In October 2016, I devoted a Mythological Spotlight to an obscure Egyptian deity of darkness named Kuk. The reason I decided to do so was because I became fascinated with the development of what was called the “Cult of Kek”, a memetic movement based around the meme of Pepe the Frog cast as a deity named Kek, who was also treated as somewhat identical to the Egyptian deity Kuk (who at this point is now just referred to as Kek anyway). Such fascination was partly fueled by the idea of a god of darkness being propelled to prominence via meme “magic” and the political arena through the US presidential election in 2016, and in a seemingly rebellious context given not just the chaotic nature of the Internet, let alone the imageboard culture the meme spawned from, . For that, at the time, I praised the Cult of Kek for taking such an obscure deity and giving Kuk new life and quite possibly more prominence than he ever had in ancient Egypt.
My post was written the month before Donald Trump’s election in America, and since then interest in the obscure Egyptian deity has grown in the aftermath of Trump’s election, and it seemed that there was something energizing about the Kek meme deity. Even during the beginnings of the Kekistan meme, which looking back now seems utterly pointless and cringeworthy, it appeared as though the meme was growing and gaining a new mythology, one that seemed to have a purpose – namely, to parody identity politics from both intersectionalist liberals and right-wing ethno-nationalists by the creation of a “nation of ethnic shitposters”. Of course, Kekistan has since morphed into either nothing more than a new millennial habitat for boomer generation conservative thought (as in the kind of shit you see from the likes of Dinesh D’Souza) or UKIP style right-populism – which considering the slide of the Sargonites towards full-throated, unquestioning worship of Donald Trump should probably come as no surprise. I swear I’ve seen a few actual fascists and/or neo-Nazis operate under the Kekistan banner as well, which really goes to show the failure of the Kekistan meme at ridiculing or repelling such figures.
Despite what some self-styled “rational skeptics” on the Internet wanted to believe, there’s a reason the Kekistan movement, Pepe the Frog and by extension Kek got dismissed as purely right-wing momentum or even racist propaganda. It’s not because Pepe or Kek are inherently racist or reactionary symbols to begin with (by all accounts Pepe the Frog started as a politically neutral comic character), but because the symbol was so mercilessly co-opted and capitalized on by right wing movements: conservatives, libertarians, right wing nationalists, alt-righters, across the wing really. And the funny thing about right-wing movements in the current climate is that, with right-wing movements rising across the West and winning elections across Europe, not to mention already controlling the government in the USA, the transgressive nature, or rather the mask of transgression, of such a movement became stale and wore-off as it became clear that the Kekists, alt-right or not, were simply culture warriors fighting alongside inane political issues, in so doing failing to truly challenge society. But how can they truly transgress and challenge society when, after gaining political power across the board, the only thing the new American right lacks is respect? And so the Kekistan movement descends into a movement that exists solely to own the libs, and fittingly enough the politics of the man who propelled the Kekistan meme, one Carl Benjamin, has openly admitted that his politics is now basically the same idea. Before the end of 2017, Kekistan was established as a den of losers and failsons, not the bold, transgressive cultural rebels they thought themselves to be, and a few neo-Nazis who stuck around to co-opt the idea.
Returning to Pepe the Frog in general, the creator of the character, Matt Furie, obviously wasn’t too happy seeing his creation take on a life of its own and turn into a mascot for right-wing politics that he didn’t agree with, so at one point he tried “killing” his character within his universe, thinking that the rightists who appropriated him for their own ends would go along with it. But of course, they didn’t. Instead they took exception to it, condemned Matt Furie, and predictably memed the shit out of Pepe’s death (not to mention “resurrecting” Pepe the Frog by creating new memes). More recently, however, Furie succeeded in getting the Daily Stormer, the flagship news outfit for neo-Nazis everywhere, to remove images of Pepe the Frog from their website.
So where does this leave Kek, exactly?
Before we answer that, I think it’s worth addressing where exactly the transgressive power that fueled Kek’s modern day rise came from. In broad terms, it was fueled by the stagnation and declining legitimacy of modern liberalism. By allying itself with the hollow internationalism of big capital, liberalism became a very establishmentarian ideology, and this has lead to a widespread contradiciton within society at large. It’s quite obvious when you think about it: how can one preach about how equal we all are as many liberals do while economic inequality remains a feature of capitalism and runs rampant particularly in the USA? How does one preach of how free a society we are while we face increasing restrictions on our civil liberty in response to terrorism, “hate speech” and new technological developments? How does one preach of the integrity of our democratic values as the machinations of the political system appear increasingly corrupt, and our leaders so distant from the people? But for the right, one concern in particular is set on immigration. Namely, the perception that the ruling class of liberals values foreigners above native citizens. This is of course the product of the juxtaposition of immigration pursued for cheap labour, alongside the challenges of the European migration crisis, alongside the dislocation and alienation of the native working class.
The problem, of course, arises in the failure to trace all of this contradiction back to its economic roots in capitalism. After all, so long as capitalism must transcend the borders of the nation state it can never, ever, remain tied to the nation and its people. And all the while it also does a good job of fucking over the third world through neo-imperial economic policies, contributing to the conditions that generate mass migration from third world countries into first world countries. Not to mention the widening contradiction between free market capitalism, with its emphasis on the private individual’s ability to amass wealth and property, and democracy, with its inherent emphasis on the ability of the people as a mass to act and be represented politically. Instead of piecing this together, the right is distracted by culture war politics, national chauvinism, identity politics, and political correctness, placing them far above the material issues faced by society. However, to be honest, the left (or at least what passes for a left these days) did a poor job of answering this, with the dominant social-democratic movements more or less allying with modern liberalism while consolidating around the very phantoms the right fixates itself on, without truly addressing the material issues. And so the alliance of liberalism and social-democracy creates a polite, politically correct consensus for bourgeois interests, creating the framework for right-wing politics to appear transgressive where it wasn’t so transgressive before outside of maybe libertarianism.
These conditions fed into was what was at the time a delightfully transgressive movement, promising to destroy the old order of things. But of course, the reality is that they are incapable of such a task. If the UK is any indication, all that Europe will get from a Brexit from the right is a menagerie of countries seeking new masters. Or, if Hungary is any indication, one overbearing political order shall be replaced with another. But, in any case, Pepe the Frog will continue to be utilized as the symbol of the various right-wing movements consolidating around Europe and America, already the new symbol of this broad coalition dubbed “The New Right” (perhaps it should be The New New Right given the pre-existing New Right of the 1980s). But in the process it will be nothing more than that: just the emblem of a preset political movement that, ironically for a god of chaos, values the authority of the state to be exercised in order to uphold its own sovereignty (not the sovereignty of the people of course because right-wing nationalism only gives a shit about state sovereignty) and promote what they believe to be the traditional values of the given countries. The god of darkness and chaos will just be an emblem of strident, overbearing order.
And so Kek will stand as a bastardized idol, bereft of the transgressive power it briefly attained as the movements who appropriate him lose their transgressive qualities as they gain power, and the meaning of this obscure frog deity will be paved over by his new identity. And then, when these right-wing strivings die off in the end, and these movements lose their former momentum, Kek will fade from memory, as just another absurd symbol of the radical right, and he will die as a perverted husk of his former self, indeed he will be just as perverted as many pagan symbols that had become co-opted by fascistic movements in the past. And all the while, the party we had for him was already over.