The Karen meme has taken social media by storm for quite a while now. It’s been an effective way of shedding light and humor on a societal trope that required attention.
The trope in question had always been difficult to define. It was an elusive enigma that we all interacted with at some point in our lives, but couldn’t quite quantify. And then the Karen meme came along to help us better understand the phenomenon.
Before we can begin to understand the Karen meme though, we must first understand its origins. The name ‘Karen’ was actually first singled out by none other than comedian Dane Cook back as far as 2007 in his comedy bit ‘The Friend Nobody Likes’.
While it may be hard to believe now as many young people probably don’t even know who Dane Cook is these days, Mr. Cook struck a nerve with his casual observation that within every group of friends is usually one friend that nobody else in the group actually likes. And, right or wrong, Cook pointed out that in female circles that unwanted friend is often named ‘Karen’ for some reason.
Although funny, it should be pointed out and go without saying that it is wrong to judge anyone by their name alone, and there is nothing inherently wrong with people named Karen. This is merely a dissection on how the idea of ‘Karen’ first entered the zeitgeist as a concept.
Over the years, the conceptualization of Karen transformed, morphed, and evolved until it was trimmed down to its purest essence. Recently, the idea of what ‘Karen’ represents made a comeback that was instantly accepted by the general public long after Dane Cook’s initial priming. Karen grew up from the friend that nobody likes, to your uppity middle-aged or older neighbor who complains to low level staff at the grocery store and demands to speak to the manager over not being able to use expired coupons.
As a concept, Karen is a placeholder for a condescending member of the bourgeoisie looking down on the proverbial proletariat, finding any excuse to call the authorities over even the mildest of offenses and looking to berate and belittle anyone she perceives to be lower in the hierarchy – usually for comically petty reasons. In most memes, she’s personified as sporting a side-swept hair cut in the front that is shorter in the back, sometimes with a sort of ‘spiky’ texture – often but not always blonde (either dyed or natural).
The visual alone was funny enough as we’ve all encountered this kind of person in our lives, or at least seen some other poor soul on the receiving end of this kind of personality. Heck, maybe some of us have even been that person at some moment in our lives. Pairing that visual with the name Karen gave it an even more tangible identity. And it was a match made in heaven according to the Internet gods.
I can’t tell you how many Karen memes have brought a huge smile to my face, if not outright laughter. It was a joke that never seemed to get old no matter how many times it was repackaged.
Then, complaints started coming in. A lot of people deemed ‘Karen’, or as they liked to call it, ‘the K-word’, to be both sexist and racist. Yep. The Karens were upset about the Karen meme going viral. It felt like they were proving the meme right by embodying exactly the kind of stuck-up behavior ‘Karen’ was known for.
As recently as a month ago, I posted a meme dismissively mocking their reaction. It felt like they needed to lighten up – it was just a harmless stereotype after all. My feeling was that sometimes we all need to step back and be able to laugh at ourselves and not take things so seriously.
But then… I noticed a trend. Maybe it was simply the Streisand Effect, or maybe it was something else. But the Internet hive started labeling EVERYTHING to be Karen. Every butt of every joke became Karen. Karen. Karen.
Someone didn’t like a movie? They must be a Karen. Someone mildly disagreed with your shoddily researched opinion on raising rabbits? They’re just being a Karen. Someone likes their steaks medium instead of rare? Karen.
It came to a breaking point when I saw a story of a Canadian woman who wore a bikini made of surgical masks as a form of protest, and the tagline called her a Karen… since when has the Karen character ever exhibited that kind of behavior though? Sure, the woman was being ridiculous, but the Karen meme is a stuck-up prude who would never be caught outside wearing anything less than a one-piece swimsuit, let alone a bikini made of thinly put together surgical masks.
I hate to be the bearer of bad news. I hate to be a ‘Karen’. But… the Karen meme is over, folks. It’s been played out. We flew too close to the sun. We had a good thing going and then we lost it. The Karen character has been misused so often now, that simply using the word Karen to describe anything has lost all of its original meaning. We stared into the abyss of Karen, and Karen stared back.
Now if I see someone form a joke around the Karen character, or try to pull off a zinger using Karen, I just roll my eyes at their lack of creativity. So am I being a Karen about this, or are they? Honestly, it doesn’t even matter anymore. And that’s my point.