As far as I can tell, the Karen meme began roughly two years ago when someone on Subreddit began posting about their Ex, Karen, but perhaps there were multiple sources, that then congealed around the name Karen as an entitled White woman who wanted to speak to the manager, or was calling the police to complain about minorities doing completely legal activities that annoyed her, or, perhaps was an anti-vaxxer. Now, with the CoronaVirus pandemic, she also fits the profile of someone who refuses to wear a mask or engage in social distancing. But this post is actually about a cougar named Karen, and no, she is not a middle aged Junior High teacher who is dating her student. Not that kind of cougar. I mean Karen the Cougar who was in Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby. This film, released on August 4th, 2006, was green-lighted by Sony after a 6-word pitch: Will Ferrell as a NASCAR driver.
For me the film has special meaning, because it was the last film I watched with my father. There is a father/son theme in the movie as Ricky Bobby is taught by his father, Reese Bobby, how to drive:
Lucy Bobby : So how was your day driving with your father?
Ricky Bobby : Well let’s see. I got mauled by a cougar, my Crystal Gayle shirt is ruined, and I didn’t learn dick about driving. Other than that, it was great.
[So Reese Bobby has some special techniques to teach driving. And they involve a cougar that is aptly named, Karen.]
Ricky Bobby: [after seeing the cougar in the car] Where did you get it?
Reese Bobby: I trapped it. I’ve been keeping it in the bathroom in my motel room.
Reese Bobby: There’s nothing more frightening than driving with a live goddamn cougar next to you.
[But how is that supposed to teach Ricky how to drive?]
Reese Bobby: You’ve gotta learn to drive with the fear. There ain’t nothin’ more frightenin’ than drivin’ with a live cougar in the car. If you’re calm, that wondrous big cat will be calm too. But if you’re scared, that beautiful death machine will do what God made it to do, namely, eat you with a smile on its face.
[So Ricky does make progress in his NASCAR race driver technique, but to really bring it home, Reese kicks it up a notch.]
Reese Bobby: Now, there’s nothing like driving to avoid jail. Nothing hones your mind and your instincts like necessity. So I taped a kilo of cocaine underneath the car and called the boys in blue. Now, the way I figure it, you got about two minutes before they show up and you do 5 to 10. So, what’s it going to be? Fear or prison?
Ricky Bobby: Man, what the hell are you talking about?
Reese Bobby: Real simple, son… cops are coming, there’s a kilo of Colombian bam-bam under the car. Time to be a man. You got hair on your peaches or what?
So, anyway, my old man never did anything even approaching that to me, which is why I am not a NASCAR driver, but we watched the film together, and that was the last film I did get to see with him. He was a fan of auto racing, though not NASCAR per se. I have fond memories of him watching the Indianapolis 500 every year — Bobby Unser and Mario Andretti. He also liked motorcycles, and me, my dad and my older and younger brothers, Don and Tim, all had dirt bikes, BSAs, that we took on camping trips. Before launching his career in computer programming he worked as an auto mechanic at Dyke’s Automotive. This shop was owned by my grandfather Elbert Dyke, and they sponsored a midget racer that was driven by a real character — Shinner Watkins — who could’ve given Ricky Bobby a run for his money.
The other thing that was great about my dad was that he was a musician, and he played piano, guitar, and then when he retired he really got into jazz and playing the soprano saxophone. I was really into that, and my whole family was pretty musical, but me and my dad were into it deeper than the rest. In Talladega Nights there is a scene where Ricky’s rival, a French driver named Jean Girard, confesses that he likes jazz.
Ricky Bobby : Nobody plays jazz at the Pit Stop!
Jean Girard : Then why is the song on the jukebox?
Bartender : We use it for profiling purposes. We also have the Pet Shop Boys and Seal.
So, anyway, unbeknownst to me until I began researching this blog post, there is something else that makes the father/son theme resonate for me about this movie. Will Ferrell’s own father, Roy Lee Ferrell played saxophone, piano, and keyboards for the Righteous Brothers for almost 20 years. He wrote “Goodbye Cowboy” for Talladega Nights. “Having my dad’s song in the movie is neat because it’s not like I said, ‘Hey, put my dad’s song in the movie,'” Ferrell said. “It was the director (Adam McKay) and the other creative decision-makers that wanted to include it, so that is so satisfying for both me and my dad.”
[Getting back to that cougar, Karen, now what exactly did she symbolize in this film? Here is where that is made explicit, when Ricky Bobby learns that he has lost his corporate sponsors and is going to have to go out there and race without their backing and support.]
Susan: “Me” is you. Because it’s just you out there. We don’t have any corporate sponsors, we don’t have any fancy team owners. We have you. And this car, and this cougar, which symbolizes the fear that you have overcome. It’s all there for you.
Glenn: Ricky, this car is like your Excalibur, the mighty sword that Sir Lancelot used to bring together the Knights of the Round Table, until Lancelot betrayed him by laying with his queen…
Glenn: … in the biblical sense.
Ricky Bobby: Okay, Glenn. Everything cool that Susan said, you wrecked it.
So, anyway, I don’t know if my dad liked the raunchy humor in this movie, whether he thought it was funny or not, or even if he liked the film solely for the racing, but it always holds a special place in my heart because of the associations and feelings it evokes in me, about watching it with him, and also about how he loved cars and racing.
As for Karen, the cougar, hope you don’t feel cheated that this blog post was only tangentially about her, Constant Reader, or other so-called Karens that are trending for some reason. I did find a video of a cougar that paid a visit to a housecat and here is a link to that if you want to see it:
Links to the sources for the quotes I used:
Reese Bobby: Yep, I guess things are just about perfect… it’s making me feel kind of itchy…
Ricky Bobby: How ’bout we go get kicked out of an Applebee’s?