It’s called bad kairos.
The reaction of the UC Davis police to peaceful student protesters is now an internet meme featuring Lt. John Pike pepper-spaying everything from baby seals to the Declaration of Independence. These images are satire and deadly serious howls of outrage (an outrage I share).
Pepper-spraying the students at UC Davis was a speech act in that physical acts may be interpreted by witnesses as springing from particular ideologies and “speaking” for those ideologies. The act, then, becomes a text of that ideology and open to reaction, critique, and resistance.
These photoshopped shenanigans (just search for pepper spray cop on Google) have Pike spraying vulnerable and/or sacred things, i.e. the two images reproduced here. I interpret that to mean that the authors of these images believe Pike, and the power he represents, is a direct threat to our culture (and I happen to agree with them if this is the case) .
It’s difficult to know what political impact these images might have. Bursting into a meme so quickly is significant, I think. But then there’s the irreverent and, in some cases, outrageous subjects that could easily turn the meme against the authors. Also bad kairos?
Wait and see.