Following media platform Coconut.sg’s query on Tuesday (23 Oct), the Health Promotion Board (HPB) has decided to remove its recent advertisement that featured the Pepe the Frog meme, which is known to be a popular alt-right symbol in recent years.
A spokesperson from HPB stressed that the inclusion of Pepe the Frog was inadvertent, and that “Neither we, nor our video producer, were aware of its significance.”
The spokesperson subsequently thanked Coconuts.sg for highlighting the contemporary context behind Pepe the Frog and how it “has come to be used in the United States.”
“In consideration of the feedback received, the frog image will be removed from the video, to ensure that there is no misconception about the intent of the image,” added the HPB spokesperson.
The video has since been replaced with a new one, omitting Pepe the Frog.
Featuring local actor Chua En Lai, the original video was made in a bid to promote HPB’s National Steps Challenge Campaign, with the Pepe the Frog meme making an appearance in a scene where Mr Chua tries to get a passerby on board to exercise with him.
In his piece on 23 Oct, Coconuts.sg writer Ilyas Sholihyn explained how the evolution of Pepe the Frog, which started out as an innocent comic and then rose to fame as a internet meme, took a wrong and unfortunate turn:
[…] 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. Right alongside the swastika, the burning cross, and the Confederate flag.
Matt Furie, the artist who created Pepe the Frog, regrets the direction that his comic character had gone into.
In a Super Deluxe video feature, Furie lamented: “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.”