Imagine you have the power to remove a person from the internet. I’m not talking about blocking or muting them, so they’re out of view but remain very much online, still dragging down the culture with their every miserable post. I’m saying it’s magic — snap your fingers, wave a wand, blink twice — and this person is forever banished from the plane of digital existence. They can continue to annoy people, I guess, but in real life, where the consequences are more direct.
That is a daydream gifted to us by a two-word catchphrase, “Bye, Felicia,” popularized in the movie Friday, which came out 25 years ago this week. The history of this remark can be divided into two roughly equal periods. For 13 years, “Bye, Felicia” was a quotable line from a beloved stoner comedy starring Ice Cube and Chris Tucker, one item in a huge archive of funny stuff we amused ourselves by reciting in the pre-meme dark ages. The turning point came in late 2008, when Urban Dictionary user pimpin’817 uploaded a definition that claimed broadened usage:
“When someone says that they’re leaving and you could really give two shits less that they are. Their name then becomes ‘felicia,’ a random bitch that nobody is sad to see go. Their real name becomes irrelevant because nobody cares what it really is. Instead, they now are ‘felicia.’”
Fans of Friday will note the asymmetry between this entry and the source material: In the film, not only is the mooching neighbor actually named Felicia, but she doesn’t decide or announce that she’s leaving in the scene — she is dismissed. She saunters off because Ice Cube’s withering “Bye, Felicia” has ended the conversation, it cannot be argued, and right now, she won’t get any of the favors she’s after. That the “Felicia” in your life would buzz off without being told to is, like the efficacy of “Bye, Felicia” in practice, a piece of wishful thinking. If the Felicias of this world could be shooed or stonewalled into departing your sight, you wouldn’t need to constantly bid them adieu. It is the nature of a Felicia to return, again and again, irrepressible.
So here we are, in 2020, half a decade past the peak of “Bye Felicia” as an independent meme, and CNN anchor Brooke Baldwin is hashtagging an Instagram video about her recovery from COVID-19 with #byefelicia. How fitting that this futile gesture of finality, a kind of premature mic drop, would now apply to a virus that — as far as we know — is perfectly capable of infecting the same patient twice. Same as it ever was, really: When “Bye, Felicia” made the leap from pop-culture touchstone to social media putdown, it became a flag of victory for those who hadn’t earned it. Trashing a troll, bot, rival or hated public figure and adding “Bye, Felicia” did not get rid of the individual; it just revealed you were out of ammunition and wanted the skirmish to end.
Michelle Obama has said she was thinking “Bye, Felicia,” when she and Barack vacated the White House after Trump’s inauguration — yet Trump, the horrible interloper, is the one who stayed to dismantle the Obama legacy. Mötley Crüe drummer Tommy Lee tweeted “Bye Felicia!!!!!” after the House of Representatives voted to impeach Trump, though as far as I know, Felicia was not removed from office.
Perhaps these are no more than cringe-y recyclings of a concept that has outlived its value, performed for an audience that wants the recognizable more than cleverness. On the other hand, maybe all of us misjudged the effect of “Bye, Felicia” in the first place. Ice Cube delivers this rejection with such cool force that we believed it unanswerable. The truth is, if you even like a “Bye, Felicia” Facebook status, you may wind up on an afternoon TV court show, squaring off against the highly offended Felicia in question.
Cube’s character knew that “Bye, Felicia” gave him a temporary reprieve at best. He could be rude to her, even pretend she didn’t exist, because she’d come back anyway. There is casual contempt in this (and certainly in the queasy Felicia meta-reference from 2015’s Straight Outta Compton). There is also, I submit, a grudging, unspoken affection — the bond between siblings ever engaged in low-level hostilities. That’s why signing off your “epic clapback” with a “Bye, Felicia” always feels forced and self-satisfied, as well as lacking the desired and decisive thrust. More often, the target continues replying, unsubdued, and the thread continues its dive into the grim obscurity of the abyss. Quite simply, Felicia is not supposed to go away, and the “Bye” acquires the ironic sting that means: “I’ll never see the last of you — we are stuck together.”
Sartre’s famous “hell is other people” thereby finds its accidental online expression. On the internet, we all suffer the company of Felicias, while every one of us is Felicia to another. Nobody, especially under quarantine, is logging off. Nobody, in the end, has the authority or power to change the Twitter experience. Telling David Brooks his take is garbage won’t stop the next one; mocking Trump’s typos won’t prevent his reelection; “canceling” a comedian won’t keep him from promoting a new special. “Bye, Felicia” is no more than a talismanic motto in the non-space of perpetual presence, a false idea that utopia is achievable through excommunication. The truth is, when you show someone the door a million times, in a million ways, they get better at avoiding it.
Which makes for a long goodbye indeed.