"Casually Pepper Spray Everything Cop"

On November 18th, police on the UC Davis campus pepper sprayed students staging a peaceful Occupy Wall Street protest. Images of one police officer walking casually, pepper spray in hand, down a line of students writhing on the ground spread like wildfire, and it wasn't long before a meme appeared—"Casually Pepper Spray Everything Cop." Shown, as might be expected, casually pepper spraying famous scenes such as Georges Seurat's A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte and John Trumbull's 1819 painting Declaration of Independence (pictured above), the "cop" meme became an instant sensation on social media sites like Facebook, Tumblr, Reddit and Twitter.

While it's natural to make light of such a terrible situation—and the meme undoubtedly helped spread knowledge of the event itself—it's unfortunately difficult to see much positive impact in its diffusion. It isn't much of a stretch to draw parallels between the brutality of police efforts to break up Occupy protests and the Kent State massacre in 1970, when four unarmed students protesting the invasion of Cambodia were shot by National Guardsmen. (One Occupy Seattle protester, for instance, was beaten and pepper sprayed by police and subsequently suffered a miscarriage.) Of course, UC Davis students and faculty immediately called for the resignation of the university chancellor who ordered breakup of the protest. However, the chancellor has yet to resign, the officers involved have only been suspended, and no discernible national movement has arisen in protest. It seems that the events at UC Davis are doomed to be forgotten in the rush of our 24/7 news cycle. After the Kent State massacre, in contrast, a nationwide strike of four million students closed hundreds of universities and strengthened public opposition to the war.

So, why no university closures? Why no public movement in solidarity with UC Davis and other Occupy protesters brutalized by police? Putting political divisions aside, I believe the spread of the "Pepper Spray Cop" meme is a symptom of the perverse desensitization that a sensationalized media system has cultivated in our society. To see such shocking events on television was a relatively new phenomenon in 1970, and it mobilized massive national protest after Kent State. To modern eyes, it's just another sensational headline, just another viral video, just another drop in the 24/7 media flood. I wouldn't be surprised to find that the spread of the "Pepper Spray Cop" meme even discouraged protest—not only does it make a mockery of the situation; it also grants a sort of catharsis through humor that might have been sought via protest in another era.

Source: Know Your Meme


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