seriousness and intellectual honesty to the topic of of magic, really. And he gave us a really incredible definition of magic, which really fits in very neatly to what the story is about. Right. Magic is about sort of people you said better than I was.
Well, I mean, he's sort of quoting this. This cult is named John Fortune. Right. And he's sort of an acolyte of hers.
But, yeah, they sort of talk about obviously, it's sort of all the trappings of magic that seems a little bit like hocus pocus. But this other thing that they're talking about is much more serious. And that's the idea that magic has always been the politics of the unheard, that if you are magic proliferates and sort of happens within communities where they don't feel like they have any agency in the world that they live in. So it happened in like feudal situations that happened.
It happened among slave cultures where people didn't feel like they had agency in their own reality. And so they would kind of create ceremonial ways of like art and willpower, trying to effect their reality in a positive way and also give them hope.
And so, you know, he talks about Pepé as being a hyper sigil that people are sort of pumping energy into.
And as we were talking to him, there was a moment where you're making a film and you take charge. Is on conversations, you're going to try out a voice in the film, so we interviewed a lot of people and they didn't make the cut and then we interviewed him. There was just kind of this, like vibrational shift that happened in the room and but also amazing, fascinating.
The setting was going to say also because like, we had to go up to Providence to meet him, where Arthur went to school and he happened to know that this beautiful old library exists. There were Edgar Allan Poe, apparently, I had no idea because there's like a did you go to RISD?
I went to Harvard and there's there's a decrepit fountain in front of it. And the joke would be like you'd be coming out of like a party and you'd be stumbling home and you'd stumble past the library. And if you drank from this decrepit fountain, it means that you were going to die in Providence. And so there was always this thing where it's like, oh, you get drunk. Did you drink from the fountain? It means you're going to die here.
But Providence has this, like, creepy witchy kind of vibe anyway, right? It's got H.P. Lovecraft, it's got Edgar Allan Poe. And there was this like little private library very near the campus of Rizzotti.
And and supposedly Edgar Allan Poe had a crush on the librarian. And he wrote some of his final poems there so he could just kind of like basically creep out on her.
But so we were able to film that with John. And but, John, initially, you know, we'd booked it and we didn't have much money, so we booked it at 10 a.m. and I was like, all right, John, you got to get there at 9:00 a.m. is cheaper.
The book is cheaper. And John was like that early.
Oh, no, no, no. Like, I won't be up until six or seven. I'm nocturnal. Yeah.
You know, and so Turnell, we ended up spending a little bit of more money to to film him at night, but it just kind of elevated the whole thing into like a it also just we've been doing this run of like interviews and I think we're kind of feeling like tired.
And then that just kind of reinvigorated the whole. Yeah, yeah.
I mean, I think within five minutes of the interview, like, I was just covered in goosebumps and I just walked out of the library to go to the nearest liquor store to buy a really nice bottle of whiskey, because I was like I knew we had it like, is it just his presence of the film is the sum total of everything we were trying to achieve with the film, which is writing this line of utter, complete stupidity and the most serious.
Yeah. Conversation, because there's an absurdist total aspect to the whole thing. But actually what he's saying is powerful and he's such a great sport about it too.
Like he was very self-aware of why he was there. He gave us incredible he was only a 30 minute interview, was unbelievably efficient and like what he was able to do, but also like was really helpful and like leaning into the jokes, like, you let us do this little.
But he also gave us like and kind of brought another kind of idea into focus when we were editing the film. And that was this moment. And you sort of talked about Matt Brainerd earlier where it's like he presents himself in a certain way.
And so while we were making the film, we're like, all right, let's give the audience these moments where they have to decide where we're coming from and whether they're choosing to take this person seriously.
And so with John Michael Greer, it's this kind of like litmus test thing.
When people watch the movie, a lot of people are like, I don't know, the movie kind of the documentary went off the rails in that moment. I don't I don't know why they inserted this guy. And then other people are like, oh, that's my favorite part. And it's also Matt Fury's favorite part.
And that's not surprising. Yeah, yeah. Yeah.
But and that was kind of part of it, too. It's like who would be kind of the voice for this format? And it seemed like he was the right dude. Yeah, but but it's this kind of like lean in moment where it's like, all right, what are we wanted the audience to be like? All right, am I taking him seriously?
Why did the filmmakers choose to put him in there?
It's this moment where it's like our our our our audience member is going to feel like engaged with the subject matter in a way where they might choose to disagree with us for a second and then come back to it. And we thought that was kind of like a very interesting, interesting device to use.
Yeah, well, I mean, he's certainly a guy that I'd like to have around once in a while to call on for, you know, like like it would just be cool to have that guy in your circle.
But beyond that, what I took from what he had to say was that there's power in group consciousness, like you can call it magic. But when you have millions of people whose mental energy is aligned in a certain way and they're trying to manifest a certain result, like that's something that you cannot overlook. Like that's a hugely powerful thing because that translates into the behaviors in the actions that those people are going to take.
And I mean, we're talking about how this frog just caught the imagination of a group of people.
So, yeah, the occult. This is going to bring it all into view.
How do you I look at this movie certain it's very different from this other movie that I was going to mention, but they kind of are like cousins in a way, like how do you think about the social dilemma and how this movie fits in with that one? Like, I feel like those two movies could be watched back to back as companion pieces to each other.
Yeah, I mean, I think I think they're both I mean, as we've talked about media literacy, I think the social dilemmas are super effective film, especially if you're like a young person who maybe hasn't thought about your phone in a critical way. And so I do think that, like I mean, that's why they'd be so great if they were sitting next to each other on Netflix.
Right? I do think they should be. Yeah.
I mean, Tristan Harris was on DAX Shepherd's podcast recently and DAX, thankfully. Thank you, DAX.
She mentioned your name on the ballot. That might have been where I heard it first because I listen about it. All right. But then Tristan hadn't seen it yet, which is like a real bummer.
It's like, well, I think it's good that these these I think it's good that a lot of people are watching these kind of movies, because I do think that like like we were saying before, social media is something that we have to be critical of as a culture. And we have to realize how we are all susceptible to this kind of like machine learning and the echo chambers that we find ourselves in. And so obviously, he's like, you know, the social dilemma kind of tackles that at a little bit more head on in our movie is kind of like a little bit more spread out.
It's got this artist journey story mixed with this kind of cultural critique. But, you know, I do think, like George, you mentioned that, you know, feels good.
Man is a little bit of a youth culture movie. I think they both are.
I think they're movies that are going to kind of like kind of open people up to a slightly different way of understanding how they ingest social media. And I think that's really good. You know, and I also think that if you liked the social dilemma, you should read the books of Douglas Rushkoff. Why is that? Because those guys are repeating what Douglas Rushkoff says in his book, like throwing rocks at the Google bus. So and there's always been kind of you know, Douglas Rushkoff represents this voice of the earlier kind of Internet critique.
And that critique has always also been kind of like bundled into this other notion that this could be like an economic revolution as well, in that there can be a more peer to peer version of our economy. And we're having this moment during the pandemic where it's like we're discovering that our economy, which seems in some ways to be doing very well, like the the stock market is doing very well, that our economy doesn't need workers anymore. It only needs consumers.
And it's this other model that in order for all this stuff to change, we have to realize that some of the economic underpinnings of our culture have to shift and change. And that's going to be a slow and kind of painful process. But ultimately, it leads to kind of hopefully a more democratized system that we can all be part of. But we're just realizing that that has to be like intentional, that we have to, like, start to make decisions and realize that this is not going to be like, you know, it's not going to be the matter of a couple social media platforms changing their sort of, you know, flagging of truth or conspiracy, that it's going to be like a series of like smaller, very intentional decisions made over a long period of time by a bigger group of voices in order for this to really change.
You know, Silicon Valley does have to figure out a way to be more inclusive because it is like it's ultimately like affecting cultures across the globe. And it needs to reflect that. It needs to have, like, more diverse voices in those rooms. And I think that ultimately we're in a transitional moment right now and that if we sort of are able to understand the truths that, like the social dilemma holds or feels good man points to that. We can have like a greater intentionality over this, that we can sort of, like, not give in to the machine learning and realize that we have kind of the ability to to have the world be a better, more humane, more humane place because of the Internet.
And so I think we're just at this moment that's really confusing and I hope we pass out of it.
But, yeah, I mean, that's that's very beautifully put.
And I think a good place to end it, but I can't end it without bringing it back to Matt. And I think what strikes me the most about him is, you know, despite the fact that he goes on this journey and he has these emotional peaks and valleys, he never loses sight of his core value, which is to be optimistic and to always kind of double down on love. Right. It's like he ends the film by saying, you got to go hardcore happy.
And that's, you know, clearly the message that you want to leave people with. But in order to get there, we have to, you know, experience this, you know, this this very cynical situation that you document this garbage world to use Matt's work, to use Matt's words. But ultimately you end up, you know, in this in this kind of hopeful place. Right. So is that how you look at this now, like were you able to, you know, go through this whole process and come out of it optimistic about the future?
I mean, I think you have to be because that's how trolling works, right? It only works if it strips you of hope and and subjugates you to the the idea of cynicism. And so, you know. The reason we wanted, I think when we first interviewed Matt, you know, he said that hardcore happy sentence and maybe in the context of the interview, it felt maybe a little hippy dippy, but then when we place it at the end of the film.
It kind of imbued it with a level of power that I wasn't personally prepared for, it always kills me every time I watch it because there's kind of a wincing when he says it, because, like, depression is obviously a very real thing and can't be dismissed. But there's also a truth to how you engage the world and that there's choices you make about that. And that choice is hard for happiness. And like, if you don't make that choice, you're kind of like on a path towards the basement.
Right. And that's why one of our characters kind of represented and I think he. He's someone who feels trapped, the person, the basement person who feels trapped by a machine that he feels like he can't get out from under. So I don't know. I think I totally subscribe to the hardcore happy.
And it's not hippy dippy because I think, like Giorgio was talking about this wincing moment, he's talking about the look on Matt's face when he says it. And it's this moment where, you know, Matt does have this sort of acknowledgement that this is a choice and that it's a not an easy choice to make. And it's a choice that constantly takes, like, recalibration within all of the sort of things that are happening throughout your day. You know, but we do think that the movie, our hope for it is that like.
You know, anonymous people on the Internet have used Pepé anonymously and you kind of imagine that to sort of all happen within a vacuum. But the reality is there is sort of a ripple effect. And so if you see the way that the use of Pepé has affected Matt and his family, if you see if you are able to kind of observe that, maybe they'll just be like this, like subtle kind of shift of perception you have. And I think that that's was kind of our goal in in the end of the film.
And I feel.
I don't know. I'm some I'm someone that has I felt hopeful just from making the film, from working with the people who are so passionate while they were making the film. Those collaborations are actually have like kind of reinvigorated me. You know, I don't know how I feel about the future of social media, though.
That's something that I don't know if I have the same sort of optimism, but I'll keep that to myself. You guys are you guys on social?
Are you on social media? Yeah, I am. He's a Twitter guy. You are.
OK, we'll end it with that. But what are you working on now? Like, what's next for you guys?
Well, we're still in the we're still in the revival. Yeah, but you can work out some things. Yeah. Yeah, yeah. No, you don't want to talk about it. I don't know. It's fine. We're working on an animated series, are developing with the with a comedian that I think has a lot of hope hopefully and writing projects. I think we're going to take next year to really like. Generate new ideas, but if anyone wants to hire us.
Yeah, but you guys are working together now, right? Yeah. Oh, that's cool.
Well, it's a powerful duo. Thank you. Thank you very much. I really appreciate this. Yeah. I like I said, like, I love the movie. It was better the second time watching it the other night. I can't stress enough how everybody was watching or listening. Should check it out.
Please do the best place to do that. I mean there's feel feels good movie dotcom. Right. Feels good. Good. Feels good man.
Film that I really butchered that didn't I. I got that totally fucked up and it was a valiant effort. We appreciate it.
But you're on Amazon, obviously. You're on Apple TV. It's just as a point of because I didn't know this was always off release, but so Amazon takes 50 percent of the take and Apple takes 30 percent. Oh, go forth.
Go watch it on TV.
But those two places over and everywhere and a lot of Vimeo, we have a link to our website. So cool.
And if you want to connect with you guys individually, you're on social media. Yeah, right. We're both on. You are? Yeah.
You have to be so excited about that not being coy. It's just a private account, but I'll probably come. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.
But we, we, we, you can email to the website, we respond.
There's no yeah we, we, we have a lot of conversations with people that have watched the movie and they're always fascinating. Yeah. Cool. Well that's the luck you guys. Thank you so much for you. If there's anything else I can do, please. Thanks. Thank you man. I mean, I really appreciate it. All right.
He's a good man. Thanks for listening, everybody.
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