Trial by meme: the Karens of the world had it coming

Inbred white privilege is bad for the soul and the hair, and people can lampoon it to their heart's content

31 May 2020 - 00:59
By aspasia karras AND Aspasia Karras
'Call the manager!!!'
Image: 123RF 'Call the manager!!!'

I was standing at a suitable social distance as per the sign on the floor, masked up and slightly high on the fumes of all the alcohol sprays that had happened to me in order to arrive at this spot - the checkout counter at Zara.

I was engaged in a form of self-soothing. Namely shopping for stuff I really don't need. I mean, apart from this foray into the mall I've barely worn actual clothing. I don't think Lycra counts. Sports kit is the sartorial equivalent of socially acceptable pyjamas. Comfort clothing for the great outdoors. May as well wear your slippers to the shops - oh wait, I have seen all of the slippers shuffling about in the vegetable aisle.

Fast fashion is probably a thing of the past. Around me on the hangers and shelves are artefacts of a lost time. I was shopping in a Pre-Covid time capsule. Fascinating really. As HP Hartley said, "The past is another country, they do things differently there." If my archaeologically driven observations are sound they do things in that "other country" primarily in big, puffy sleeves.

The mood in-store was subdued, probably because everyone was contemplating the trade-off they were engaged in: potential death vs momentary escapist pleasure. But not everyone was in a contemplative frame of mind. A piercing voice unleashed at a sudden spine-tingling pitch made its unhappiness known across the eerily vacant chasm of the retail store.

She, it seems, had been waiting for eight weeks to collect her package. She was very unhappy about this. She probably should speak to the manager. Oh, this was the manager. Well, what was she going to do about it? The manager in question responded calmly. I couldn't hear what she was saying to this lunatic, given that she was muffled by her mask. But tears or hysterical laughter would have been appropriate. Regardless, I realised at once that I knew this woman's name. This was Karen.

According to Heather Suzanne Woods, a meme researcher and professor at Kansas State University, "A Karen demands the world exist according to her standards with little regard for others, and she is willing to risk or demean others to achieve her ends. Her defining essence is entitlement, selfishness and a desire to complain."

I think Heather missed the crucial haircut that seems to be a significant element of the "Karen". A peculiar asymmetrical blondish crop that speaks of ... oh terrible things. Sad things. Things to make you quake in your slippers at night and at the supermarket. Things that chill the soul and the neighbourhood WhatsApp groups. Things that qualify you for an honorary Stasi informer membership. Things like naming and shaming. Things like middle age and whiteness and entitlement. Now there is a dirty word if I ever heard one.

Karens are holding on the phone and holding up the queue in front of you. They are angry, they are right and they will speak to the manager if it's the last thing they do.

Their origin story was on a Reddit group, where a former inmate of a marriage to a Karen started a self-help group with a bunch of equally traumatised men called #FuckyouKaren. But she also morphed out of a certain Becky, her younger sister in black American jargon - shorthand for a white woman now of a certain age who treated staff like shit.

Is there any less cool section of society than a middle-aged white woman with an axe to grind?

Presently she is fully formed and beloved by teenage boys of all stripes across the world who don tea towels or mops on their heads (signifying the haircut) and play out their Karen tropes on TikTok to get at their mothers during lockdown.

Some say this Karen meme is misogyny pure and simple. Is there any less cool section of society than a middle-aged white woman with an axe to grind? Anything she says will be misconstrued - and used against her in the court of social media justice. Her points on the scales by which women are measured have gone the way of her waistline - so good luck to her.

She should just shut up. And where, by the way, is her male equivalent? You may think, "the lady doth protest too much" - these Karens had it coming. Inbred white privilege is bad for the soul and the hair, and people can lampoon it to their heart's content because they have been the victims of Karen for generations.

I apologise in advance to any Karens who, by simply sharing this woman's name, have been harmed in this article. Ladies, I hear Home Affairs is now semi-functional. Take my advice, go at once and get a name change. I think this is an emergency. Your moniker given to you by your parents in an age of innocence has been abducted by the forces of the interwebs. You are now a meme. Read this Karen and quake.