Reactor

Pepper Spray Cop Meme Walks Through Art History

by Hrag Vartanian on November 21, 2011

Picasso's "Guernica" gets the UC Davis treatment. (all images via peppersprayingcop.tumblr.com unless otherwise noted)

The pepper-spray cop from UC Davis, or Lt. John Pike, has become a meme, but not just any meme but one that is walking through art works of every stripe if only to prove how ridiculous and absurd his actions were in the face of non-violent resistance.

Lt. Davis in Georges Seurat's "Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grand Jatte" (1884-86) (via

Unlike, the iconic image we posted about on Friday, this image’s cocktail of absurd authoritarianism has resonated with the interwebz and its love of pointing out hypocrisy. If the Picasso up top is more historically “correct” and connected to a moment of political resistance, the Seurat riff is more powerful in that it points out how lackadaisical the officer is going about his business — he strangely fits in the Sunday scene.

A Banksy gets in on the action. (click to enlarge)

Late last night on Hyperallergic LABS, we posted some of the earliest images from the meme and asked our readers to help us find the source of the images, but we haven’t had any luck even after dozens of leads and countless emails to potential meme originators.

What we did discover is how popular this meme is when our post, in only 12 hours received over 2,200 notes (not to mention 195 Facebook likes, 50 tweets and 6 G+s).

One of our Facebook fans, Michael Mayer, chimed in and pointed out a well-done version he created himself using Eugene Delacroix’s “Liberty Leading the People” (1830) [posted below].

Michael Mayer's version (via his Facebook page).

Another Facebook  fan, Richie Budd, added his thoughts via a comment about the “origins” of the meme. His remark is true about the brilliance of memes in general:

We all did. Give us all our 15 minutes.

Maura Jaukis, over at the Washington Post‘s ArtsPost blog, has a few others that demonstrate how widespread this meme has become in only a matter of days.

There is a whole tumblelog (of course) devoted to the meme, enjoy.

And if you know the origin of the meme please drop us a line and let us know here.

UPDATED: Know Your Meme has a whole gallery of pepper-spray cop riffs.

  • Subscribe to the Hyperallergic newsletter!

Hyperallergic welcomes comments and a lively discussion, but comments are moderated after being posted. For more details please read our comment policy.

Previous post:

Next post: