Huge news for those closely following the health and well-being of Emmanuel the emu who have not yet been deterred by his clout-chasing owner’s history of online racism: He does not have Avian bird flu! He’s just stressed out. This isn’t the greatest saga ever told, but it is a saga, and I am going to tell it.
Quickly, before we dive in—on the off-chance that you’ve let half of this discourse seep into your brain, I’m discussing Taylor Blake, NOT the other, unproblematic (as far as we know) emu influencer who works at Useless Farm and has an emu named Karen that keeps trying to murder her on camera.
Pre-Avian flu scare, Emmanuel the emu first went viral (no pun intended) this past summer. Taylor Blake, his owner and the head of Knuckle Bump Farms in South Florida, was doing this bit where she would try to post farm education videos to TikTok, but was consistently being interrupted by the emu craning his lanky emu neck into the frame, curious as to what was going on. Blake would, much to the delight of her viewers, chastise him by using his full Christian name, Emmanuel Todd Lopez. The duo reached such a height of viral fame that Blake was interviewed by both the Washington Post and the Tonight Show. The niche drama seemed so wholesome and fun-loving, but would ultimately taper out the way most five minutes of fame do: quickly and quietly! Of course, things are not always as they seem.
Turns out this was not Blake’s first rodeo: The farmer has presented many versions of herself over the years. While it took a moment, the terminally online among us soon recognized her from her previous stunts, like going viral for recording herself in 2015 asking a Taco Bell employee if she wanted to have a sleepover. All pretty innocuous internet-fame fodder, though, right? Women being nice to each other? #Win! Fast food content!? #TacoBellPartnerWin! But a #BigFail lurked beneath the surface. #Racism.
Chugging right along the well-trodden path of internet virality, Blake’s old tweets, in which she used the N-word and disparaged Black people’s behavior, were soon discovered (she quickly deleted them). This discovery got the mid-sized reaction you’d imagine a non-famous white woman farmer from Florida being lazily racist deserves: outrage in certain corners of the internet that weren’t big enough to circle back to Fallon or the Post. Just as that cycle of indignation was dying down to make way for America’s next unlikely animal superstar, disease struck South Florida.
On October 15th, Blake announced the farm had experienced a “massive tragedy” and lost 99 percent of their birds to Avian influenza. When AI hits a farm, the state comes in Contagion-style to “take care of” them, aka make them fly their final flight. Devastating. Emmanuel fans rightly demanded to know his status, his whereabouts—had the flu struck him, too?!? It sure seemed like it. He was “down,” according to Blake. Emmanuel had fatigue, wasn’t eating, and had a twisted neck. She proceeded to post approximately 500 photos of her cuddling, kissing, and holding the (excuse me) absolutely fucked-up-sickly looking Emu.
Cue an incidental shift in 40 percent of Twitter suddenly becoming bird disease experts. “Don’t kiss the emu that is dying from a plague,” was the general consensus. Actual bird disease expert and virologist, Dr. Angela Rasmussen, expressed how dangerous it is to be in physical contact with a bird with AI. “It sounds harsh but to prevent it’s [sic] spread, birds that get avian flu should be euthanized,” she tweeted. I, too, agreed it was time to say goodbye to Emmanuel for the sake of saving humanity, like he was Bruce Willis in Armageddon. Racist sleepover enthusiast Blake did not.
“Something in my gut just told me that this wasn’t the end for him,” she tweeted. And it turns out that feeling in her gut was not her body fighting off AI: She was right. Emmanuel was tested for all types of sicknesses, and nothing was found to be wrong with him. But why, then, did he look like he’d glided down the current of the River Styx? Why did his feathers fall out and his neck get all twisted?
Oh, he was just havin’ a bad day! “We believe this all stemmed from stress,” Blake tweeted. “Emus are highly susceptible to stress.” Was it all of his friends being killed by the government that did it? Maybe. Was it the quick ascent to fame? Perhaps. Did having a stage mom of a farm owner with a racist past cause him distress? Who’s to say? But Emmanuel Todd Lopez was fucking stressed out and on the brink of death. Been there, my man.
Is there a lesson to the 800+ words I just typed out? Well, it feels safe to say: no. Except, just don’t be racist. And also, don’t cuddle a sick bird in your bed. Or if you do, don’t post about it, because the Internet has congealed into a single Avian virologist and will have the state remove YOU if you get too close to a sick bird. My final wish is that Emmanuel recovers and that we figure out why he, against all of his bird brothers and sisters, survived annihilation.