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General News    H4'ed 4/29/21

Remembering When Karen Wasn't An Insult

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Karen was not always an insult
Karen was not always an insult
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Karen has become code for an angry, entitled, racist white woman. Karen is "the kind of woman who asks to speak to the manager," and polices others' behavior said a piece in the Atlantic.

But Karens have not always been privileged busy bodies.

In 1974, labor union activist and radiation whistleblower Karen Silkwood was killed in a suspicious car accident on her way to show a reporter a binder of evidence about safety lapses at the Kerr-McGee Cimarron Fuel Fabrication Site in Oklahoma where she worked. Silkwood's family received an out-of-court settlement from Kerr-McGee who admitted no liability. The plant closed in 1975.

The next year, Karen Ann Quinlan was an early Terri Schiavo who provoked a right-to-die controversy after she lapsed into a coma caused by alcohol and benzos. For months her headshot was plastered across newspapers, symbolizing to adults the ethics surrounding euthanasia and to young people...the importance of not partying too hardy. She lingered in a coma for nine years.

Then there was Karen Carpenter who vaulted to the top of pop music in the 1970s which was still dominated by men, playing the "unladylike" drums no less. Officially, her 1983 death was caused by heart complication of the barely-recognized disease of anorexia leading to early discussion of "body image" and the pressure to be thin. But according to her brother the real reason was emotional pain from a string of devastating romantic disappointments she had suffered.

Then there was Karen Pendleton the only "Mouseketeer" to remain on the ABC television Mickey Mouse Club the entire time it aired and one of the two youngest members of the club. Pendleton threw herself into working for battered women and disability rights after became a paraplegic due to a 1983 car accident.

And we can't forget the sound-alike Carrie made famous by the horror thrill movie of the same name in 1977 starring Sissy Spacek and adapted from a Stephen King book. Tricked into becoming prom queen by her peers only to be doused in pig blood (hah!) Carrie, was also bullied at home by her mother who never tells her the facts of life so when she gets her first period she thinks she is dying. (Which provokes more bullying.)

After her prom ordeal, Carrie goes home to clean up only to be stabbed with a butcher knife by her mother. Carrie then starts a fire and immolates both of them.

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Martha Rosenberg is an award-winning investigative public health reporter who covers the food, drug and gun industries. Her first book, Born With A Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks and Hacks Pimp The Public Health, is distributed by Random (more...)
 

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Martha Rosenberg

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Who remembers other famous Karens?

Submitted on Thursday, Apr 29, 2021 at 7:02:31 PM

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gentry cooper

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I don't know about famous, but two of my elementary school classmates back in the early 1960's were Karen Smith and Karen Gleason. We went through school together for six years, until 6th grade. Nostalgia.

Submitted on Friday, Apr 30, 2021 at 1:19:08 PM

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Maxwell

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Reply to gentry cooper:   New Content

I'm about that age, and there were many more than two Karens in my early life, including a 12th grade English teacher.

Submitted on Monday, May 3, 2021 at 2:27:29 PM

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gentry cooper

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Yes back then it was a popular girl's name. With no negative connotations attached to it.

Submitted on Monday, May 3, 2021 at 4:58:40 PM

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Allan Wayne

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I be caring about Karen if I was caring.

Submitted on Friday, Apr 30, 2021 at 2:33:08 PM

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Fris Koy

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Few Asian women have blond hair. Some would call those who dislike millions of others great racists.

wikipedia.org/wiki/Karen_people

Submitted on Sunday, May 2, 2021 at 2:37:48 PM

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All I can think of offhand is, unhelpfully, Karen Pence, and slightly left of center Washington Post columnist Karen Tumulty. But there must be more. As you say, it was one of the most popular names of my generation. Karen Black, maybe?

In any case, it is grotesquely unfair for decent people named Karen to suffer from this stereotype. That awful woman--the canonical Karen-- who called the police on an "African American man" for feeding treats to her dog (because she refused to keep it on a leash per Central Park regulations) is named Amy, and behaved very unamiably. Amy Cooper, actually, same surname as the man she accosted. Talk about "what's in a name?" Whereas Sarah Cooper, in her comedy piece "Everything's Fine", does make use of the Karen stereotype.

Submitted on Monday, May 3, 2021 at 2:23:16 PM

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