The evolution of the “Karen” meme

By Meagan Kennedy

Elm Staff Writer

Whether discussing baby Yoda or the dress that baffled Americans its blue/black or white/gold detailing, memes are essential part to the online experience. The evolution of meme culture is often difficult to track and understand, influenced by stereotypes, quotes, and more—all to make light of an otherwise stressful situation.

In many ways, memes have grown to be the core of Generation Z humor. They have learned to connect through memes, with many learning to use them as a coping mechanism in times of crisis.

 However,this year, the rise of the “Karen” meme brought to light some of the more negative undertones found in meme culture. 

The origin of the “Karen” meme: the stereotypical white, middle-aged woman with short hair. She is bossy, inconsiderate, and selfish. 

According to Kaitlyn Tiffany at The Atlantic, since COVID-19 a “Karen” has become a “vocal minority of middle-aged white women who are opposed to social distancing, out of either ignorance or ruthless self-interest.”

Previously characterized as predominantly white women who want to speak to managers over inconveniences, these Karens now would report Black Americans to local law enforcement over supposed harassment or lack of a permit. 

As the year evolved into the COVID-19 pandemic, Karens also refused to wear a mask and argued with store employees about their mask policies. Videos and photos surfaced across the Internet of women labeled as “Karen” asking to “speak to the manager” and harassing essential workers.

As the pandemic continued, and as Black Lives Matter protests mounted, the understanding of a Karen adapted to the social climate. The image of a Karen became synonymous with the ideals of white supremacy and privilege. Protesters have used the Karen meme as a symbol of those who refuse to use their privilege to assist in the war against systemic racism. 

In May of this year, just one day before the beginning of the protests surrounding the death of George Floyd, Amy Cooper, a white woman, was labeled the next viral Karen after a video of her surfaced calling 911 reporting that Christian Cooper, a black man, was threatening her life, after he asked for her to put a leash on her dog. 

In contrast, there has been a movement of white women aimingto use their privilege to protest and help contribute to movements like Black Lives Matter. The “Wall of Moms” seen at the Portland protests recently have been used as an example of women who stand alongside protestors and support change that Karens refuse to accept.

Many have also been analyzing the sexist background in the meme, claiming the name Karen is an example of the negativity men find in women. In real life, the name is used to generalize and stereotype, which often finds a group that does not fit the mold. 

For example, Karen Han, a writer for Polygon, said, “sometimes people on Twitter… assume I’m white and respond to tweets that they disagree with that ‘Karen’ meme.

On Reddit, where many credit the origin of the “Karen” meme, Karmacop97 told Vox Media, “I don’t think it’s particularly sexist because the general user base only calls out specific people, not all women.” 

AsBBC’s writer,Ashitha Nagesh said in response to the use of the name ‘Karen’ as a slur, “people who use the term ‘Karen’ say that it is not simply a catch-all for all middle-aged white women — and is, rather, dependent on a person’s behavior.” 

The Karen meme has evolved with the unraveling of 2020 and continues to contribute to the “call-out” and “cancel” culture that has pointed out the failures of people across media. The meme itself serves as a reminder of privilege and selfishness. It reminds Americans to do their part in the global social change and more specifically, throughout the remainder of the pandemic.

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