Photoshop and the Phenomenology of Violence

With the continued proliferation of the Casual Pepper Spray Cop meme, which I posted on a few days back, we’ve seen Lt. Pike placed in the most far-flung fictional and real-world situations, from historical civil rights marches to the halls of Hogwarts, from the Death Star to Nazi Germany. In these images, he reaches new levels of cruelty, horror, (ambivalent) humor, sheer absurdity, and grotesqueness as he sprays his pepper spray in the eyes of men, women, monsters, cartoon characters, animals, and children. Among these, however, it is the above image which, for me, remains unsurpassed in its ability to reveal the deep, embodied reality of the officer’s brutality. With his pepper-spray canister replaced by a watering can, his posture — his total body comportment in relation to the world — is revealed to be perfectly consonant with the activity of watering flowers (rather than pepper-spraying peaceful protestors). He is relaxed, almost meditative, at peace with the world around him, in a Zen-like symbiotic harmony (wu wei) with the environment. This, I suggest, is the ultimate indictment of his violent act.

And now for something completely different…

There’s nothing really funny about any of this, of course, but there are some ingenious (and in some cases quite disturbing) images over at Occupy Lulz (via BoingBoing) that — as with these images exploiting and propagating the immediate iconicity of UC Davis Police Lt. John Pike — testify to the central role of imaging technologies and social media in the phenomenon that is #Occupy.