A recent UK-wide survey by PlayOJO has found that 69% of Britons would not call their child Karen, due to negative connotations associated with the ‘Karen’ meme. Let’s take a look at the origin of the Karen meme to see where it all began.

Basically, the Karen meme is used to describe a specific type of middle-class middle-aged woman, whose behaviour displays privilege. During the past few months, as people self-isolated at home with only the Internet for company, Karen has become the female antagonist of online meme culture.

In the past, this was associated with what is now known as the “speak to the manager” haircut – a type of bob that’s shorter in the back and longer in the front.

Since then, the meme has grown, and is now used in a whole range of contexts.

The supposed origin of the Karen meme

The source of this meme is unclear, but there are a couple of potential first-sightings.

For some, the humble beginnings of the meme lie within 2004 teen comedy ‘Mean Girls’.

Particularly, in the comment from Karen, who asks Cady why she’s white if she is from Africa.

To this, Gretchen responds: “Oh my god Karen, you can’t just ask people why they’re white.”

This comment quickly became a meme on social media platform Tumblr. Variations relating to other movies such as Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings were created.

The same year, comedian Dane Cook had a stand-up routine called “The Friend that Nobody Likes.” For many, this is the real origin of the ‘Karen’ meme.

In any case, this appears to be the first use of ‘Karen’ in a pejorative sense.

In the routine, Dane Cook talks about the annoying friend in every group, calling them ‘Karen’ as an example.

How has the Karen meme evolved since?

Although it always held onto its connection to white women and privilege, the Karen meme has taken many forms over time.

It originally referred to a stereotype of privileged women known for rudeness towards service staff, asking to speak to the manager, most likely to complain and get the poor cashier or waiter in trouble.

In January 2020, the hashtag #AndThenKarenSnapped began trending on Twitter. Users would tweet comedic scenarios where the Karen character would become frustrated and ‘snap.’

The dark side of Karen

A further evolution of the ‘Karen’ meme occurred in March 2020 and is known as Central Park Karen.

The Karen in this story – real name Amy Cooper – called the police on a black man, after he had asked if she could put her dog on its leash, as the park rules state.

Cooper responded by threatening to phone the police and tell them that “there’s an African-American man threatening my life.”

Central Park this morning: This woman's dog is tearing through the plantings in the Ramble.ME: Ma'am, dogs in the Ramble have to be on the leash at all times. The sign is right there.HER: The dog runs are closed. He needs his exercise.ME: All you have to do is take him to the other side of the drive, outside the Ramble, and you can let him run off leash all you want.HER: It's too dangerous.ME: Look, if you're going to do what you want, I'm going to do what I want, but you're not going to like it.HER: What's that?ME (to the dog): Come here, puppy!HER: He won't come to you.ME: We'll see about that…I pull out the dog treats I carry for just for such intransigence. I didn't even get a chance to toss any treats to the pooch before Karen scrambled to grab the dog.HER: DON'T YOU TOUCH MY DOG!!!!!That's when I started video recording with my iPhone, and when her inner Karen fully emerged and took a dark turn…

Posted by Christian Cooper on Monday, May 25, 2020

This video, when posted to Facebook, received 12,000 comments, 7,200 shares, and 6,900 reactions. It showed a darker side to the Karen meme – one made up of racism and faux-victims.

Karen vs. coronavirus

With the emergence of coronavirus, debates over mask-wearing have become especially heated in the US.

Videos have gone viral on social media, showing people refusing to wear masks in shops and restaurants, often berating service staff when being asked to mask up.

Aggressively refusing to wear a face mask has led to a further iteration of the Karen meme, due to the harassment service workers often face from such individuals.

Similarly, those who share misinformation about covid-19 on social media often get labeled as ‘Karens.’

When are Karens not Karens?

Wall of Moms is a group from Portland, Oregon, created in support of the move to end police brutality. They are supporters of the Black Lives Matter campaign.

This group, predominately consisting of mothers, use their position of privilege within society to protest against police brutality.

They have been described as “anti-Karens” as they are actively campaigning against the divisions that ‘Karens’ try to exploit. We say, go, non-Karens!

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