‘Independent Lens: Feels Good Man’ examines creative rights

Rick's Reviews

“Feels Good Man” is the season opener for “Independent Lens” on PBS. (Photo courtesy of PBS)

(KGET) — Artist Matt Furie thinks frogs are so “chill” because they are creatures of both land and water that he would love to be one.

“They kind of exist in both worlds and they are kind of a link to our roots in nature and stuff,” Furie says. “The frog is kind of a symbol for me personally of something that’s just wonder and connected with nature.

“I like to swim in rivers when I get a chance and pretend that I’m a frog and swim around the rocks and stuff.”

Furie had to settle for becoming a frog in his own way with the creation of the iconic cartoon character Pepe the Frog – an anthropomorphic frog with a humanoid body. Pepe was created by Furie in 2005 for his comic Boy’s Club as the embodiment of the laid-back lifestyles of young male college graduates finding their footing in the real world.

After popping up in meme form on various blogs, Pepe eventually started appearing on the anonymous online message board 4chan, where his image was quickly replicated and adopted as a symbol of misfits everywhere. The Latest Edition of the PBS series “Independent Lens: Feels Good Man” follows Furie as he begins an uphill battle to take back his iconic cartoon image from those who turned it into a symbol of hate. 

The film directed by Arthur Jones looks into the questions of whether anyone can truly own anything on the internet and how an image transformed into one of hate can be transformed once again into one of hope.

“Feels Good Man” can be seen on Valley PBS at 10 p.m. Oct. 19.

The battle by Furies has been historic as it was the first time the Anti-Defamation League had declared a meme a hate symbol. It also has never declared a copyrighted character a hate symbol before.

Jones says, “It was a process for Matt to figure out how to handle this. He tried to handle that via his artistic community first. Then he tried to find a set of lawyers to collaborate with to enforce the copyright in a way that he felt was right for him.

“While he’s doing this, he’s an artist; he’s starting a family. There’s a lot of stuff going on.”

The film looks at a moment when Furie realized that his creation had been morphed into something bad. A large number of shorts had been printed featuring Pepe and were on the verge of being distributed across the country.

It was then that the character had been added to the hate symbol database. The major distributor of the shirt decided not to release them.

“The shirts were great. I liked wearing them. I was proud wearing them, but then things got awkward. I remember I was wearing one of the shirts in the Taco Bell drive-through and I was asked about my affiliation with it. It just got awkward, just not appropriate to wear again,” Furie says.

The battle by Furie marks is the opener for the 22nd season of “Independent Lens.” Since launching in 1999, the series has earned five DuPont-Columbia University Awards and have received 10 Academy Award nominations. The series won the 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2017 International Documentary Association Award for Best continuing Series.

Lois Vossen, “Independent Lens” senior executive producer, found the struggles by Furie in this technology age as a perfect fit for what the series has tried to examine through the years.

“We love when it speaks to the core PBS audience, but also our mandate is to bring younger viewers. And this film does both perfectly,” Vossen says. “It is eye-opening to a certain core audience and yet also speaks to the issue of media literacy and where you find truth in media to a younger audience that have sort of grown up without challenging it and thinking about it.”

At the heart of that story is the tale of an artist and his frog creation. Furie sees the lesson to be taken from “Feels Good Man” is that it is difficult to control anything on the Internet.

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