“Karen”: a Mass Projection in the Psychological Age

Yep, we’re living in the “psychological age,” and the psychological age serves up psychological figures like the “Karen.” What’s a Karen? A middle-aged, middle class white woman caught on camera making a scene of managing others behaviour, at worst being racist and calling the cops.

One strange feature of the psychological age: we’re entitled to make an amateur diagnosis of other people on the fly. Yes, Karen can be outright racist and harmful, but is more often simply entitled, passive aggressive, dysfunctional, sad and pointless. What’s going on in her head?

Resentment certainly plays a role in the Karen phenomenon. As “middle class white women” any given Karen has got to be part of established or “privileged” society and therefore a legitimate target for scorn at the level of pop perception. In the age of mental health acceptance, this is one group it’s OK to gawk at as they break down.

Is it true that “white women are in crisis” as the Twitter joke has it? One quarter of middle aged women in the United States are on antidepressants. You’d think that would be cause for greater concern, generally speaking. The endless advertisements for psychotropic medication on American TV often feature a Karen type who can’t quite manage anymore.

When you go door-to-door as I have for various job’s and talk briefly to many strangers, you start to notice household “subtypes.” One very distinct variant is the lonely middle-aged white woman gripped by nervous breakdown.

And there’s a political angle to the Karen. As everyone knows, a majority of white women voted for Trump in 2016 and there was talk in the aftermath of “holding white women accountable.” In 2020, Trump pleaded, “Suburban women, will you please like me?”

Combine resentment, peaked politics, psychological projection, public spectacle and some element of genuine harm and you have the Karen. The Karen is a negative identity (everything it’s cool not to be), a “meme” figure willed into existence in the psychological age. Karen seems to have legs, what new characters slouch forward?

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