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maryann johanson | takeaway only

question of the weekend: Do we diminish terrible events when we turn them into funny Internet memes?

From Know Your Meme (via Mashable) comes a quick instant history of how UC Davis police lieutenant John Pike calmly and casually pepper-spraying a group of quiet, seated, nonviolent Occupy protesters has morphed into a Net meme, like LOLcats for a revolutionary age. Have a look at what “Internet scientist” Forest Gibson has to say:

(I’m not sure if “Internet scientist” is meant to be tongue-in-cheek, like a play on, I dunno, “TV weatherman” or something. But the idea of studying how information travels and changes online is definitely fascinating and worth pursuing.)

Basically, Gibson explains how, and how quickly, we went from this:

Lt John Pike casually pepper-sprays peaceful protesters

to this:

casually pepper-spray Founding Fathers

See Know Your Meme for more examples.

Now, clearly, most of the riffs on Pike’s appalling act are satirical: he has been Photoshopped pepper-spraying fallen colonial soldiers of the American Revolution, little children listening to Jesus, and so on. Inevitably, Downfall Hitler has reacted to the meme, and here’s where it starts drifting away from political satire:

Though now it is drifting in the direction of satirizing the whole idea of the pepper-spray cop getting memed in the first place.

Gibson wraps up his video with a question:

Does the quick spread of these images serve to raise awareness of the alleged police brutality or do they turn the situation into a joke, lessening its impact?

We’ll make that more general:

Do we diminish terrible events when we turn them into funny Internet memes?

What do you think?

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD/QOTW, feel free to email me. Responses to this QOTW sent by email will be ignored; please post your responses here.)

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