The Taste of Kent

"Move along, folks. No one can see here." Item: The former police officer who pepper-sprayed students during an Occupy protest at the University of California, Davis is appealing for worker's compensation, claiming he suffered psychiatric injury from the 2011 confrontation. …

Online videos of [Officer John Pike] and another officer casually dousing demonstrators with pepper spray went viral, sparking outrage at UC Davis leaders. The images became a rallying symbol for the Occupy Wall Street movement.

--  Huffington Post, July 26, 2013

Nothing helps a story more than an iconic visual—that photo or video clip that distills your complex narrative into one inspiring, defining visual.

  • The lone man who stopped a column of Chinese tanks armed with nothing more than two shopping bags symbolized the courage of the Tiananmen Square protesters in 1989.
  • "Native American" Iron Eyes Cody (played by Italian American actor Expera Oscar de Corti) launched the environmental movement of the early 1970's with a single tear.
  • More realistically, the anguish of the 1960's anti-war movement was captured by the Pulitzer-winning photo of the Kent State student who had just been gunned down by a National Guardsman.

Last year, the Occupy Wall Street movement was having a heck of a time capturing its multifaceted temper tantrum in a single complaint, let alone an iconic image--until fate stepped in  to lend a hand.

Meet Lt. John Pike, a.k.a. Sgt. Pepper. Little did Pike know when he was lacing up his boots that morning that by day's end he was going to be the star of the meme heard 'round the world.

Apparently, when the protesters refused to "respect his authoritah," Pike's pique got the better of him, and he began pepper-spraying them like weeds.

The video and photo spread across the globe in seconds. Minutes later, memes of the photo were popping up all over the Internet. There were even memes of memes. (You have to check this out.) In a mere 24 hours, the National TV had warmed up and the Red and Blue Networks were spinning the story ... out of control, in some cases.

FOX News anchor Megyn Kelly described pepper spray to "a food product, essentially," inspiring her own meme-thology. Meanwhile, closeted one-percenter Michael Moore, on MSNBC, compared the pepper spray incident to the defiant act of the tank man in Tiananmen Square.

Whether you believe the students were inconvenienced by a condiment or assaulted by an AK-Jalapeno, Moore was right about one thing: this was "an iconic moment in this Occupy Wall Street movement."

The lesson: Iconic images aren't just for protests anymore. The competition for the nation's limited mental bandwidth is fierce. If you want to reach their hearts and minds, you've gotta catch their eyes.