I’d like to think there is nothing more to add to the “Pepper Spray Cop” meme that’s floating all over the web. It was funny at first, as people rushed to show off their Photoshop skills by inserting Officer Pike into everything from a painting by Seraut to groups of Muppets. But then things turned serious, as he started appearing in iconic 20th century photographs.
When does something become unfunny? Is it when every aspect has been exhausted, or when it starts to interfere with our feelings about historical events and their importance?
Is putting him into the infamous Kent State photo, or Nick Ut’s photo of a screaming girl running from a napalm attack, or Robert Capa’s falling soldier going too far? Does it remove the meaning of these images and the events they portray in order to belabor a joke?
Pete Brook of Prison Photography tweeted:
“What does the pepper spray cop meme actually mean? Well, some of the mash-ups can be funny ... but some of them are distasteful. And by distasteful I mean they use a commonly recognised image to grab attention but then belittle the horror of the original event.”
Some think that this is a way to reach a younger audience who might be interested in then figuring out what the context of the photo is. I’m not so sure. I think there’s a point where you have to realize not everything is fodder for comedy. It belittles the people in the photos and the people who took the photos at great risk when they are so indiscriminately used for something that has already passed its sell date.
And even the website creator says:
“Lastly, I don’t want to post the one of the naked girl in Vietnam screaming in the road or the guy getting shot in the head so stop sending them. I literally have FIVE THOUSAND submissions of those two pictures. Arbitrary? Sure. Tough luck! Don’t like it? OCCUPY MY ASS. Figuratively.”
Enough already. I am waiting for the basket of kittens, though.
(top to bottom original photos: Bill Hudson, John Filo, Robert Capa)