Whangārei has been dubbed the "City of Karens" by social media commenters blasting the decision to remove musical chimes at the new Town Basin playground following noise complaints.
Whangārei District Council (WDC) removed two sets of musical chimes, popular with all ages, over a week ago from the three-month-old $1 million-plus playground after "five or six" complaints from nearby businesses and residents.
However, the decision has not gone down well with many, generating over 200 comments on the Northern Advocate's story posted to Facebook on Saturday with only a handful backing the move.
Most were questioning the decision with many referring to those who complained as "Karens".
"Karen" is a derogatory term which has, in recent years, become a widespread meme referencing a meddlesome woman, exhibiting behaviours such as demanding to speak to the manager.
Those in favour of the chimes said they had "lovely", "pretty" and "magical" tones, calling those who complained "miserable sods", "killjoys" and "fun police in action" with suggestions of taking up tiddlywinks instead of complaining.
"Omg, Karens, let the kids play," said one.
"Some people forget what it's like to be a child," said another.
"Miserable people, you complain when the kids are creating havoc, you complain when the kids are creating music."
And: "My goodness, certainly a lot of precious people around these days - and these are probably the same people who moan about kids being inside and in front of screens too much! Give the kids a break!"
Several commenters questioned the WDC's decision to pander to the minority, accusing them of lying down and "playing dead" – "Why are complainers allowed so much power? They are always the minority but always seem to get their way."
WDC parks technical officer Spencer Jellyman sympathised both with the people who missed the chimes and those who found them "crazy-making".
"This is one of those perfect, you can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can't please all of the people all of the time, moments," he said.
"We thought the chimes were a fun feature that would create a bit of joy for playground users but we do have to also consider the people who live nearby. A family might go to the playground for 20 minutes to an hour and, in that time, play on many different parts of the playground, but a person living or working in the area is there all day and sometimes all night – so the chiming isn't just a few seconds every 20 minutes for them.
"In a situation like this, we look at what we can do to keep everyone somewhat happy, without causing a major problem for anyone, or ourselves. We will be doing some research to find out if there is something less intrusive we can use instead. In the meantime, we need to avoid provoking anyone to take matters into their own hands and potentially destroy equipment, which we can carefully take apart and keep safe."
WDC had received five or six complaints about the chimes with one representing a large number of residents of the marina. The complaints were mostly from businesses and marina residents with a few from the hillside opposite. WDC hadn't factored on the noise travelling so far when they installed the chimes.
"You need to be living in the area and hearing the chimes constantly to be aware of how penetrating a noise they make," he said.
One person in favour of their removal said: "Thank goodness. Noise pollution. Sounded terrible and frankly ruined my loop walks."
Some people suggested a muted version of the chimes so the children could still enjoy them without the sound carrying.
Raukatauri Music Therapy Centre clinical and centre director Jen Ryckaert was saddened to hear of the chimes' removal.
"While this isn't music therapy, it's an example of people being able to connect with each other through music.
"We see when working in early childhood centres in particular that music is a great enabler of getting children to move from parallel play to playing together whether it's active listening or sharing compositions together. I'm sure that's what was going on here."
Jellyman said the sound of the playground's bongo drums was lower-pitched and didn't travel as far so there had been no complaints and therefore no plans to remove them.
"Karen" is associated with the kind of person who demands to "speak to the manager", excessive use of Facebook and sporting a particular bob cut hairstyle. Pictures of Kate Gosselin and Jenny McCarthy's bob cut are often used to depict Karen, and their bobs are sometimes called the "Can-I-speak-to-your-manager?" haircut. The Guardian called 2020 "The year of Karen".
In African-American culture, there is a long history of calling a meddlesome white woman by a certain name. In the 1800s, she was referred to as "Miss Ann". In the early 1990s, Becky was used. As late as 2018, before the use of Karen caught on, alliterative names matching particular incidents were used, such as "Barbecue Becky", "Cornerstore Caroline", and "Permit Patty".
For the term "Karen", several possible origins have been proposed. Early uses of Karen as a joke punchline include the airheaded character Karen from the 2004 film Mean Girls, Dane Cook's 2005 sketch "The Friend Nobody Likes" on his album Retaliation, and a 2016 Internet meme regarding a woman in an ad for the Nintendo Switch console who exhibits antisocial behaviour and is given the nickname "Antisocial Karen".
The term is generally used to refer to women, although former US president Donald Trump has been dubbed the "Karen in chief"