Alt-right symbol Pepe the Frog makes cameo in Singapore’s Health Promotion Board ad

Ilyas Sholihyn

Just to make things clear, we’re in no way suggesting that the Ministry of Health’s statutory board is making a statement in support of white supremacy and/or hate groups in general. But perhaps a slight error of judgment was made when a graphic of Pepe the Frog — a cartoon appropriated by the American alt-right — was used in a recent Health Promotion Board (HPB) video.

In an effort to spread the word about their National Steps Challenge campaign, HPB enlisted local actor and comedian Chua En Lai to hit the streets as athletic persona Fit Leow. In the video, random passersby are approached to get them performing steps of the Great Singapore Workout together, and they do. Pretty standard, wholesome government fluff.

The video could have been easily disregarded, but that odd cartoon cameo can’t be ignored.

Pepe the Frog graphic; video screengrab

Pepe the frog

Matt Furie’s comic where Pepe’s catchphrase “Feels good man” comes from.

Created by artist Matt Furie as a chilled-out character in his comic Boy’s Club, the usage of Pepe the Frog has been used as an internet meme since 2008 — mostly used a reaction pic — thanks to 4chan users. There was even a sort of meme market where fans created rare variations of the character.

Rare Pepes

But it was during the rise of Donald Trump in the 2016 United States presidential election that Pepe started to become appropriated by the alt-right, a group of far-right supporters. Trump himself retweeted a Pepe likeness of him, and similar usage by his supporters increased in frequency. Soon enough, the cartoon character functioned as a symbol of the alt-right and, with the association, became a rallying mascot and prominent meme for white nationalists, neo-Nazis, neo-Confederates and other hate groups.

It got to the point that Pepe the Frog has been added to the Anti-Defamation League’s list of hate symbols. Alongside the swastika, the burning cross, and the Confederate flag.

Some of the deplorable versions of Pepe that the alt-right created and spread. Photo: CBC News YouTube screengrab

In fact, alt-right icon and outspoken white supremacist Richard Spencer was wearing a Pepe pin on the lapel of his jacket and was about to explain it for the camera when he got socked in the face.

Furie has disavowed Pepe and has since killed the character off in a comic in response to its usage as a hate symbol.

“It just kind of melts my spirit a little bit, because a cartoon that I made had evolved to become somebody’s symbol for hate,” Furie said in a Super Deluxe video feature.

Presumably, the video producers hired by the HPB aren’t aware of the sordid history behind the cartoon frog they used in the ad. But at least now they do.

We’re reaching out to the HPB and will update this story once we’ve heard their side of things.

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