Opinion: The Evolution of “Karen” Videos

Photo by Kon Karampelas on Unsplash

If you spend any time on social media platforms such as Youtube or TikTok, you have likely come across the trend of “Karen” videos. For those who are unfamiliar with Karen videos, they are videos of generally white, middle-aged women who are causing a big scene in public areas over what are often minor disturbances or inconveniences. This has become a viral trend on the internet, with some Karen compilation videos amassing millions of views. Youtube stars like Cody Ko have made Karen reaction videos that have also gained millions of views. The meaning of the term “Karen” has changed during the relatively brief time that it has been an Internet trend, however, so here are a few popular examples – that are also some of my personal favorites – to highlight the shifts in this comical online trend. 

This video of Susan Peirez, also known as some variation of “the airplane Karen,” from early 2018 is what introduced me to the Karen trend. Peirez, who was unhappy about sitting near a crying baby, was yelling and cursing at the mother of the child as well as a flight attendant. Not long before she was removed from the flight, Peirez told the flight attendant that “she may not have a job tomorrow.” Ironically, Peirez was the one without a job the next day. Her name and picture were removed from the New York State Council for the Arts website, which is where she previously worked. 

Threatening to get company employees fired has been a staple of the Karen moniker since the beginning, and videos like the one of Peirez have contributed to that. The phrase “I’d like to speak to your manager” has become the appointed motto of Karens for the same reason.

The next Karen video is titled Kidz Bop Karen, which signals a shift from Karens simply being rude to being a bit more unhinged. It is hard to fully explain what is going on because we do not get many details, but it sounds as though Karen – who I will refer to as such because her real name is not revealed unlike the last video – is upset at the passenger of a Lyft driver who almost hit her vehicle. She uses several expletives but claims that her children cannot hear her because they are listening to Kidz Bop, a group that edits and performs popular songs to make them kid-friendly. 

While it is hard to say whether this video was the catalyst for the shift in the original trend that made Karens seem more unstable and erratic, Kidz Bop Karen certainly contributed to it. She is seen throughout the video making strange faces at the camera and uses very exaggerated hand gestures. Behavior like this has been seen more recently in videos such as this, where the woman in question begins to dance like an inflatable tube man at a used-car sales lot. Because of videos like this, the term Karen has begun to mean more than just a rude and entitled middle-aged white woman. 

The evolution of the term Karen did not stop there, however. Calling someone by the name Karen can now be used to call out someone’s racist beliefs or actions. A popular example of this is Amy Cooper, also known as the Central Park Karen. The story goes that Christian Cooper, the man recording the video, was birdwatching and asked Amy Cooper to put her dog on a leash so it wouldn’t disturb the birds. Cooper, who is of no relation to the man recording, was not happy about this. This is all we know before the video starts, where Amy Cooper tells Christian that she is going to call the cops and “tell them there’s an African-American man threatening my life.”

Cooper trying to intimidate and threaten a black man by calling the police sparked outrage, especially due to the fact that this video went viral right around the same time as the murder of George Floyd. She was fired from her job and was charged with falsifying a report. Amy Cooper is not entirely alone, as many popular Karen videos, such as this one, show the women in question telling other people to “go back to their country.”

All of this has led to the term Karen evolving from a term used to make fun of rude, middle-aged white women to a term that is used as a stand-in for white entitlement and privilege. The term is continuing to grow in meaning as well. It is now used to target men, such as this article calling Donald Trump “The Karen in Chief,” which was the main problem I had previously had with the trend. There are plenty of men who act rude and entitled, so including them in the Karen trend is only fair.

Not only are many of these videos hilarious, but they have also shown that there are consequences for people who are rude, entitled and racist. If you are not familiar with Karen videos, I strongly suggest you watch some. You will not be disappointed.

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