“The death of the author” is a concept that has become more and more relevant with the advancement of the internet as a platform for artistic expression. In a world where a piece frequently finds itself separated from its creator and spread far and wide without context, there is very little recourse to reconnect one’s name to their creation, let alone decide its direction. Arthur Jones’ documentary Feels Good Man details an extreme example of this phenomenon, following Matt Furie’s comic character Pepe the Frog from cult comix character to right-wing hate symbol.
Feels Good Man, at its source, is just another artist documentary – introducing Furie and how his career began. That is the central story until the concept of the meme is introduced, and the story goes down another path entirely: an anti-artist story of memes, community-led, anonymous creation and works becoming more famous than their creators. The doc follows the (unusually) logical evolution of Pepe from a comic character, to a mascot for dropouts of the world, to a makeup icon to young women, to a symbol of incels, to a symbol of white supremacists. And while this is all happening, Furie has to just sit there, helpless to stop it from happening.
This is a truly fascinating and unique documentary, even if it’s only because this is an unprecedented story to mainstream audiences. Even though this is the story of American politics at its core, it takes a brand-new path to get there. And yet the most important part of the story, in this critic’s opinion, is the death of the artist and the dissolution of intellectual property. It’s particularly interesting to see the artist discuss the original characterization of Pepe, immediately followed by others contradicting him – that is the real horror. Imagine learning one day that a world that you don’t know has taken your work and turned it into something that you vehemently disagree with.
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Shahbaz Khayambashi: @Shakhayam