(Oslo Metropolitan University)
Paper Short Abstract:
Pepe, a frog-headed cartoon figure, has been a symbol of the US extreme right for some years, and was recently adopted by Scandinavian neo-Nazis. His appearances in social media are often parodic and ironic, and interpretation is often difficult.
Paper long abstract:
Pepe the frog, a frog-headed cartoon figure, was appropriated as a symbol of the 'alt-right' movement in 2016. His complex background story on websites such as 4chan and Reddit includes a link to the so-called 'Cult of Kek' and the fictional country of Kekistan. Pepe attracted mainstream media attention when his green flags and symbols adorned the backs of white supremacist protesters in the Charlottesville Riots in 2017. The last couple of years the Scandinavian extreme right has been inspired by the U.S, and one of the ways this inspiration is visible is in their use of Pepe memes, and flags similar to those of Kekistan.
This paper examines the possibilities and limits of digital ethnography when offline ethnography is impossible. Finding interviewees to explain the context and intention of hateful Pepe imagery on social media has not surprisingly proved very difficult. How to interpret hate speech and other threatening utterances online when they are purposefully carnevalesque and ironic, and face-to-face interaction is inaccessible? How to interpret the discourse when reading it as-is, as face value, is obviously fraught with possibilities of misunderstanding? The paper discusses a few instances of Pepe appearing in purely Scandinavian contexts, and what it may tell us of trans-Atlantic inspirations. At the same time, I show how I have used social media observation as method, and point to pitfalls in the absence of possibilities for offline ethnography contextualizing social media interactions.
Digital ethnography and transformations: tracking cultural expressions in the contemporary world [W]