The Genius Behind the Pepper Spraying Cop Meme Speaks with Campus Progress
When campus police Lt. John Pike unleashed a canister of pepper spray into the faces of 18 peaceful students protesting at the University of California—Davis, he did it with such nonchalance and what seems to be causal swagger that it caught viewers off-guard.
And within hours, he was pepper spraying the rest of the world—from Beyoncé to the Beatles—in Photoshopped images that instantly spiraled into a worldwide hit thanks, in part, to the efforts of Brady Hall, the Seattle-based curator behind the Pepper Spraying Cop Tumblr. The concept has spurred other similar sites, a fake Pepper Spraying Cop Twitter account, and press accolades.
In an interview with Campus Progress, Hall—who runs the site while also creating some of the images—said the idea to launch a Tumblr with such images struck him after seeing Seurat’s famous “Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte” altered to include Pike’s now signature act. Check out some of our favorites following the edited interview below.
Campus Progress: What prompted you to create the Tumblr, beyond the incident itself?
Hall: I saw the Photoshop of Pepper Spraying Cop in the Seurat painting and then one more … and instantly thought "This has to be a Tumblr" and made it. I then proceeded to make a few of my own, the Christina's World, 2001, Guernica and a few others and put them up. Within hours I was getting views and submissions and it kind of snowballed from there.
Campus Progress: The Tumblr has certainly caught on—what kind of responses have you received?
Hall: It’s nuts. In the first real day, Monday the 21st, I got around 1,000 submissions. At least a third are pictures that are already on the blog, and another third are not really that good, and the last third I sift through and find the best ones.
[By the second day], I am still getting tons of submissions, now with a higher rate of duplicates and crappy ones, and it’s still going strong on acquiring followers. Around 100 an hour. So far I've been contacted by a few newspapers and websites.
A few people are yelling at me for not including links to petitions or putting up more "direct action" information, but I want to keep the page light and funny and let the images do whatever kind of lightweight activism they can. They do a pretty good job of sending a certain message about police brutality on their own without me shoehorning in any additional content.
Campus Progress: Do you have any plans to do other projects featuring the Pepper Spraying Cop?
Hall: I have no plans for anything else with this. As everybody knows, the attention span for things like this is remarkably low so I expect interest to significantly die down by the end of the week. Not only that, but the obvious pictures to put [Pepper Spaying Cop] into are already mostly exhausted, so it’s going to be hard to keep the momentum going.
Best Pepper Spraying Cop Images
Brian Stewart is the communications director at Generation Progress.