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Pepper-Spray Cop: Birth of a Meme

Photocritic International Covers the “Pepper-Spray Cop” Meme

Lt. John Pike with pepper spray and Lolcat caption. Based on a photo by Louise Macabitas.

Lt. John Pike with pepper spray and Lolcat caption. Based on a photo by Louise Macabitas.

On November 18, 2011, Lt. John Pike of the campus police force at the University of California-Davis doused a group of seated Occupy protestors with military-grade pepper spray at point-blank range.

Still and video images of this action went online and viral within hours. Independently generated satirical photocollages accompanied them, proliferating exponentially, inserting Pike’s rotund figure into a wide and ever-growing variety of familiar images: famous paintings, classic photographs, scenes from film and TV, familiar ads, and more. Before our very eyes, a photo-based meme was born.

Lt. John Pike with pepper spray - meme. Based on a photo by Louise Macabitas.

Lt. John Pike with pepper spray – meme. Based on a photo by Louise Macabitas.

I covered these developments in a series of posts here at Photocritic International, since the situation depends so heavily on lens-based imagery in both its citizen journalism and citizen op-ed aspects. Links to pertinent posts in this blog, which in turn contain links to pertinent primary documents, news stories, still and video images, and other related information, can be found here, the most recent first:

• Lt. John Pike Goes Viral, 13 (12/26/13): In which I ask about the source of the unauthorized pepper spray used by Pike, and ponder the implications of the bizarre appointment of former Homeland Security chief Janet Napolitano to head the UC system.

• Lt. John Pike Goes Viral, 12 (12/05/13): In which I summarize the FBI corruption underpinning the introduction of pepper spray to the “less than lethal” arsenal of police forces nationwide.

• Lt. John Pike Goes Viral, 11 (12/05/13): In which I trace the fortunes of the principal UC Davis staff and administration members consequent to “Pepper-Spray Cop” John A. Pike’s career-defining moment.

• Lt. John Pike Goes Viral, 10 (12/03/13): In which I propose career alternatives for “Pepper-Spray Cop” John A. Pike: politics and rap music.

• Lt. John Pike Goes Viral, 9 (11/30/13): In which I discuss UC Davis’s $38K settlement of the worker’s compensation claim of disability due to “psychiatric injury” filed by “Pepper-Spray Cop” John A. Pike III.

• Lt. John Pike Goes Viral, 8 (10/7/12): In which I discuss the $1 million settlement with students forced on UC Davis by “Pepper-Spray Cop” John A. Pike III, bringing the total cost of Pike’s various misdeeds at over $4 million.

• Lt. John Pike Goes Viral, 7 (8/5/12): In which I discuss the firing by UC Davis of “Pepper-Spray Cop” John A. Pike III.

• Lt. John Pike Goes Viral, 6 (4/29/12): In which I discuss the official reports on the November 18, 2011 “Pepper-Spray Cop” event at UC Davis.

• Lt. John Pike Goes Viral, 5 (12/16/11): In which I examine the unanticipated impact of the viral “Pepper-Spray Cop” stills and videos in mainland China.

• Lt. John Pike Goes Viral, 4 (12/5/11): In which I weigh the respective roles of the individual at the top of the University of California’s chain of command — UC President Mark Yudof — and his response to this situation apparently generated by the on-the-spot decision of his underling, Lt. Pike.

• Lt. John Pike Goes Viral, 3 (11/30/11): In which I contemplate at some length the citizen-journalist documentation — still and video — of the November 18th event, and its centrality to the emergent debate over this episode and the larger question of police response to nonviolent protest.

• Lt. John Pike Goes Viral, 2 (11/27/11): In which I predict the consequences of Lt. Pike’s course of action for himself, his fellow police officers involved in the incident, UC Davis Polic Chief Annette Spicuzza, and UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi — and debut my own new YouTube video, “Megyn Kelly’s MK-9 Pepper Spray for Kids!”

• Lt. John Pike Goes Viral, 1 (11/24/11): In which I open my discussion of this event, the citizen journalism that went viral and made it newsworthy internationally, and the citizen op-ed photocollage commentary that, almost instantly, turned Lt. Pike into a meme.

I’ve made my own contributions to the evolution of this meme. These include:

"Pepper-Spray Cop: The Comic," by A. D. Coleman (cover)

“Pepper-Spray Cop: The Comic,” by A. D. Coleman (cover)

“Pepper-Spray Cop: The Comic.” My first experiment with comic-book form as a vehicle for critical commentary, posted 12/16/11. Available in four formats:

  1. Movie version (14.5 minutes, 640×480). With voiceover. On Vimeo.
  2. Movie version (in two 7.5-minute segments), 1240×720. With voiceover. Click here for Part 1, and here for Part 2. On YouTube.
  3. Web version (html).
  4. PDF file, viewable online or downloadable to your computer, ebook reader, or other device.
  5. Audio version.

• “A. D. Coleman describes the evocative impact of images in the social networking era,” a half-hour interview with journalist Melinda Pillsbury-Foster for her show at Rumor Mill Radio/Radio RMN, published online on December 6, 2011. Click here to listen to it online and/or to download a podcast. (Yes, this is the same Chicago-based Melinda Pillsbury-Foster who plays a role in the “Lost Negatives of Ansel Adams” story covered here at length.)

Megyn Kelly's MK-9 Pepper Spray for Kids (advertisement)

Megyn Kelly’s MK-9 Pepper Spray for Kids (advertisement)

• “Megyn Kelly’s MK-9 Pepper Spray for Kids!”: In which my alter ego, The Derrière Garde, narrates an advertisement for her own branded version of what Fox News starlet Kelly has declared is “a food product, essentially.” Posted 11/27/11.

Admittedly rather crude in its production values, but, by letting me see the possibilities, it encouraged me to pursue the possibilities of video, audio, and multimedia presentations for this blog.

• Finally, my own photocollage, “Anonymous the Squirrel vs. Lt. John Pike,” a spaghetti western-style showdown in which meme meets meme . . .

"Anonymous the Squirrel vs. Lt. John Pike," photocollage by A. D. Coleman, 2011. Based on a photo by Louise Macabitas.

“Anonymous the Squirrel vs. Lt. John Pike,” photocollage by A. D. Coleman, 2011. Based on a photo by Louise Macabitas.

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