Karen: How the stereotype got started

The concept of the “Karen,” as stated in the urban dictionary, reads, “middle-age woman, typically blonde, who makes solutions to others’ problems an inconvenience to her although she isn’t even remotely affected.”

The direct origin of the “Karen” concept seems to be a social media phenomena with recorded videos  going viral on the internet. The cycle seems to be that this person in the viral video is then shamed by the court of public opinion and is, thus, made to change. Further, this shaming serves as a warning to others who may act similarly. 

The Karen that appears to be the most common these days relates to people complaining about inconveniences due to COVID-19 lockdowns, whether this is complaining about masks, toilet paper, or the COVID-19 lockdowns themselves.

The main argument in favour of this “Karen” classification relates to the idea that by shaming and exposing how certain people act in society, we can reduce the prevalence of bad actors. 

Despite this, I would argue that the classification of “Karens” has done much more harm than good, which is one reason why I think this is how these Karen videos come into existence in the first place. 

Specifically, the reason is that people seem to assume that by watching a two-minute video, they now can make a full “informed” opinion. Most of these videos lack any context and can thus easily push people into a certain view without context, which may potentially debunk that view. 

Granted there are some videos, specifically ones that involve racial slurs, in which context would not justify anything, I would also argue that clear-cut examples like these are very rare.

The problem with these videos is that they actively discourage critical thinking, and, to some extent, trying to understand why the “Karen” in the video might be acting so; not to justify, but to understand it. Further, especially looking at comments on social media, anyone who tries to understand these actions are themselves shamed  in massive comment threads. 

One other reason as to why I think the Karen phenomenon has been less helpful than good is due to its devaluation of older people, in this case, specifically, older women being stereotyped as “boomers out of touch.”

Though there are older people who probably do fall into this stereotype, I also believe they are a minority. We only think they are more common thanks to the algorithms of social media. 

I think our generation tends to undervalue the concept of experience, which is something older people have in great quantities. We should be careful not to let our hubris get the better of us. 

If we are going to play this generational shame game, we should also remember that we are the generation that ate tide pods and got into car accidents playing Pokémon Go. 

One final criticism of why I think the Karen stereotype is bad relates to a bottom-line discussion of its purpose.

I do not think one has ever changed their mind or the way they think because another person told them they are a terrible human being.

The Karen stereotype seems to be less about creating real change and just to make one’s self look better by condemning another supposed bad actor. 

The answer to today’s polarization is not further division. The only answer is a dialogue where agreeing to disagree is recognized as not being a bad outcome to a discussion.

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