How Davis police officer will be seen for years because the Web

The pepper-spraying cop gets Photoshop justice | Xeni Jardin
[Via Comment is free: Cif America | guardian.co.uk]

The casual way a policeman pepper-sprayed protesting students at UC Davis has caused outrage but also a mocking response

Nature abhors a vacuum, it is said; and the internet abhors unexplained dissonance. When photographs emerged of police lieutenant John Pike pepper-spraying University of California Davis students, it wasn’t just the violence in those images that captured the world’s attention – it was the surreal juxtaposition of that violence with Pike’s oddly casual body language and facial expression.

Photoshop out the students from that picture with your mind. Forget about Pike’s uniform, let’s say he’s just wearing street clothes. Now, instead of a policeman spraying a less-lethal chemical weapon down the throats of peacefully seated 20-year-olds, you might be able to interpret this tableau as a figure sauntering through a garden, spraying weeds. Or maybe he’s your paunchy, moustached uncle, nonchalantly dousing bugs in the basement with insecticide.

One way the internet deals with that kind of upsetting dissonance is to mock it. And that’s what the internet has done with Pike. The “casually pepper-spraying cop” is now a meme, a kind of folk art or shared visual joke that is open to sharing and reinterpretation by anyone. This particular meme has spread with unusual velocity – in part, I imagine, because the subject matter is just as weird as it is upsetting.

Even Kamran Loghman, one of the men who developed pepper spray as a weapon with the FBI in the 1980s, had a hard time reconciling it. “I have never seen such an inappropriate and improper use of chemical agents,” Loghman told the New York Times. And Loghman might add “insouciant” to that list of adjectives. I mean, look at the guy. He’s not braced for imminent attack by a foe; he does not move with tension as if navigating a hostile environment. He’s administering punishment, and his face says: “Meh.”

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The Web often presents its own justice. In this case, it has taken the dissonance conveyed by the casual manner in which Officer Pike inflicted pain and added it to various pictures. By doing to it changes that very casualness into something else, sometimes sophomoric


and sometimes more profound.

Officer Pike will always be known for this from now on. Not a way I would want to be remembered.