Advent of the Green Trickster
With the advent of the Internet, humanity has witnessed a baffling surge in the creation and distribution of new symbols. The young 21st century has seen an incandescent spark of creativity igniting the barren wasteland that was the collective imagination of the post-historic 90s, when the soul of Western man was about to be gently euthanised by sweet-pink-plastic Capitalism. There may have indeed never been a better time to assess the multifarious expressions of the collective unconscious than in the current age of global communication-networks. Now, the power to create and spread potent symbols has been wrested from the envious claws of global advertising factories, propaganda machines and pop-culture plants and turned over to the motley masses, who have partaken of this gift voraciously. Their myriad creations have formed a seething bed of chaotic potential, which feeds on the constant contribution and ever fluctuating appreciation of countless minds at all times.
The birth of a meme
From time to time, something coalesces in these depths and rises to the surface. Then, we are able to make out a distinct form, a discernable pattern, a proper gestalt, arising from the pool of chaos and hovering above its walloping surface like misty shapes over a nocturnal mere. It is the solidification and common recognition of these nebulous figures that marks the birth of a meme. One such meme which has wrested its dank figure from the vortex of ideas and images, is a certain arrogant amphibian by the name of Pepe. If the reader is not yet familiar with Pepe’s rise from green feelgood-chap to fascist super-villain, I honestly don’t even know what you’re doing here, so I’ll just skip the introductions. Pepe may indeed be the very first online-based symbolic character, who has actually had a recognizable impact on global politics through his significant contribution to Donald Trump’s victory in the 2016 US-presidency elections. Behind the smug grin of this grenouille extraordinaire has gathered a whole generation of disenfranchised young, white men (and occasionally women), fed up with the diabolical collusion of rabid Neo-Marxist academics and utterly corrupt, out-of-touch transnational elites, who have been tightening their toxic grip on Western nations throughout the last decades. Indeed, we are not simply dealing with some random online fad in this case, but with an authentic, archetypal expression of the collective imagination of a significant demographic within the whole European diaspora.
One of Pepe’s most prominent features is his association with the obscure Egyptian deity Kek, who also takes the form of a frog and is both an embodiment of primordial darkness as well as a harbinger of light. This correlation is no mere accident or simply a random joke. As the wise and insightful Prof. Jordan B. Peterson has recognized in his ruminations on the Metaphysics of Pepe, the frog is indeed an ancient symbol of transitory states between order and chaos and often appears as a mediator between the two in myth and fairytale. This is due to his amphibian nature, which lets him traverse both realms of land/order and water/chaos. And what title would be better suited to Pepe, saint of Kek, than that of the Messenger of Chaos? He has arisen from the murky well of potential, that is the world of online communication, to deliver a defiant gauntlet to the decrepit vultures representing the corrupt order of the “current year”. His spirited war cry has caused a horrified tremble in the complacent apathy of the hedonistic liberal establishment. Our beloved smug frog is the vanguard of disruption, social and political upheaval and revolution, i.e. a proper harbinger of chaotic tendencies.
Return of the Trickster
Expanding on this sentiment, I would go so far as to proclaim that behind the mask of this crudely-drawn animal hides a particular ancient archetype, manifesting itself in the context of popular online culture: the Trickster.1
The Trickster is a recurring figure appearing in myth, fairytale and art throughout many cultures and time-periods, which has been recognized as a very distinct, primordial archetype clothing itself in the garments of many different cultural traditions. Wherever he performs his role, the Trickster is an element of instability and a challenger of order. Whether he takes the form of a jester ridiculing his lord with mocking epigrams, the drunken Loki defying and insulting the gods of the Norse pantheon, or the Goethian Mephistopheles ensnaring the soul of the dispirited academic Faust, the Trickster’s purpose is to ensure that an established order is regularly faced with elements of uncertainty and provocation. His chaotic tendencies become a downright necessity as soon as an order becomes pathological and deviates from its organic traditions in favor of a violently imposed, totalitarian tyranny or the parasitic reign of self-serving, corrupt oligarchs.2 On his quest to “trigger” the prevalent order, challenging its paradigms and shaking its foundations, the Trickster does not employ an arsenal of brute force but rather resorts to eponymous trickery: His chief weapons are humour, irony and mischief, for in a world built on zealotic lies and Orwellian thought-policing, humour is often the last resort of verity (“the jester is often close to the truth”). However, the Trickster’s means certainly don’t end with profane roguishness but extend into the supernatural realm of Magic. His powers let him conjure up forms and images at will, changing the fabric of reality at a whim, sometimes through vicious calculation, at other times by sheer accident and bumbling.
With this being said, the parallels between the mythological Trickster figures and a certain frog should already be quite obvious to an initiated mind. But, oh boy, there’s a lot more: As chance would have it, the Trickster often appears as a shapeshifter, taking the form of man as well as beast and regularly blurring the lines between the two. Sometimes he is even portrayed as androgynous, which is also a prime feature of the aforementioned Kek, who is accompanied by his female counterpart Keket. The Trickster’s form is uncertain and protean, giving him the power to hide himself among his enemies and mislead his persecutors. One is almost reminded of the ability of certain amphibians to blend in with their environment and thus elude the hungry gaze of predators… Accordingly, Pepe has revealed himself in manifold shapes and put on as many different masks as there are cultural associations to draw from. From a psychological perspective, the Trickster embodies the human soul’s remembrance of a pre-conscious state of existence, which is also the reason for his often child-like appearance and naive, impulsive behaviour. His very being is an expression of unformed, chaotic potential, the multifarious aspects of his nature not yet separated and defined by the illuminating rays of nous and consciousness. The memory of humanity’s childhood is preserved in the figure of the Trickster, whose essence we have channeled through various rituals and traditions, from the ancient Roman Saturnalia to the modern Carnival.
The ultimate aim and redemption of the Trickster is therefore not stagnation in chaos but metamorphosis. Numerous myths depict the Trickster’s unlikely transformation from asinine or downright malevolent imp to radiant saviour – the destiny of the Bearer of Darkness is to become a Bringer of Light. His chaos is ultimately a means to an end, not an anarchic end in itself. Eventually, the child must grow up and the jester will take off his mask to face the future with a clear gaze. While the chaotic impetus of the Trickster is necessary to ensure a culture’s continuous adaptiveness and dynamic tradition, his role is only truly fulfilled if uncertainty and revolution can be turned into creative powers ensuring the rejuvenation and continuation of a healthy order. Pepe’s assault on the established ideology of the post-modern West is therefore not merely a fancy of destruction but his knowing smirk heralds a new form of politics, based on an organic and traditional view of human culture and society. At the end of this story, the frog will shed his bestial skin, turn into a fair prince and thus live up to the ideal set in stone by his ancient idol Kek, who dwells in primordial chaos but is also the harbinger of a rising, golden dawn.
A Shadow in muddied waters
On a final note, the Trickster has also been linked to another important archetype of the human soul: the Shadow. The personal Shadow is the amalgamation and manifestation of every aspect of ourselves, that has not been integrated into our conscious identity or has been forcefully repressed and banished into the depths of the unconscious. He is our twisted reflexion on the surface of a black and bottomless well, our doppelgänger stalking through the shades, our grotesque likeness encountered in the most vivid of dreams. As Carl Gustav Jung has noted, the Trickster is an autonomous form of the collective Shadow of humanity and represents our chaotic and animalistic memory of an instinctive existence, that had not yet beheld the terrifying light of consciousness. After examining Pepe the Frog under these presuppositions, I’ve come to the conclusion that this memetic creature is indeed an avatar of the collective Shadow of Millenials (ages 20 ~ 35) throughout the West.
It is our generation that has inherited a debased culture of apathy, degeneracy, nihilism, weakness and outright Todessehnsucht from our parents, who mostly belong to the baby-boomer generation. It is we who must now look towards the future with a stern frown, paying the price for decades of hedonistic debauchery and moral capitulation on the side of our immediate ancestry. Our maturation and steady awakening to these matters has been accompanied and amplified by the inexorable rise of the internet and by the years 2015/2016, the full amount of our frustration and bewilderment had finally revealed itself in a tangible form: Pepe’s arrogant sneer is the manifestation of all our suppressed confusion, frustration, immaturity, impotence, disgust and outright hatred for the “new world order”, that has turned our cultures from heroic pursuits of beauty and truth into degenerate, effeminate caricatures of life longing for self-immolation. We have recognized ourselves as being deeply entrenched in this global culture of decline and projected our loathing onto an innocent cartoon-frog, turning him into a complex reflexion of our disoriented souls.
As has been demonstrated, expressions of global online pop-culture must not simply be dismissed as arbitrary and transient phenomena of a post-cultural age. On the contrary, they give us a deep insight into the shared imagination and spiritual life of our generation. On some occasions, these imaginations take on well-known forms pioneered by myth and legend. The ancient gods and devils have not died, but slumber in the darkest recess of our souls. From time to time, their essence resurfaces and manifests itself in the context of the respective culture they inhabit. Thus, we have witnessed the reawakening of an obscure primordial deity and archetype in the form of a cartoonish internet-meme. In this spirit, let us bask in His light and savour the experience while it lasts:
Praise Kek and Shadilay!