This week we all were horrified at seeing John Pike, a University of California at Davis police lieutenant, pepper spray a collection of kneeling student demonstrators. Within hours, it became a meme, complete with amusing images, references to the actual product used by Pike, and clever plays on the cop's name. While I won't link to any of the images in this post, what I will do is provide the complete reference for building your own meme in the future, and examine the various skills and services that you need to get it going. Granted, the pepper spray meme was built on the keyboards of many individuals, acting loosely together. But studying this meme's progress can teach you what you need to know to get your next one out in front and at the top of Google's organic searches.
First off, you need solid Photoshop skills or being able to use any other image editing tool. The photo of Pike with his spray found itself embedded inside all sorts of other famous images, from the Beatles and Yoda to harp seals and Mt. Rushmore. Images are easy to spread around online: post a few to key Facebook friends to get things started. Some people have already curated the best and put into various slideshows. One made fun of the Pink Floyd "Dark Side of the Moon" album cover, using Pike's name.
Second, you need to set up a parody Twitter account and start posting as if you are the character in question. Make sure you start linking to the right influencers to get the word out so that your character's tweets are picked up by others. Even better, find other parody Twitter accounts and start DM'ing between them to generate buzz. Make sure you retweet pithy sayings on your chosen subject too, as you can see in the selection below.
Next, you need access to the raw footage in the "Hitler Reacts" Der Untergang bunker movie clip and be able to edit it to insert your own subtitles. There is even a YouTube channel devoted to the parodies from this short clip.
What I liked about the Hitler Pepper Spray video was how it poked fun of itself: "the cop is already a meme" after three days of online activity. "It took me more than 60 years to become a meme.... Being a meme used to mean something." And it ties itself back to the original reason the protesters at UCD were sprayed in the first place, too: Hitler at one point is saying, "Everyone who banks at a credit union leave the room."
Next, work the Web. Start sending your stuff to the various sites that cover Web culture (I won't mention their names, but you can guess who they are.) The more that they pick up your work, the better. Try a few mainstream press sites too while you are at it. Go back and post links to your favorite images, tweets and other items to spread the word quicker.
As Jon Stewart has found out, it also helps to get someone on Fox News to poke fun of, and even better when you can poke fun of the person's actual name. Having Megyn Kelly say that pepper spray is no big deal and "a food product essentially" started its own sub-meme right there.
Finally, don't forget about the product tie-ins. Of course, even pepper spray is sold by Amazon, and one product (pictured in our opening icon) got more than 200 parody "reviews" over this past week. "It really is the Cadillac of citizen repression technology," said one reviewer. "I have to restock the Fox News caffeteria five, six times a week with this stuff," clever nod to the Kelly quote. Others are quite elegantly worded. Don't forget to like the reviews too to propel the best ones up to the top of the queue.
Please note: I realize that the light tone that I am taking here may be construed as making light of what happened at UCD. I mean no such thing.