November 22, 2011

Taking it to the Kittens: The Pepper Spray Cop Meme — and What It Means

Pepper Spray Statue of Liberty

But does this kind of “fun” trivialize a serious event? After all, as inevitably happens on the Web, the meme has gone on to have Pike spraying adorable little kittens.

There is that danger, but Stopera makes the case that the news about what occurred at UC Davis is now reaching a whole new — and probably younger — audience. If they jump from Tumblr posts with funny or sarcastic images to search for news about what’s going on, they end up learning about what happened.

And, of course, it is a meme — which means it probably has a life of just another day or two. So if it does dissolve into the silly, it won’t be for long.

from: “Casually Pepper Spraying Cop’ Meme Takes Off” via THE two-way (NPR)

Different “pepper spray everything” images have different messages. If you page through the Pepper Spraying Cop Tumblr site,

I think the writer in the quote is missing the point, and not giving either visual consumers or the images nearly enough credit. If you page through the Pepper Spraying Cop Tumblr site, you’ll realize that many of the best pics are simultaneously totally funny and totally not funny. That’s because, you don’t mess with what’s culturally sacred. You don’t mess with John John on the tarmac in his short pants. You don’t fuck up Jesus — at least, not when Michaelangelo has had a hand in it, and you don’t assault Snoopy. But no one clued Officer Pike (who otherwise looks and sounds like some sad sack extra from Andy of Mayberry) about what we still aspire to and hold sacred in 2011. And what he did, especially in the incomprehensible and grotesque and naked and superior and pitiful and unilateral and weirdly stop-time and goddamn orange way it presented, is exactly like putting it in the face of Forrest Gump.

Different images are surely saying particular things, but what they are all saying, at the meta-level, is: after witnessing such a profound betrayal of trust perpetrated by the State, as mentor and guardian, on the kids in their trust, we have further lost innocence and the lens we were using up until last week to view our culture through suddenly isn’t so clear anymore.

As so, it’s in that exaggeration and the incomprehensibility of these cascading photoshopped images that we feel some relief that, no, nobody would go that far — that our iconic images of Marilyn, and the indelible vision of John and Yoko meeting the press in bed, and all our kittens (and kitten jpegs) are actually safe. And that’s how pathos works.

It’s already pretty late (or early) here on the left coast so I’ll leave the analysis of individual images till later. I do really love “The Statue of Pike,” however, especially how he gets the copper treatment. (Well, he is “a copper,” isn’t he?) Just like gave it to UC Davis’ huddled masses, the riot cop absolutely deserves to be set up right now on America’s highest pedestal — as a platform for the highest moral circumspection. Because frankly, after Thursday, who knows what liberty, an ideal having been washed out by testosterone, still stands for?

Post By

Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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