Nature abhors a vacuum, it is said; and the internet abhors unexplained dissonance. When photographs emerged of police lieutenant John Pike pepper-spraying University of California Davis students, it wasn’t just the violence in those images that captured the world’s attention – it was the surreal juxtaposition of that violence with Pike’s oddly casual body language and facial expression
(…)One way the internet deals with that kind of upsetting dissonance is to mock it. And that’s what the internet has done with Pike. The “casually pepper-spraying cop” is now a meme, a kind of folk art or shared visual joke that is open to sharing and reinterpretation by anyone. This particular meme has spread with unusual velocity – in part, I imagine, because the subject matter is just as weird as it is upsetting.