Police Shot #PEPE Eye

For optimal experience, view the animation through the AR app (for Android phones only) with headphones. Download the app by clicking here.

Traditional graphic design can be understood as a centralized visual communication language dictated by institutional/commercial needs and methodology; while memes critique the fundamentals of visual communication itself. An internet meme is a transnational image/idea/style/social phenomenon that spreads from person to person through the Internet. Participation in meme culture is highly accessible as the average user doesn’t need special, costly software or extensive formal education in the visual arts. They are suppose to be ugly, intentionally brutal; and they are highly successful in graphic design’s ultimate goal: mass communication of radical ideas. Memes naturally resist corporate and authoritarian control of information because they need de-codification for understanding; and their meaning rapidly changes with each new user’s input and mimicry.

“Honk Kong is part of China Forever” copy-pastas the 50 Cent Army (the Chinese Communist Party’s social media propaganda machine) in response to pro-democratic protests occupying Hong Kong since the start of summer 2019. Hong Kong protesters reply to the Internet war-fare with circulation of digital folklore via memes, most notably Pepe the Frog, as a vehicle for dissent and dissemination. In the near future, the 50 Cent Army might attempt to use Pepe for their propaganda goals. That is, if they are able to de-code Pepe’s intertextual vocabulary of memetics.

Pepe the Frog is a meme with a fascinating history from a web comic drawing to an official symbol of hate and white supremacy in Euro-American cultural politics. As the LA Times explains, Pepe “first appeared in 2005 in the comic ‘Boy’s Life’ … The comics depict Pepe and his anthropomorphized animal friends behaving like stereotypical post-college bros: playing video games, eating pizza, smoking pot and being harmlessly gross… In one comic, Pepe responds to a question about his bathroom habits with, ‘Feels good, man;'” and the image and phrase took a life of its own on the cultural landscape of the internet. Soon, racist and anti-Semitic iterations of Pepe’s image and signature phrase proliferated across Euro-American social media, include one where Pepe has a Hitler mustache; and the Anti-Defamation League declared it a hate symbol in 2016.

During the same timeline, Pepe’s popularity on the Chinese Internet exploded, but under the moniker of shangxin quingwa, or Sad Frog. Users empathize with the Sad Frog’s existential sorrow and made iterations of the image with augmented Chinese captions. Pepe was made into sticker/expression packages for messaging applications, like WeChat, and even into online merchandise, like artisanal Pepe tissue dispensers on sites like Etsy. Most recently, Pepe is appearing in protest signs and graffiti in Hong Kong as a way for protestor to express their frustrations and grievances with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and HK administration. One popular image is a nurse with an eye patch holding a sign of a sad, bloody-eyed Pepe with the caption, “Police shot my eye.” This image gained traction on the predominate Euro-American social media platform, Reddit, and has subsequently been written about in multiple international news outlets, including the New York Times.

For Police Shot #Pepe Eye (#PEPE), I am comparing the dichotomy between interpersonal communication via oral traditions and mass communication via memes as mechanisms of resistance against cultural erasure. Hong Kong is uniquely situated where the majority still speaks Cantonese instead of the official language of Mandarin. The CCP have enacted several policies to ensure cultural hegemony by regulating China’s Standard Mandarin policies. Some of these measures include: decrease use of Cantonese (and no use of any other dialect) in Chinese television, sponsorship of interracial marriages between Mandarin speakers and ethnic minorities like Muslims and Tibetans, and forcing Hong Kong universities to adopt Mandarin. The very act of speaking in your mother tongue is an act of protest.

#PEPE is an participatory video and AR application. The video component is a seamlessly looping 16 frame animation of the Pepe meme juxtapositioning its Euro-American and Chinese (before and during the HK protests) contexts. Viewers will have personalized experience of the video through a downloadable AR application, and are recommended to experience the video projection through the phone with headphones on. Using volumetric capture technology, I have collected snap-shots of my lips saying “Police Shot Pepe’s Eye” in my mother tongue, Hakka. These snap-shots are converted and simplified into 3D models that overlays on top of Pepe’s lips through an AR phone application. The sound component comprises of audio recordings of the same phrase in my mother tongue. However, the audio will be generatively glitched and distorted so that it organically changes based on viewers’ phone motion sensors; in order to create a piece of music/sound that is constantly evolving with viewer participation.

#PEPE explores the struggle between rebellion and control being fought on the digital landscape. Memes are a vehicle for communication and spread of ideas to the masses, but they can also be weaponized to breed hate, and thwart discord and protest. My aim is to have the viewers consider memes within the discourse of communication studies, like traditional oral languages, as a mode of resistance and schism

Process for Variant