Karen is a slang term used as an antagonistic female character in memes. "Karen" is generally characterized as an irritating, entitled woman, sometimes as an ex-wife who took custody of "the kids." In 2020, the term was broadly applied to a swath of white women who had been filmed harassing people of color, including dialing the emergency services on them for no criminal reason.
While it's unclear where exactly "Karen" began seeing use as a pejorative character, it perhaps started with the Oh My God, Karen, You Can’t Just Ask Someone Why They're White meme from Mean Girls. Others believe that the popularity of the name may come from the character Karen from the 1989 gangster film Goodfellas (clip below).
Some believe that usage of the name as a perjorative stems from the Dane Cook standup comedy routine "The Friend That Nobody Likes," which first appeared on the album Retaliation, released on July 26th, 2005 and recorded 2004. In the routine, Cook says:
So I'm hangin' out with all of my buddies, and uh, I realize something, I realize something. Think of the group of people you've known the longest in your life. Think of the group of friends you've hung out with the most, maybe you're all here tonight. And this is what I realized, I had an epiphany, and here it is, right here: There is one person, in every group of friends, that nobody fucking likes. You basically keep them there, to hate their guts. When that person is not around the rest of your little base camp, your hobby, is cutting that person down.
Example: "Karen, is always a douchebag."
Every group has a Karen and she is always a bag of douche.
And when she's not around, you just look at each other and say,
"God, Karen, she's such a douchebag!"
On August 7th, 2015, comedian Jay Pharoah released the standup special Can I Be Me? In the special, he refers to an annoying woman named Karen. "It's always a 'Karen,'" he said.
Years later, on October 23rd, 2020 in an interview with Entertainment Weekly, he said of the joke, "I'm the one who started, 'There's always a white woman named Karen."
In the trailer, a woman brings the Switch to a rooftop party. That day, Tumblr user joematar posted a joke about the woman arriving at the party with the caption “Oh shit, Karen brought her stupid Nintendo thing to the party again. We’re DRINKING, Karen. We’re having CONVERSATIONS.” As of December 27th, 2017, the post has over 23,000 notes (shown below).
On December 7th, 2017, the subreddit /r/FuckYouKaren was created, and has over 57,000 subscribers as of December 27th, 2018. The subreddit is devoted to mocking the character in jokes that characterize "Karen" as annoying. Many jokes revolve around the character having a specific style of haircut indicating her character (examples shown below).
On April 7th, 2018, Chadwick Boseman appeared on Saturday Night Live.  During a "Black Jeopardy" sketch, Boseman played T'challa from Black Panther. After struggling to understand the game, Boseman answers a question about a white person named Karen bringing her potato salad to a black person's cookout. Boseman says it is likely Karen did not season her food and likely added raisins to the potato salad, before answering "Aw hell naw, Karen. Keep your bland-ass potato salad to yourself!"
In late 2018, a series of jokes spread in which "Karen" is an ex-wife had taken the kids in a custody battle, many of which appear in the She Took the Fucking Kids meme. On December 24th, 2018, Redditor ashleyallday posted an inquiry to /r/OutOfTheLoop about the jokes, pointing to two examples (shown below).
On January 20th, 2020, the hashtag #AndThenKarenSnapped began trending after Twitter user @RiotGrlErin first tweeted the hashtag after the stating "The Apps were cold" (shown below, left). Twitter users began using the hashtag to tweet comedic scenarios in which the Karen character would get frustrated. Twitter user @MunaNawabit1 tweeted, "Found out that the study they funded to prove vaccines cause autism proved that vaccines don’t cause autism #AndThenKarenSnapped" and garnered over 9,300 likes and 2,300 retweets in a day (show below, right).
That day, Twitter user @DeadStillPretty tweeted, "#AndThenKarenSnapped When Karen demanded to speak to the manager and I told her I AM the manager" (shown below). The tweet garnered over 2,800 likes and 290 retweets in a day.
Central Park Karen
Central Park Karen is the white cop-caller nickname of Amy Cooper, who was recorded calling the police on an African American birder in Central Park in New York City after being asked by him to leash her dog in the park. After video of the altercation went viral, Cooper apologized for the incident.
On May 25th, 2020, Christian Cooper published video of the altercation with Amy Cooper (no relation), which took place in the Ramble, a popular section of Central Park for bird watching. He wrote:
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!
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…
The video received more than 12,000 comments, 7,200 shares and 6,900 reactions (shown below).
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