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What Is a Karen and Why Is This Meme so Popular?

I write about technology. I am especially interested in social media and cloud computing.

Karen, the meme who always wants to speak to your manager

Karen, the meme who always wants to speak to your manager

Internet is nowadays full of memes and slangs. Social media are the protagonists of a new way to communicate and express certain things by using special words and figures commonly associated to stereotypes. One of the latest and most famous memes that got popularity on social media is the “boomer”, due to a video on TikTok published in November 2019 and featuring one of the most famous expressions to be used on social media in the last years: ‘OK boomer’. The ‘ boomer‘ meme is generally referred to people of a certain age who criticize the new generations. The expression ‘OK boomer’ is generally used by young people when they reply to comments they feel as pure and non-constructive criticism towards their generation or they consider closed-minded. The ‘boomer’ meme is still one of the various ones that got popular in the last years. There is also another meme that started to be part of our social media life recently: the ‘Karen’. Who is exactly a ‘Karen’?

Karen, the woman who wants to ‘speak to the manager’

In a very simplified description, ‘Karen’ meme refers to a woman who regularly pretends more than what it is actually possible. It refers to a snobbish woman who, whenever she enters a shop, she constantly arranges special requests, even the weirdest ones, with the assumption that ’the customer is always right’. Clerks, waiters and bartenders cannot stand this kind of stereotyped and spoiled character, who is constantly ready to ask the question which is traditionally associated to this internet meme: ‘I want to speak to your manager’.

Karen, a wider internet meme for snobbish, pretentious and closed-minded people

Despite the original meaning of ‘Karen’ is associated to the example of someone who always wants to ‘speak to the manager’ whenever he or she (Karen meme is referred to a woman, but it is of course used for both men and women) enters a shop, social media users have extended this meme to more general kinds of behaviors. In general a ‘Karen’ is someone who is not only pretentious and snobbish, but who is also closed-minded. A ‘male Karen’ may be a man who complains in a coffee shop because ‘cappuccino is 33°F colder than the one he has drink the day before‘, the same, a ‘Karen’ may be the mother who allows children to run among the tables of a restaurant and who becomes very angry if a restaurant waiter remembers her that other customers have the right to eat in a quiet and safe place. Still, nowadays, a Karen may be simply someone who is racist, homophobe, no-vax or denier of the existence of something. During the COVID-19 pandemic, those who are against masks, vaccines or who believe that ‘COVID-19 is only a flu’ may be easily labelled as ‘Karen’ by social media users who are tired of mental closure of certain people.

The Karen meme is often depicted as a spoiled and pretentious person. Clerks, waiters and, in general, people who deal with customers, cannot stand this kind of stereotyped character.

The Karen meme is often depicted as a spoiled and pretentious person. Clerks, waiters and, in general, people who deal with customers, cannot stand this kind of stereotyped character.

Karen vs Boomer and the importance of not discriminating people

With such an extension of the original meaning of ‘Karen’, it is easy to find some similarities with the ‘boomer’ meme. In fact, nowadays, social media users tend to use ‘boomer’ for a sort of ‘male Karen’ and ‘Karen’ for the woman one. In general, these stereotypes are pejorative expressions for people of a certain age who are in some way closed minded or featuring bad habits. Of course it is easy to abuse these memes, that’s the reason why words like ‘Karen’ and ‘boomer’ should be used only for those specific categories of people, and not in a way meant to discriminate an entire generation of people: a middle-aged person who is always polite whenever he/she enters a shop, who is not racist, homophobe, no-vax and who, in general, is open-minded and respectful, is not a ‘Karen’ or a ‘boomer’ and nobody shall call him/her with these names. The same, if someone‘s name is really ‘Karen’, she should not be labelled in a negative way just because of her personal name.

© 2020 Alessio Ganci