As I've been reading about the UC Davis police officer who sprayed pepper spray into the eyes of seated peaceful demonstrators (UC Davis pepper spray incident goes viral at the Christian Science Monitor, UC Davis pepper-spraying raises questions about role of police in the Washington Post) I've felt horror, outrage, empathy, sorrow.
But after a while, the news coverage begins to blur. The story becomes familiar, the repeated image or video clip becoming almost like wallpaper. Yes, ho-hum, we've all heard about (or read about, or maybe even watched on YouTube) the cop who attacked the protestors. The story and its attendant images become commonplace, no longer remarkable.
Enter the power of transformative works: Pepper-spray cop works his way through art history. (For more, there's now a whole pepper spraying cop tumblr.)
For me the two most powerful images in this meme are the one which speaks through, and transforms, the Sistine ceiling:
and the one which speaks through, and transforms, a painting by Andrew Wyeth:
There's something about seeing this act of police brutality transposed into these otherwise bucolic (and deeply familiar) images which highlights the act itself, and brings back my initial sense of horror. It's shocking. And again, I realize: that's right. This isn't normal. This isn't okay. This isn't the kind of police behavior we should condone, here or anywhere.
There's a delicate balance, for me, between my desire to keep my eyes open to the injustices of the world and my awareness that if I immerse too deeply in those injustices I may lose my sense of hope and my ability to be the rabbi, the mama, the partner and friend I hope to be. Still, there's something chilling for me in the realization that I can so easily become inured to stories of suffering. I don't want this kind of story to be commonplace, whether it happens in Davis or in Bahrain.
My thanks are due to the artists who created these mashups, which moved me again after the original story had ceased to register on my internal emotional scale.