A shock of hair, festooned with chunky highlights, is currently barreling toward Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. The style is odd, and dated: shorter in the back than the front, with long, side-swept bangs framing its swirling storm winds of a face. It looks like reality star Kate Gosselin circa 2007. It was snubbed at the customer service desk, and is now demanding to speak with the manager—all of the managers, every single one it’s expected to encounter along the Eastern Seaboard. It brings with it gale-force winds of entitlement. It is Karen—both a tropical storm and the meme of same name.
Normally, a tropical storm in the Atlantic isn’t fodder for meme-makers. Sure, the internet is quick to make image macros out of photos of emptied-out supermarkets or Floridians taking inadvisably defiant stands against the weather, but usually that’s about it. The tropical storm that formed Sunday is different, though. As it formed, the National Hurricane Center got to the letter K on its list of 2019 storm names, and this year, K is for Karen. A storm got a name; the internet got a gift.
Before we get into why Karen is, to some, the funniest possible name, a caveat in the name of decency: Tropical storms aren’t at all funny. Tropical Storm Karen, which has been described by meteorologists as “disorganized,” with only a middling chance of becoming a stronger tropical cyclone, is still a threat to lives and property, particularly in Puerto Rico, which is still recovering from Hurricane Maria. That said, Karen is quite literally an unstoppable force of nature, and there’s not much anyone can do about it but wait, so it’s hard to begrudge people a chuckle. (Please don’t hate me, Greta Thunberg.)
For the last three years or so, “Karen” has been the internet’s stock female antagonist: a righteously annoyed middle-aged white woman who loves coupons, reverse mullet bobs, and, above all else, speaking to the manager. The collision of this well-known meme with an incoming stormfront has generated many jokes.
Most memers focus the manager thing.
Others lean on the haircut.
And some are just seeing the big-picture boon Tropical Storm Karen represents.
The meme’s origins are opaque, but meme encyclopedia Know Your Meme suggests that it might be a repurposed Mean Girls reference: “Oh my god, Karen, you can’t just ask someone why they’re white,” which became a meme of its own. That quote was directed at a character played by Amanda Seyfried, though, who looks nothing like the “Karen” image the internet typically conjures. That honor goes to the aforementioned Kate Gosselin, erstwhile star of Jon & Kate Plus 8, a sharp-edged middle-class American mom.
The earliest example the contemporary Karen might be Nintendo Switch Karen, which was a Tumblr joke about a woman in the 2016 Nintendo Switch trailer who brought the console to a party. The jokes mostly cast her as antisocial, but at one point got so intense that mods for the Nintendo Switch subreddit had to ban Karen posts. By the following year, r/FuckYouKaren became its own subreddit, popularizing jokes about the haircut and irritating entitled behavior, and teenagers named Karen began inquiring why so many people were suddenly “telling [them] to go fuck themselves.” r/FuckYouKaren currently has 275,000 members. The top pinned post reminds users not to harass “innocent Karens.” Clearly, tweeters have decided that Tropical Storm Karen is not innocent.