Mary Elizabeth Williams has a great defense up of the new internet meme that puts John Pike, that cop who was photographed calmly—chillingly—pepper spraying innocent, non-violent protesters at UC Davis while they sat rather helplessly on the ground hurting no one. Pike is now being photoshopped into an endless array of situations, re-imagined as a man with a can dousing the entire world in pepper spray.
Like Williams, I think this whole thing is just awesome. Not the pepper spraying, of course, which is a distressing human rights violation and the cumulation of decades worth of our police turning from "serve and protect" to a militarized force that harasses people, tears up communities, and overreacts to all sorts of situations with unnecessary violence. This meme, however, is great.
The point of it is clearly to reposition Pike in absurd situations to drive home how absurd it is in the first place to have cops calmly pepper spraying innocent civilians for protesting, treating them like offal instead of human beings. It also helps remind us that we've become accustomed to images of police brutality, that some times our eyes just glaze right over them as we move on to the next Garfield comic of LOLcat. I also get a sense from some of these pictures that the point is that this kind of violence is now everywhere, woven into the fabric of our lives. By having Pike pepper spray the Fraggles, the image creator is saying, with humor, that no one is safe.
It's easy to overrate at times the importance of the internet as a democraticizing force, but in situations like the OWS protests and the support system that's developed online, you reall see how valuable it is. The sheer amount of modern day folk art like this in support of the protesters hijacks the narrative about OWS only being a handful of dirty hippies with nothing better to do, and sends a strong reminder that the support for these protests is broad, diverse, clever, and creative. And funny as hell. Power really hates it when you laugh at it, because the whole point of authority is that they take themselves far too fucking seriously.
I continue, as these protests go on, to be amazed at how predictably violent so many authority figures have been in response. They look like mindless robots programmed strictly to hate ordinary Americans for thinking we deserveto have a piece of this great country we actually did the work of building.