Karen vs. Swatzilla: the uselessness of the “Karen” meme

This cropped up in my feed yesterday:

Have you watched the video? Good. Now spot the Karen.

Are you sure?

Karenism is a set of behaviors, or at least it would be if “Karen” meant anything worthwhile. It’s the request to see the manager if a service-sector worker disappoints you in any way. Or it’s the quotation of rules and regulations (sometimes completely irrelevant ones) in picayune disputes. Or, like this guy, it’s pulling the phone out to social-media-shame someone or otherwise trying to enforce one of those rules and regulations (or mere middle-class norms) themselves. Here’s another recent example:





For the sake of argument I’ll take the OP’s word that the filmer “politely” asked his target to put her dog back on the leash, although pulling out the phone to record noncompliance is normally preceded by something like “exCUSE me, MA’AM, but it is CLEARLY POSTED ON SIGNS that your dog MUST be on a leash here.” You know, something that could be considered polite if you completely ignored its tone.

And speaking of picayune disputes, citing city Parks and Recreation Department regs at someone because their hobby (exercising their dog) might theoretically interfere with your hobby (birdwatching) is one of the most Karenish arguments imaginable.


The woman being filmed is still the worse of the two, because her response to being Karened at was to go wannabe-Tyler-Burriss:

“I’m calling the cops.”

“Please call the cops.”

“I’m gonna tell them there’s an African-American man threatening my life.”

Here’s an example of someone who understood this:

The other repliers who tried to identify her – I’ve seen speculation as to her name, her employer, and her dog’s (now private) Instagram account – they might have gotten the severity of her actions, as have the more recent responses namechecking Emmett Till.

But too much of the initial response was facile “what a Karen” nonsense, mixed with concern for how uncomfortable she’s making the dog while attempting to murder a human being.


According to popular opinion, though, she’s a Karen, even though she should be called something worse. And so should this one:

Words are defined by popular consensus even if that consensus is anti-useful, and the consensus is that “Karen” doesn’t signify a quasi-officious and/or overbearing sense of entitlement. It doesn’t even signify middle-class entitlement (or an “avid birder” in Central Park would most likely qualify). No, a “Karen” is a member of a specific race and sex exhibiting officious and overbearing middle-class-like entitlement.

So she’s a Karen, the social-distancing hall monitor in the other video is a Karen, and the guy acting like a Karen is completely blameless. And that’s why I’ve never used the “Karen” meme on this site and why, unless I’m quoting someone else, I’ll probably never use it again.

Categories: PiecesTags: , , , , ,

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