Don’t be a Karen

Maybe you’ve seen the meme. A photo shows a peanut butter and jelly sandwich cut poorly on the diagonal. The left ‘half’ is about sixty percent larger than the right. The caption: Serve this to your OCD friend.

It’s not really funny at all. There’s nothing clever about it. It breaks no new ground. It’s a joke that’s been circulating since the dawn of the web, since Jack Nicholson starred in his OCD film As Good as It Gets twenty-five years ago.

Psychotic Delusions, a Facebook humor page I follow, has posted it twice in the past couple of years. Everyone comments:

“Oh, that would drive me nuts, I must have OCD.”

“I’m so OCD, I wouldn’t even touch that sandwich.”

“You should see how I organize my shoes, LOL.”

I commented too: OCD is a debilitating condition, not a punchline. This is like laughing at a cancer patient’s bald head.

Someone named Bruce responded: Are you serious? OCD vs Cancer, really?                      

Donna Jean jumped into the fray: My older sister has OCD. It claimed her mind 45 years ago. She is practically homeless. Bladder cancer devastated my husband for the last 5 years of our 46 year marriage. I’ve been on the frontline for both, and I prefer physical sickness rather than mental.

Thanks Donna Jean. My OCD never claimed my mind. It disrupted my work performance, it affected my relationships, it caused me to draw ridiculous lines in the sand.

Buying pizzas at my favorite pizza joint to thank my coworkers for helping me with a project, I asked for twelve plates. On the cash register I saw $1.20 pop up. “Did you just charge me for those plates?”

“Hey man, I gotta eat too.”

“I’m never coming back here again” And then I didn’t for seven years. Lines in the sand. All the freaking time.

My OCD is medicated now. A happy accident. In 2016, I started taking medicine for my Tourette Syndrome. It works, sort of. I’d say my Tourette symptoms are about fifty percent better than they were. The OCD? That’s mostly gone. Still, I saw how paralyzing my mild case could be, people are home-bound by OCD. I want to educate people who think it’s all a big joke.

I throw out that ‘not a punchline’ comment with some frequency—on OCD and especially Tourette. Tourette syndrome is one of the few disorders that is fair game for comedians. Usually, people ignore me when I start complaining, but a couple of times I’ve gotten backlash. “Hey, lighten up. It’s just a joke.”

Last night Susan, Eli and I watched Family Guy. Do you know this show? It’s one of those inappropriate Fox network cartoons that are made for adults, but everyone freaks out because kids watch them too. In the episode last night, they used Tourette as a punchline. The character Chris did his Tourette Hamster Dance—a series of arm movements accompanied by nonsensical sounds.  As comedy goes, the it fell flat, at least to me and my family. I guess the funny part was supposed to be that Chris has Tourette.  

I said, “That’s uncool. I’m going to write them a letter.”

Eli responded, “Don’t be a Karen, dad.”

This could have set off a big family debate, but I let it go. My ‘that’s uncool’ remark lacked any conviction right from the start. It felt more obligatory than righteous. Plus, I don’t really talk to Eli about the potential for mocking and bullying from Tourette. It hasn’t happened to me.

This evening, I thought about Eli’s Karen remark. I didn’t phase me in the least, and I tried to figure out why. Family Guy mocks everyone. They make racist jokes about the Black character, disability jokes about the guy in a wheelchair and misogynistic remarks about all the female characters. According to Wikipedia, the show has been accused of being anti-Semitic, anti-Catholic, homophobic, transphobic, and so on. They rip on God, Jesus, Muslims, Down syndrome and the Boston Marathon bombing.

I realized it’s stupid for me to get riled up over a Tourette gag. There’s so much more to be pissed about. Now I’m wondering why I watch the show at all. I enjoy edgy, satirical humor, and Family Guy excels at that. It becomes so egregious at times that the jokes make me gasp out loud. But now I wonder, is the ‘humor’ only picking on minority groups and outsiders? Probably not, but it’s time for me to check myself while watching the show. Possibly I’m getting laughs from racist, hurtful humor. And at a minimum, I’m desensitizing myself to the exact sort of biases I claim to abhor.

My knee-jerk Karen comment seems to have woken me up. I’m not trying to censor the writers, but I want to stick up for my tribe. Suddenly I realize that on this show there are dozens of other tribes that need as much or even more consideration than mine.

15 thoughts on “Don’t be a Karen

  1. Family Guy and South Park… they DO make fun of everyone. Does it desensitize us? Do we need to “lighten up”? My opinion is yes to both. When one group is constantly the punch line, we get desensitized. The “feared” CRT is a good example.
    But I think there’s room to lighten up too. I make fun of my own disabilities and I’ve seen other disabled people do the same.
    I think there’s education enough out there for all of us… especially those of us with privilege. But I think we can go too far… be afraid to say anything to anyone from fear of offending. We are all human and we all have something wonky about us… physical or mental.
    Bottom line… kindness, courtesy, acceptance and being willing to learn will help everyone.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Then there’s the factor of whether normalizing hurtful humor gives less nuanced people license to to follow suit? I’ve seen all the videos of people bullying kids with Tourette because they’re odd. It’s heartbreaking to see. What role does Family Guy play in that. During my ‘research’ for this post, I watched the hamster dance on youtube. Then I read the comments. Those people are just hateful. Leave it to me to ask myself a bunch of questions I can’t answer.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Unfortunately there are always gonna be bullies and people who get off on causing pain. Haters gonna hate🤷🏼‍♀️
        Kids are horrible to each other. I’ve been happy to see more ethics being taught in schools. Unfortunately you’ve got the Hater type parents who are trying to eliminate that.
        We can make ripples and hope they spread, but we can’t fix everything.
        As for Family Guy 🤷🏼‍♀️ I don’t think it’s gonna turn you into a rabid, MAGA Hatter. If it opens your eyes to not so funny punchlines aimed at other groups, maybe the heightened awareness will make you a better ally to all groups🤷🏼‍♀️ To even ask the questions shows that you DO care.

        Liked by 2 people

  2. That’s thought provoking. I’ve never watched Family Guy I’m not a fan of cartoons, I do however often find myself gasping inwardly at the things that are said or done in the name of comedy. I think the skilled comedian makes the humor about society not individuals. It’s a fine line. I often sit and wonder what movies would I struggle watching now, also lyrics I used to sing along to make me grimace, and we are talking main stream bands here. Where does it all end? Maybe it’s enough we censor ourselves by thinking and deciding what we will pollute our tired brains with. Like I said thought provoking thanks, I think.

    Liked by 2 people

    • So true about lyrics and movies. When I was a spin instructor, I began focusing on the lyrics of the songs I was playing. 70s music is rife with misogyny. I was always a big fan of the Simpsons. These themes play out in that show as well, but they are more obviously supposed to elicit an eyeroll or a negative reaction. The Family guy producer Seth McFarlane is excellent at leaving it up in the air whether you should laugh or get offended. Thought provoking for sure. I’ll probably hurt my brain trying to figure this out.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Mmm … that’s a lot of food for thought, Jeff. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Family Guy or South Park, so I can’t talk from experiencing them. I’m not sure we even have those shows over here, although I don’t watch much TV so I might have missed them. Having ‘listened’ to your description of them, I don’t think I could be tempted to watch them. As a disabled person, I’ve certainly been subjected to discrimination, or should I say ignorance; not so much Micky-taking, though. I think I mentioned a long while back about the ‘does she take sugar?’ question as if the disabled person doesn’t have a mind or is unable to speak. That happened to me (with a carer) in a hospital cafe, of all places!

    I, personally, don’t think it’s okay to make fun of people with other issues like Tourette, OCD, people of colour, disabilities etc., etc. Maybe I’m in the minority. I had a friend with severe OCD many years ago -it made his life a nightmare, and eventually, very sadly, he committed suicide, which, at the age of forty-something, was a tragedy. I’m sure there are as many different opinions as there are people. One thing that puzzles me … where did the term, ‘don’t be a Karen’ first come from? I get the meaning as I’ve just googled it, but unsure where it originated.

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    • I’m not really sure how ‘Karen’ started although it’s a pretty stereotypical name for a 60ish white woman. I just think that’s what is being portrayed by the word, I almost wrote a disclaimer apologizing to Karens but then I thought that was being just like Family Guy, offending but not caring.

      You’re point of view on this topic matches my own when I sit back and think about it rationally. I said I like edgy humor, is this edgy only because it’s offensive? When does that cross a line and become unacceptable. Well, as I learned, at least when it hits home. Something I can say about the show is that despite a few paralysis jokes now and then, Joe, the character in a wheelchair is treated in a really respectful manner. I think it’s those one-off jokes about a usually positive character that elicits the humorous response. I’m sure I’ll watch it again in the next couple of weeks. I’ll be playing close attention to the humor and try to figure out why I like the show. If it’s for the wrong reasons, it’s off my list. And to be honest, it’s probably off my list anyway. You can’t unsee what you’ve already seen. And yes, OCD is never funny. NO ONE seems to understand that.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. There’s a melange of norming behaviour in this modern multi media world. I’m hoping that shows like The Family Guy weaken the influence of bullies and bigots, rather than increase our tolerance for bullying.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. What are the fights worth having? That’s the crux of the matter. Ignorance and insensitivity abound and can be commodified like anything else. Trump’s America is utterly appalling, exactly because it is a reflection of the world at large.

    Having grown up in the era of “Take my wife… please!” humour, I find my tolerance for comedic bullying is low these days. As a result, the cultural pizza shops I no longer patronise is growing steadily.

    Good piece, Jeff.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I know I need to be a more discriminating consumer. Starting tonight I watched family guy with a discriminating eye, watching out for ‘isms’. It actually wasn’t *too* bad, but I also think it was one of their less offensive episodes. It’s really ‘Eli’s show’. I haven’t told him yet that I might drop it.

      Liked by 1 person

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