Karen reappeared this week. Not Karen the helpful neighbor or Karen the successful colleague. No, it was Karen the internet meme, the crazy blonde who wants to talk to the manager. You might think he was exhausted from all of his work mocking over-privileged soccer moms and racist white women, but apparently there’s enough life left that he can now be armed against powerful men.
A medical scientist, offended by Elon Musks ‘ill-informed suspicions of COVID-19 testing, dubbed billionaire entrepreneur Space Karen this week and posted an image of him topped off with the memes’ signature haircut, a blonde bob asymmetric. (For his part, Musk had tweeted his conspiratorial skepticism about conflicting results he got from a series of 30-minute COVID-19 tests, apparently not realizing the unreliability of rapid tests is the trade-off for their speed. Unimpressive behavior for a prophet of new technology.)
Meanwhile, Donald Trump’s petulant refusal to accept the US election results is also the subject of many Karen posts, adding a slew of outrageous blonde hairstyles to the infamous orange face. Some, borrowing Trump’s own misspelling of the word, ask him to want to speak to the pole director. This week, #WhiteHouseKaren was all the rage on Twitter.
I know several admirable Karens, all Boomers or Gen-X. Karen was a popular female given name in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. Today, no sane parent would name a baby Karen because the name is now synonymous with mindless privilege and unnecessary grievances. The haughty blonde has become a quick, sexist retort to anyone, male or female, who complains about personal inconvenience rather than climate disaster or an emerging dictatorship.
It is sometimes said that Karen’s joke originated from a 2008 monologue by American comedian Dane Cook in which he identified Karen as the friend no one likes, the outsider in the group that everyone savages the minute they go. his back is turned. (Others think it’s just an amplification of the meme I want to talk to the manager’s meme.) The full-fledged meme appeared five or six years ago, and the haircut quickly associated it with often-dyed hair. , with a longer side sweeping under the chin can be traced back to Kate Gosselin, the star of the 2007-09 reality show Jon & Kate Plus Eight.
In recent months, the meme has shifted from a shorthand of middle-class privilege to a specific denunciation of white racism in the United States, particularly after an incident in Central Park in May when a white woman called the police on a black ornithologist who had the temerity to ask him to keep his dog on a leash. Karen Attiah, a black editor at the Washington Post, has championed the meme for how it can be used to speak out against racism, while other Karens have weighed in on everything from embarrassment to a warm laugh. Yet in September, feminist Gloria Steinem and director Julie Taymor pointed out that it was sexist.
Perhaps the meme wasn’t originally rooted in misogynism; Cooks’ monologue also mentions unwanted friend Brian. But despite the best liberal intentions of those who denounce their conspiracy theories, its application to Musk and Trump shows how it works like a sexist trope today. Karen-ing powerful men carries with him the assumption that every man is demeaned compared to a woman. Underneath is an old misconception that women are somehow inherently ridiculous and over-the-top characters, best targeted by straight male comics with padded socks on the front of their shirts. Trump has also been repeatedly compared to a toddler having a temper tantrum; Snippy women are surely as toxic to society as emerging dictators and as ridiculous as two-year-olds.
The meme is meant as a critique of privilege, or at least an unearned privilege that is heavily emphasized. Yes, it is unpleasant and antisocial behavior, but many more men than women enjoy such a privilege. Why, asked Taymor, don’t we shame Karens’ husband, the guy who really has the money and the power?
What is so funny about comparing the dangers of Musk tantrums or ignorance with a commuter who can’t find a good parking spot? Reversing a social order and old man over woman is a traditional source of comedy. The notion that men have some right to their rights is unexpressed in the Karen meme, but not so much women.
So enough already with Karen. The alternative? Sometimes someone guiltily points out that there’s the Kevin meme as well, although we don’t see much of him. I have no idea, for example, what her hair looks like. So work on Kevin, Twitter. Please don’t make him gay.
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