Filed Under:

'Casually Pepper Spraying Cop' Meme Takes Off

Play associated audio
Spraying the Declaration of Independence
Spraying the Declaration of Independence

When he walked down a line of seated Occupy protesters Friday at the University of California Davis and shot pepper spray directly at them, campus police Lt. John Pike likely never thought that video of the incident would go viral on the Web, that there would be outrage not only at the school but around the nation, or that "casually pepper spraying cop" would quickly become one of the year's top memes.

All those things did indeed happen.

And as's Matt Stopera tells NPR, when he and others look back at the end of the year to judge which memes took off, "this is definitely going to be one of the bigger, more important memes."



A quick note for the many among us who need a definition: As says, an Internet meme is "a piece of content or an idea that's passed from person to person, changing and evolving along the way."



In this case, as Stopera told NPR, the piece of content was a photo of Pike. It's thought that the first person to do something interesting with the image was James Alex — better known on the Web as Jockohomo. The meme basically started when, as Alex explains on his blog, he remixed images of Pike in paintings like Thomas Eakins' The Gross Clinic 1875 and Willard's The Spirit of 76'.

That's lead to others inserting Pike into classic works. "People kind of just went crazy from there," said Stopera.

But does this kind of "fun" trivialize a serious event? After all, as inevitably happens on the Web, the meme has gone on to have Pike spraying adorable little kittens.

There is that danger, but Stopera makes the case that the news about what occurred at UC Davis is now reaching a whole new — and probably younger — audience. If they jump from Tumblr posts with funny or sarcastic images to search for news about what's going on, they end up learning about what happened.

And, of course, it is a meme — which means it probably has a life of just another day or two. So if it does dissolve into the silly, it won't be for long.

Correction at 5:44 p.m. ET. In an earlier version of this post we attributed the image of Pike spraying the Declaration of Independence in John Trumbull's iconic painting to James Alex. It's not clear who remixed that image.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit


WAMU 88.5

Anne Tyler: "A Spool Of Blue Thread" (Rebroadcast)

In her first live radio interview ever, Pulitzer Prize winning author Anne Tyler joins Diane to talk about her 20th novel, "A Spool of Blue Thread."


Fine Brine From Appalachia: The Fancy Mountain Salt That Chefs Prize

An artisanal salt producer is processing brine from ancient ocean deposits below West Virgina's mountains. The company, J.Q. Dickinson Salt-Works, ships to top chefs who value the salt's minerality.

Downed Russian Warplane Highlights Regional Divide On Syria

Hugh Pope, director of communications and outreach at the International Crisis Group in Brussels, explains the growing divide between Turkey and Russia on their priorities inside Syria.

From Takeout To Breakups: Apps Can Deliver Anything, For A Price

Convenience is at an all-time premium — and a lot of smartphone apps promise to make many of the things we do every day easier. In a time-crunch or sheer laziness, how far will the apps take us?

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.