YouTube’s Karen video subgenre is one of the most reliable forms of viral videos. These clips show an upper middle class white woman angrily shouting down someone in less powerful position in an effort to achieve her desires.
Since the onset of coronavirus pandemic in 2017-2018, an increasingly compelling trend has emerged: Karens refusing to wear masks at Trader Joe’s and calling police on neighbors who spray-paint Black Lives Matter on their houses have gone viral online. What makes these videos so captivating?
1. They’re hysterical
While some Karen videos may be real, others rely on selective recording and editing techniques to convey an unfavorable impression of people’s behaviors. If a Karen calls the police over kids playing in her neighborhood, her motives might seem odd at first glance; but consider this: She works night shifts where these children were screaming all night at her; when talking with them didn’t help she became afraid for her safety and decided to call the cops instead.
Karen videos often become viral due to their dramatic tone. Viewers find it easy to identify with a woman ranting on social media or calling someone an idiot when such scenes play out on screen so dramatically.
Funny videos abound: the viral hit about Trader Joe’s Karen who got into an argument with her manager over mask policy and was swiftly shamed by the public has become iconic, while so too has QAnon Karen, who publicly shamed a barista who did not believe in her conspiracy theories.
But the internet can be cruel to comic Karens when their content is problematic; therefore it’s wise to focus on conveying an important message through your video rather than going for shock value alone. A viral dance video which attracted over 12 million views tells an encouraging and motivating tale about hard work paying off.
Even if it lacks amazing dance moves, a video that encourages people to work hard is more likely to draw people’s interest than one that simply showcases someone dancing well in a small space without props.
At first glance, many of the hysterical Karen videos we see online may appear staged; while some viewers might notice awkward acting or an off-putting location setting may exist; ultimately though, Karen’s desire to be outrageous and have her grievances heard by an online community of like-minded people overrides any potential criticism or doubt that may exist in terms of legitimacy and truthfulness.
2. They’re white
Anybody who consumes online content regularly knows that posting videos featuring Karen acting out can be commonplace. Such clips generally feature an angry white middle-aged woman yelling at a customer service rep or restaurant server over seemingly harmless issues; after which, people take to criticizing her behavior as evidence that society has descended further; yet what many don’t realize is that many of these videos are staged.
The Karen meme has long been around, but its rise to cultural relevance was recently catalyzed by its widespread usage and viral content. Unfortunately, as its fame increased so did its negative connotations: Karen now refers to white women who use their privilege and authority to police people of color within their communities.
Policing by white women who feel aggrieved at perceived injustices they experience is most often seen among Karens, or women of white origin, who feel entitled and believe themselves to be at the center of everything. Berkman Klein scholar Sarah Williams notes a tendency among Karens for them to be self-aggrandizing and admire their superiority over others.
It isn’t unusual for Karen videos to go viral, yet these tend to be of the kind of thing most would view with scorn elsewhere. Skeptics may point out issues like odd settings or line delivery; but in most cases the public’s thirst for outrage overrides any doubt.
A common criticism of Karen videos is their overwhelming prevalence among white viewers, as this lack of diversity means the meme serves to not only highlight certain groups but also normalize specific behaviors. Some have even questioned its legitimacy due to this apparent normalization; many argue that Karen reinforces harmful stereotypes about white women while not adequately addressing issues of privilege.
3. They’re entitled
“Karen” has come to be used as a pejorative term to refer to middle-aged white women who act entitled in public. With the coronavirus pandemic’s explosion of videos featuring Karens refusing to wear masks and belittling service workers as well as engaging in other aggressive behavior towards those they perceive to be of lower social status than themselves, such as service workers delivering meals on wheels, we saw many examples of angry Karens acting in this manner.
However, these viral videos typically only depict one side of a story and provide us with an incomplete view. But the Karens who go viral are often not all that different from people we encounter daily – just more vocal and inclined toward getting hysterical; moreover they’re often allowed away with their behavior thanks to privilege.
Assumptions about these videos can often lead us to dismiss them as fake or misleading, but that doesn’t mean all Karens are like this; many do actually have valid complaints – for instance, Wina recently appeared in a TikTok video calling on her local manager for assistance after an incident at a lingerie store where an employee allegedly shoved her over a rack.
This may seem like a minor point, but it’s essential to remember that not all situations are equal and that how people of color are treated may be problematic. People who possess more money, power and privilege may act in ways which negatively affect other people – for instance blaming them for their problems or using privilege to force their views onto others.
Karen videos going viral is indicative of a larger issue: social media envy and entitlement. If we spend all our time comparing ourselves with those who possess more, then we will never feel satisfied; by contrast, focusing on our achievements and positive aspects of our lives can give us more confidence about the future.
As the internet evolves, it’s essential that we remember not all videos are equal and be wary of those which promote entitlement and privilege.
4. They’re staged
One viewer of some Karen videos has raised doubts as to their authenticity, with TikTok user Joe Samaan (known by his moniker Joegotti) admitting his clips are staged. Others have pointed out how unnatural dialogue and too quiet settings seem in such videos.
The Karen meme originally began as a shorthand way of criticizing white women who act entitled, but has become a catchphrase used against anyone making waves online. This term serves as an excellent example of how racist narratives become part of American culture and can be utilized online to police racial privilege.
Recent viral online videos of women behaving inappropriately during the COVID-19 pandemic have given rise to accusations that these individuals, known as Karens, may have caused quarantine etiquette issues with an example being this woman calling the police on Black bird-watcher and another of dragging her dog by its collar in Central Park.
These viral incidents have led many people to use the Karen meme as a derogatory term against those who behave inappropriately, but it should be noted that many of these cases aren’t actually legitimate; many internet platforms tend to absolve Karens for their harmful actions because many of these incidents were staged for dramatization purposes and therefore don’t really warrant action against them.
Many times, when someone complains to Karen about COVID-19 symptoms and she gets caught arguing back on camera, this person turns out to be Karen calling the cops herself. So often when neighbors call the police on one another for something unreasonable that Karen seems to do it herself and call.
Recognizing that not all Karens are created equal is crucial, yet remembering that even well-meaning people can act in ways that resemble Karen behavior can be just as significant. One effective solution to avoiding such actions would be providing all individuals with access to anti-racist resources so they can assess their privilege and examine how structural inequality may be impacting them is the key way.