Viral fame, like an actual virus, comes on quickly, ravages the system for a while, then leaves behind a feeling of aching emptiness—symptoms that will only worsen the longer it hangs around. For Candace Payne, the ebullient Texas mother known as Chewbacca Mom, the viral fame she achieved for being the only person ever to be happy at a Kohl’s has become downright pathogenic, spreading and mutating since her May debut into talk show appearances, meetings with J.J. Abrams, and even her very own action figure. But now it seems the world’s collective host body has at last begun the process of trying to expel her, a mere two months after the video of her laughing in a Chewbacca mask so captured our collective desire not to work for four minutes.
The backlash has been growing ever since Payne went from the unabashedly giddy Chewbacca Mom to irritatingly omnipresent Chewbacca Metaphor, her purity of spirit and proud Christian message held up as a shining example by many, a smarmy annoyance by others. There’s also, as floated by The Daily Dot, the racial aspect of Payne and her family receiving so much attention and reward—including full college scholarships and $20 an autograph—for her “white mediocrity,” while similarly viral stars who are black languish and fade. Basically, you can put whatever mask you want on Chewbacca Mom to portray your preferred social virtue or ill, and she’ll laugh through it. Which is probably why she felt the need to weigh in on last week’s spate of gun violence in a new video that, like her first one, has already attracted millions of views and heaps of press—and the strongest hints yet that the world is getting pretty damned sick of her.
“I’ve been spreading joy and I’ve been hoping to do that,” Payne says in her latest clip, “but I found myself the last couple of days being silent because I’ve been so sad and so hurt by what’s going on.” She refers specifically to the police officers fatally shot in Dallas, not far from her Grand Prairie home, but she also mentions the “pain that I know is being felt by the whole world right now—literally the whole world.” It’s presumably a sort of sweeping nod to the murders of black people by cops in the days prior, the bombings in Baghdad and Turkey, the massacre in Orlando, and whatever other horrors happened while you were reading this sentence.
So in an effort to encourage everyone to “make a better place, y’all,” Payne is moved to sing a soft, piano-accompanied version of Michael Jackson’s “Heal The World,” saying, “I felt like someone needs to sing these lyrics again and sing them over our world and just be a good reminder.” It’s a typically gentle, kindhearted gesture that has inspired some to tears, and some to tell her to kindly fuck off already.
Among those in the latter camp were director Joe Carnahan, whose love of gritty action films and Liam Neeson’s face definitely wouldn’t seem to put him in this video’s target audience.
But this earnest, emotive expression of vulnerability set to a treacly ballad has even earned the condemnation of Zach Braff, which is a bit like Bono calling Payne self-important.
Still, even with these kinds of stinging rebukes, Payne seems as undeterred by the negative comments as any person who’s stubbornly clinging to the belief that their happiness is not determined by strangers on the internet. “You can either have water in your bucket, or you can have gasoline in your bucket, and I choose to have water,” Payne tells the New York Times, citing a popular motivational speaker maxim that you’ll similarly find inspiring or insipid.
For Payne to have lasted long enough to even garner this kind of reprisal is, of course, another metaphor you can pin on her—for a tired, fractious society so bereft of true joy, it clings to these simulacra of happiness far longer than it should, and invests them with far deeper meaning than they should have ever had, only to end up resenting them when the novelty wears off and the pleasure proves fleeting. But it seems that, like so many internet fads before her, Chewbacca Mom has finally reached that point where the world is ready to consign her to a Chewbacca Memory, then briefly suspend its misery for some other innocuous diversion it will just as quickly come to disdain.
Not Pokémon Go, though! That’ll be fun forever.