When Lt. John Pike was taped spraying a line of seated Occupy Wall Street protestors at the University of California, Davis, outrage was the immediate reaction.
Then, in just a few days, Pike morphed into something else — an Internet meme; which puts him in the rarified company of Keanu Reeves (Sad Keanu), Leonardo DiCaprio (Strutting Leo) and Oprah Winfrey (Firewalking Oprah). Soon hundreds of PhotoShopped pics of Pike spraying everyone from Jimmy Stewart to baby seals surfaced online at sites like BuzzFeed and tumblr.
And it didn’t stop there — memes were blended and soon an image of Strutting Leo wielding a can of pepper spray was making the rounds, too.
But does the parody somehow diminish the Occupy Wall Street movement or what happened at UC Davis? According to Jenna Wortham and Nick Bilton writing for the New York Times, no:
The goofy images are more than likely to generate a laugh — but that doesn’t necessarily mean they trivialize or diminish the gravity of the original incident on Friday. In fact, it might actually raise awareness among an online audience that didn’t know about the event, said Matt Stopera, an editor at BuzzFeed, in an NPR interview.
“The fact that it’s spreading on Tumblr means that it’s getting to a whole other, younger audience,” Matt Stopera, an editor at trend-tracker BuzzFeed tells the Times. “When you see this image, you wonder, why is the guy pepper-spraying? You go to Google and search it and see the video. The video is so powerful I think it can only get more eyes on it.”