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Columnist: Is 2020 “The Year of the ‘Karen’” ?

Author Kristin Kline

Karen. You’ve met her. She’s the one who bought up all the toilet paper in Snohomish County in March and sold it by the square to her desperate neighbors. She darts in front of your car to steal the last parking spot at Haggen, buys 20 hand sanitizers in a two-per-customer store, and screams foul play at anyone who interferes.
Welcome to your first Pandemic and the cultural phenomenon of Karen. In a world of masks, social isolation, and economic hardship, a Karen is a person who manages to make bad things seem even worse by episodes of public temper tantrums, social media smear campaigns, and outright bad behavior.
Made famous in social media memes for increasing levels of self-entitled bad behavior, Karen will quickly strike back at this form of criticism. How could anyone dare to question her selfless acts of caring and community kinship? Just last week she let you know on social media that she drove by your lost puppy playing in the middle of a busy street (No time to stop! She tweets) and she just spent an extra ten minutes on a Facebook post detailing why you shouldn’t shop at a particular store because they posted a political sign of a candidate they don’t vote for.
Karen isn’t just female. There are male Karens, too. They come from all walks of life and aren’t defined by gender, political party, or religious affiliation. In fact, every honey badger I have ever met is named Karen. If there is ever a Civil War in this country, it will be started by two Karens from opposite political parties throwing punches at a Starbucks drive-thru.
Karens fall on all levels of the spectrum, from those who employ outright physical assaults to make a point (I’m looking at you, Walmart shopper who purposely ran your cart into a mask-less customer) to those who have just been under quarantine way too long and the effects of self-isolation are starting to erode patience and manners.
I have an alarming variety in my area who disclose private citizen’s names, addresses and license plates on social media if someone parks in the wrong place, votes for a different political party, or speaks out at a city council meeting with an opinion they do not like. They recruit other Karens to join up to deface property and “make a point.” If there is anything worse than one Karen, it is a pack of Karens determined to make an example out of a private citizen.
Though I have not yet seen the results of the legal proceedings involving some of these actions, I have seen the social consequences and they are not pretty. We need to bond together as a community and help each other, not make the burdens of others harder.
So where did Karen come from? I had never heard of her prior to the Covid-19 pandemic. No one can say for sure, but all agree social media was her birthing place. I think she evolved like a Pokémon from the Sandy-esque soccer moms of the 2000’s as we were suddenly faced with the new problems and stress an increasingly digital world was creating.
In 2000 we all worried about the end of the world. Computer programmer Bill Gates failed to code a century date change in the worlds’ computers, and even the most respected news outlets of the time contemplated computers launching nuclear bombs at each other.
From Mayan calendars predicting the end of the world in 2012, social media platforms like Facebook and My Space opening up our private lives for public consumption, and the sudden realization that anything we do outside our homes can be posted on the internet without notice, appearances began to count in a way they never had before. With the arrival of Smart Phones, we became plugged into the internet and social media at all times.
During this period of great technological change, young Karen at home, being raised on a diet of dramatic reality television, supersized fries, and questionable choices. With increased time on social media, the implementation of questionable curriculum in schools written by non-experts, and the resulting frustration from all of the above, the perfect storm was created. And for some, her name was Karen.
Regardless of whatever cave, cradle, or double-cappuccino cup she crawled from, Karen has become the voice of the pandemic, her antics an outrageous addition to the political and social unrest our Country faces today. Karen will make her voice heard, even if she has to drown out your own to do so. Karen reinforces her right to cut in line, call out perceived wrongs, and boycott stores with each rub of hand sanitizer. I was remarking on this to my son when he stopped by to chat the other day, six feet apart, sitting in my garden. He was wearing a mask. I was not. Five months prior, I would have had many judgmental things to say about someone not wearing a mask in the middle of a pandemic.
I guess there is a bit of Karen in all of us.

Kristin Kline is from Snohomish and wrote occasional columns for the Tribune during the 2000s.



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