Other moments The Guardian memorialized in Legos for their year-end review include the royal wedding, Obama et al. watching the Bin Laden takedown, and the London riots. See even more in the newspaper’s News in Lego Flickr pool. (Hat tip to Hilary Gridley)
Like millions of others this past weekend, I watched the video of UC Davis Police Lieutenant John Pike and other officers hosing down protesters with pepper spray at close range with a horror, outrage and the repeating question in my mind, “What the fuck is going on in this country?” This was the latest, and perhaps most graphic example of police violence against protests during the amorphous Occupy Wall Street movement, but certainly not the first.
There was also a feeling last Sunday that this was a crystalizing moment for #OWS. That what we were seeing would become an iconic image that would truly focus the national conscience on the issues at the center of #OWS and the bizarre and violent reactions to the protests. And for one Sunday, that’s exactly what happened. The UC Davis incident dominated social media conversations and The Washington Post‘s Philip Kennicott wrote an interesting piece on what the spray-down may mean to our public conscience.
This, combined with the thousands of news stories, blog posts and video views of the incident gave me some hope that we’d finally be getting down to business and a serious discussion — pros and cons — of the Occupy Wall Street movement. But then this happened and the whole thing turned into another freaking Internet joke:
The Officer Pike meme is at times silly, interesting and yes, poignant — but it is a distraction. What’s worse, it is a distraction that removes the emotional resonance of the incident and divorces Pike from the violence he inflicts. By providing us with sanitized and silly assets to pass around, this meme makes it OK for us to move on from what happened at UC Davis, and around the country, and trivialize these events through this new shared experience of the meme. It also gives the media a pass. It allows them to continue to punt on taking a serious look at the #OWS story and, instead, trivialize it by associating it with this “new, silly meme that sprung up on the internet overnight!” (That’s a generic media quote.)
I’m generally a fan of memes, whether they’re silly, or used to make a point. But when a meme serves as a distraction and gives us an easy out from facing hard truths, it’s not doing anyone any good.
All that said, I do think this one gets to the point:
Yellow and white polo shirts, stitched with the logos of technology resellers and stretched over expanding bellies. Holstered smart phones hanging from woven brown belts. Tan Dockers and tasseled penny loafers. We move slowly, maneuvering our carry-ons through the crowd like rolling sheep on a leash.
The smell of smoked meat and chargrilled hamburgers ordered wordlessly from computer terminals. Smoking is only permitted in the Blue Note Cafe.
This is America at its most complacent — eating its flesh in silence, obeying the overhead voices and permitting itself to be herded through the government machinery of security check. Remove your shoes, your belt. Hands in the air — enter the machine. Be still, wait for the scan. We move with amoebic precision bulging through the food court and funneling toward our TSA minders.
We gaze into out touchscreen phones, stroking them like a worry stone, thumbing through message after message. We wait for the next plane to take us to the next car, which we’ll drive to the next faceless inn and suites. We earn points, we earn miles, all piling up for that next dream vacation.
We are moving because moving pays the bills. Because moving provides the American dream — a family, a truck, a home — all perched on a clean, bright, chemical-fed lawn and filled with cheap luxury.
America, your flight has arrived. Please collect your personal belongings and proceed to concourse B, gate 15, for an on-time departure.
Photo: Memphis International, by Flickr user sgtgary. Used under a Creative Commons License.