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Saturday, September 30, 2023
OpinionThe political power of the word "Karen"

The political power of the word “Karen”

Flat-out: The left is crushing it with this “Karen” thing.

I’m proud of us, frankly. For the uninitiated (if this article can penetrate the rock you’re hiding under), a Karen is an entitled Caucasian woman, generally of suburban origin, with an inclination toward lording over others in an authoritarian manner, be it calling the manager or calling the cops. Right at this moment, the word is in its absolute prime, and we’d all be wise—amidst a frightening, uncertain world—to enjoy the fun while it lasts.

Like many, I’ve despised the left’s lingo in recent years. We’ve heard no end of chatter about “white privilege,” “white people,” “white men,” “white dudes,” “whitesplaining,” and so on and so forth. The talk’s heart is in the right place, more or less, as it’s aimed toward checking and correcting centuries-old systems of oppression steeped in white supremacy.

On the other hand, it’s shrill, coarse, and reckless. It converts no independents. Quite the contrary, it riles up the opposition, who’ve been landing clean, reverberating blows ever since they appropriated the term “snowflake” from the movie Fight Club to mock the left’s sensitivity and compassion. They’ve been so angry and organized, in fact, that as some may recall, circa 2016, they elected an autocratic, narcissistic strongman to the highest office in all the land.

Karen’s different. Karen’s beautiful. I love Karen. Not the woman, but the thing itself. 

Karen’s not unlike another one I love: “mansplaining.” The left did good work with that one, too. It’s certainly made me shut my trap at times. Like our whiteness talk, it aims straight at oppression—in this case of the patriarchal variety. It takes down the form of male (i.e., all of us!) who might well deem himself an expert in areas in which he has no actual knowledge. It defines a syndrome, a behavior, that is equal parts universal and in need of expedient correction.

Karen’s better, though. Whereas mansplaining starts off with “man,” and thus enrages fellas who never get around to the “splaining” part, Karen is so specific that the only pure offendees are those who bear the actual name. (So sorry, ladies.)

Meanwhile, Karen still preserves the familiar targets: whiteness, privilege, entitlement, centering oneself in every narrative, and even being representative of heteronormative values. What makes it different is that it does so without being crass; it’s all subtext; nobody has to say the word “white,” and yet still the message is imparted and the target is slammed.

Most important of all, Karen takes down not whiteness per se, or privilege per se, or even white women or people of affluence per se. What it does instead, like mansplaining, is take down a mode of behavior, a strain of activity, an extant state of being.

All of which, unlike white skin itself, can actually be checked and corrected. 

Great job, everyone. And funny, too.

I welcome more. 


Eric Shapiro
Eric Shapiro is a writer and filmmaker. He has won awards for journalism (CA Journalism Award) and screenwriting (Fade In Award), and has served as a ghostwriter, speechwriter, or script doctor for over 3,000 clients. His first novel is a dark political thriller called "Red Dennis" (2020). His first nonfiction book is a guide for helping writers be more productive called "Ass Plus Seat" (2020). He co-hosts the "House of Mystery Radio Show" on NBC News Radio. In 2023, Eric founded the Psychic Arts Center, dedicated to exploring psychic phenomena and assisting people through psychic readings.

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