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Monday, November 21, 2011

Pepper-spray cop works his way through art history

Lt. John Pike, the U.C. Davis campus police officer who pepper-sprayed passive student protesters, is popping up in some of the world’s most famous paintings as part of an Internet meme intended to shame him for his actions.
On Friday, Pike casually pepper-sprayed protesters in a video that quickly went viral. “The apparent absence of empathy from the police officer, applying a toxic chemical to humans as if they were garden pests, is shocking,” The Post’s Phil Kennicott wrote.

Over the weekend, Pike’s visage popped up in Photoshopped into other scenes of languid passivity, such as Edouard Manet’s “Le Dejeuner sur l’Herbe” (The Luncheon on the Grass).
The images are a cheeky way of fighting back against what students say was an unwarranted use of forceful policing tactics. The university has defended Pike’s actions, though he and two other police officers have been suspended pending an investigation.
Online, the damage to his and the university’s reputations may already be done: Kennicott says the video will be among the defining imagery of the movement.
Although another controversial image, showing an elderly woman hit with pepper spray near an Occupy protest in Seattle, made this nonlethal form of crowd control an iconic part of the new protest movement, the UC-Davis video goes even further in crystallizing an important question: What does the social contract say about nonviolent protest, and what is the role of police in a democratic society?
Though there are dozens of variations on the pepper-spray cop meme — some inserting him into patriotic moments in history, while others are just mash-ups with other memes — the images of Pike in paintings are effective hyperbole for illustrating his nonchalance in pepper-spraying quiescent protesters.
Update: It’s always hard to trace the origins of a meme, especially a viral one like this, but in this case, we may have found one of the masterminds behind some of these pictures. A reader, James Alex, writes that he’s the man behind the Manet, the Willard, and the Wyeth. Thanks, James!
John Trumbull's famous painting, "Declaration of Independence." Pike is blasting pepper spray on the document itself.

Pepper-spraying in Picasso’s “Guernica.” The creator of the image emulated the artist’s style in depicting Pike, center left.

Instead of God giving life to Adam, Pike gives pepper spray to God in this take on Michelangelo’s famous portion of the Sistine Chapel ceiling.

It’s “Liberty Leading the People,” but in Eugene Delacroix’s famous painting of the French Revolution, Liberty takes some pepper spray to the face.

Pike pepper-sprays Revolutionary War soldiers in A.M. Willard’s painting “The Spirit of ’76” or “Yankee Doodle.”

Pike makes a stop in “Christina’s World,” by Andrew Wyeth.

In the famous painting “Washington Crossing the Delaware,” by Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze, Washington is met with a blast of pepper spray to the face.

Pike aims his pepper spray at a leisurely woman in Georges Seurat’s “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.”

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