They've never let a journalist into an Internet Folk Heroes meeting before, and I can tell they're nervous. It's noon; a couple of hours ago some reporters figured out that Martin Shkreli, the price-gouging pharmaceutical CEO, bought the Wu-Tang Clan's $2 million album, Once Upon a Time in Shaolin. But the exposé isn't the problem — the Hot Takes are. They'll come out by the hundreds, on every pop culture blog in the country, each more scathing than the previous, and the Internet Folk Heroes are the only ones who can stop them.
The Takes tell us something is wrong in the world. The Internet Folk Heroes tell us that the solution to that problem is, what if celebrities were actually really cool and just like us, only they could deliver the perfect line about why the haters and trolls don't deserve, say, the Netflix series Jessica Jones. They're the reason for, and our last line of defense against, every Hot Take.
But I don't know that yet. I just know that the Wu-Tang Clan's status as Internet Folk Heroes is in mortal danger.
RZA comes in, scowls, locks the door. We won't be leaving until this thing goes viral. One way or another.
"Cilvaringz is telling some more reporters about the time we climbed up the Great Pyramid by ourselves, when nobody else was around, and how cool it was that we did that cool thing," RZA says, "on the pyramids."
"Buys us an hour," GZA says. "Tops. It's not 2005 anymore — morning zoo DJs aren't going to talk about how cool you are just because you climbed the Great Pyramid."
"It buys you an hour," says Drake. Then there's a terse argument about socialized medicine, and I try to catch my bearings.
The Internet Folk Heroes meet in a really funny and random place that you wouldn't imagine, like, celebrities meeting in, on account of it seems so spontaneous. We're sitting in the dark at a wide, round table. There's 10 or 15 of them in the big chairs — it's hard to tell — and in one corner sits a wheelchair I only notice when the spokes catch the light. Its occupant remains shrouded in shadows.
RZA wants Murray. He's been pushing for Murray since he realized it was that Martin Shkreli a month ago, and the Slay Queen, leader of the Internet Folk Heroes, has been pushing back. But there's uncertainty in the room as to who the Slay Queen is — has been ever since Adele was in that Adele lookalike contest, which, like, talk about being comfortable in your own skin and really doing you, no matter what the haters think.
But it doesn't matter: She isn't there, and Beyonce isn't there, and Taylor Swift isn't there, and everyone in the room knows RZA is going to try to get Murray while they're out of the picture.
He's desperate. How desperate: John Oliver just completely obliterated him with a series of charts. Emma Watson followed with an impassioned and powerful defense of the Slay Queen. RZA pushed right on through. "He could steal the album — all of us could! Like a buddy-cop thing!"
Nate Silver is in charge of the Bill Murray Cool Thing Markov Chain. He's scrolling through his phone. "Bill Murray is a shark, RZA — he gives you that much time in one place, he's dead. Today he's [TUBING] in [MILWAUKEE] with [A BOY SCOUT TROOP]. Tomorrow it's [ROLLER COASTER PHOTOS] in [LAOS]. Plus he's doing a movie, probably."
"You can't get Murray," a voice says, finally, and there's a catch in the room, one sharp intake of breath. "And it wouldn't help you if you could. You're dead in the water."
The wheelchair creaks forward into the light. An involuntary groan circles the table. It's the disgraced founder of the Internet Folk Heroes, Chuck Norris. (A few years back, after he endorsed Mike Huckabee and was kicked out, Chuck Norris broke both his legs. He tried to walk it off.)
"Look, RZA," he says, now, "I get it. Chuck Sheen gets it. Money's good, and it's not like there are a lot of just-plain-folk with skeleton-free closets out there ready to buy your stupid $2 million album.
"And so long as you don't blow it and go partisan, you'll live. But now they know your secret: You're a rich and famous celebrity who likes to have a lot of money, and not a cartoon character they can invest with a strange quasi-religious significance they can't even begin to verbalize. It's over."
RZA's face goes pale.
Then the man next to me stands up. I don't know his face, but I recognize the voice; he's the publicist who got me into the meeting. "OK, though," he says, "how about we plant a goofy joke on some Twitter account about Bill Murray stealing the record, and people talk about that anyway, instead of us selling an album for $2 million, because it's like, hey, we're cool regular people who also like Bill Murray, too."
"Son of a bitch," Chuck Norris says. It's a brilliant and cruel plan — the sort of PR meta-solution they didn't have in his day. The meeting breaks up. He's the last one there when I follow the publicist out the door.
We talk about Bill Murray parody Twitter accounts. We talk about how celebrity public relations has changed in the last ten years — how easy it is for the new generation to escape bad press. Chuck's quiet long enough that I think he's stopped listening to me — just then the glass shatters in his hand.
"Things change, friend. I'll tell you that. I used to think there was no theory of evolution," Chuck Norris tells me. "I was wrong."