‘I’ ON CULTURE
One of the worst elements of the pandemic has been the greater empowerment of those people known as “karens.” What is a karen, you ask. Go to a thesaurus and you find words like busybody, nosy, buttinsky. In other words, someone who is convinced she (or he) can rule your life better than you.
There have been a few of these characters in televisions series. Generally, they’re the irritating neighbors, who manage to walk in, create some disruption and generally get ignored. They are figures of derision.
Americans have always tended to despise tattletales. During World War I and World War II, major campaigns had to be created about how “loose lips sink ships,” to get people over the tendency. After the war, we mostly went back to our cheerful liberty.
But once a whole new set of rules was set down, there were plenty of folk who were willing to go above and beyond anything normal to enforce anything they didn’t like. Local governments set up hot lines for people to report their neighbors for anything, anything at all, that might in some way be considered detrimental to public health.
Of course, we all want to prevent danger to others. It is quite appropriate to report child abuse, for example. And we have made heroes of people who report major violations that damage the environment. There are many times when being a good witness is vital; it is necessary for the public good. People like that are essentially just good citizens.
Karens go much further. They look for the slightest infraction. I read about one in a gated community in central Florida who last year went around on the evening of July 3 noting which residents put out flags a day earlier than specifically allowed in the regulations.
But the pandemic has really let the karens out in force. One big example of this was when a woman named Amy Cooper let her dog off the leash in New York’s Central Park and a Black birdwatcher asked her to put her dog back on the leash. She called the police in a racist manner, complaining she was threatened. The incident was on video, however, and Ms. Cooper had her life shattered. She was a crazy karen — and a racist one to boot. Of course, the birdwatcher also acted in that capacity by demanding the dog be leashed, which the rule did demand.
There are far too many people who want to interfere in other’s lives. There was the report by one karen that a young child from one house actually went into the backyard of the one next door. A teacher sent the police to the home of an 11-year-old student because he saw a BB gun on the wall while teaching a distance learning lesson. Minor deviations from rules, often ones made up in panic but of no real value, were furiously enforced.
I’ve even had a couple of run-ins. Right before things closed down I went to my community’s swimming pool, which I do early every morning. I waved to a friend a couple of lanes away, the only other person in the place, and went about moving toward the other end of the pool. Two women, walking about a foot away from each other as they strolled by, berated me for endangering the community for being about 20 feet away from someone else — while they ignored social distancing rules. And I wrote in an earlier column about one woman who berated me because my dog violated social distancing rules.
Allowing people like those any leeway is dangerous. Most are perfectly happy to run our lives even, maybe especially, if we are happier or more successful than they.
I was delighted to hear that when New York City created a “karen tip line” so all the angry could tattle on their neighbors, most people merely sent in messages berating the city administration for doing it. There were also many pictures of hands with middle fingers sticking out.
We became Americans by rebelling over “a long series of abuses,” and we should defend our freedoms. Not our rights to abuse others, but our right to live as we choose without having someone looking over our shoulders.
It’s just about July 4, so let our freedoms ring!