The emu is a large, long-necked, flightless-yet-powerful bird, related to the ostrich and native to Australia. Though they can be raised for their meat, feathers, eggs, and oil, they are also often kept as farm pets and help protect other domesticated animals from predators. That’s because — I can tell you from briefly living next to a farm that had one — they’re rather intimidating, with strong legs, a dinosaurian gaze and a tendency to sharply peck at anything they’re curious about. (The Aussies lost an actual war against them, if you want an idea of how tough they are.)
The birds’ unusual appearance and temperament have also, in recent years, made them stars on the internet. One you may have come across on TikTok is a vicious character appropriately named Karen. She lives at Useless Farm, in the village of Hartington, Ontario, with a menagerie of other creatures who have no jobs nor provide any sellable goods. Their owner, Amanda, runs the place with her husband Adam and their two sons on top of a full-time government services job.
Amanda’s massively popular TikTok account — 5 million followers and counting — features entertaining clips of all her “useless” animals, but Karen is a fan favorite. The farm’s website describes her as an “absolute bitch” and notes that she hates Amanda “with every fiber of her being.” While her mate, Stanley, is very cuddly and affectionate, even to the point of wearing silly costumes without protest, Karen prefers to disrupt any attempt at video recording by rushing at Amanda while hissing. Only a firm hand held up to her neck will halt the attack, as demonstrated here:
Useless Farm is supported by donations and a merch store, and seems by all indications to be a legitimate labor of love. The TikTok and YouTube channels provide a good laugh while enticing viewers worldwide to buy tote bags or chip in on maintenance costs. A perfectly nice arrangement.
That brings us to the other emu, who is mired in a far more complicated tale of digital clout and infamy. His name is Emmanuel, and he lives on Knuckle Bump Farms in South Florida, owned by Taylor Blake and her partner, Kristian Haggerty. The social accounts for this hobby farm appeared in January and have amassed large followings in less than a year — over 900,000 on Instagram and 2.4 million on TikTok. Blake, too, keeps emus (and rheas, a related bird), of which Emmanuel Todd Lopez is the best-known.
Unlike Karen, he appears to have a loving relationship with his caretaker. But he’s not without his mischievous side, either, and occasionally goes after Taylor’s phone while she’s filming. “Emmanuel, don’t do it” is her catchphrase in these situations. This summer, Taylor even appeared on the Tonight Show to act out a similar scene with Jimmy Fallon.
In the way of internet shorthand, both Amanda and Taylor are colloquially referred to as “The Emu Lady,” and why not? They are making very similar viral content with their emus. One might even wonder if Taylor, who got started a couple years after Useless Farm went online, was imitating Amanda’s schtick, consciously or not. Rolling Stone has reached out to both women to ask if they’ve viewed each other’s content, and if so, their opinion of it.
In an email, Amanda replies that she was just asked to be in a New York Times article with Taylor, and declined. “I’ve been doing this for almost three years and have had the farm for longer. I love what I do — I have so much fun. To be honest,” she says, “this is more than just silly emu lady stuff.”
Why would she turn down a major dual-profile with Taylor?
Well, the Florida farmer — who currently identifies as a “Jesus loving, mildly funny, lesbian” — has had several personae on social media. From mid-2020 through 2021, her Instagram documents extensive cross-country trips in a camper with Haggerty with lush nature shots bearing hashtags like #lifeontheroad and #offgridliving, unmistakably the aesthetic of a would-be travel influencer. Before that, from 2019 into 2020, she had some success making comedy videos as a “Karen” character (not to be confused with the emu Karen), a “southern divorcée” and “mother of two” who flipped the trope of the reactionary white woman by voicing progressive or “woke” opinions. In her final monologue for that series, she urged followers to demand justice for George Floyd.
Long before that, however, she was using the N-word on Twitter, claiming to be both African American and Native American, and arguing that the best way to defeat racism was to “stop talking about it.” At each phase of her continual reinvention, critics have once again circulated screenshots of her offensive comments dating back to 2011. That year, she tagged comedian Chelsea Handler, asking to be adopted because “I am a skinny white girl than [sic] can impersonate fat black girls.”
“If you want my comment on what Taylor did and said, here it is: it’s disgusting,” Amanda tells Rolling Stone. “Plain and simple. It’s important to me that everyone feels welcomed in our little online corner of the internet called Useless Farm — free from judgement and hate.”
Nevertheless, Taylor went on amassing a fandom with Emmanuel and Knuckle Bump Farms — until she was faced with a totally new scandal. On Oct. 15, she announced on Twitter that she’d lost “99%” of her birds to avian influenza after a flock of wild geese had invaded the farm. Then it appeared Emmanuel had fallen sick as well, but, while tending to him, Taylor went on kissing and snuggling with him as usual, causing alarm among medical experts who warned that she might contract the virus herself, which in turn could lead to a deadly pandemic flu among humans. Boghuma Kabisen Titanji, an infectious diseases researcher, called it a “bad idea.” Taylor defended herself in part by explaining that Emmanuel “freaks out whenever we approach him wearing a mask.”
In contacting Taylor, Rolling Stone sought any further comment on the avian flu backlash or her apparent history of racist tweets. She has yet to respond.
“Thank goodness we haven’t experienced [avian flu]” at Useless Farm, Amanda says, “and we are very careful to follow all guidelines from our vets and Health Canada.”
Though she’d consented to have the state put down other likely infected birds, Taylor chose to have Emmanuel tested. She announced on Oct. 22 that he didn’t have the flu after all, and was evidently suffering from stress during the crisis at the farm. “Always trust your intuition!” she tweeted.
Whatever the chorus of outrage on social media over how Taylor handled the incident, Florida’s own Commissioner of Agriculture, Nikki Fried — whom Taylor personally thanked for her help during the flock die-off — didn’t have a problem with it. In fact, she took Emmanuel’s new diagnosis as an opportunity to promote a brewery that makes a sour beer named after him, even wearing a T-shirt of the iconic bird.
To the conspiracy-minded, it may sound like a suspiciously pat resolution to a potential public health disaster. And for the moment, Taylor is only posting updates about Emmanuel’s recovery on Twitter, leaving the TikTok and Instagram accounts for Knuckle Bump Farms dormant. Once he’s his old self again, she could well face another round of call-outs for her past controversies, even as normies who like her farm videos remain blissfully unaware of any such context. Or she could piss the internet off in a completely novel way.
Thankfully, as the discourse moves forward, you will enjoy a clear understanding of which Emu Lady is which, why one has been repeatedly “canceled,” and where your loyalties should lie. Unlike those people struggling under the misapprehension that there is just one Emu Lady.