Earlier this week, a teenage hero named Will Connolly, was crowned “Egg Boy” by the internet for, fittingly, smashing an egg on Australian right-wing senator Fraser Anning’s head during an interview with the press. Days earlier, Anning had made a racist, widely criticized statement about the Christchurch mosque shooting in which he blamed Muslim immigration for the white supremacist terrorist attack, so it was especially satisfying for many to watch Connolly slap a raw egg upon his skull — crack! — on live TV, and to replay it, again and again, on Twitter.
That the moment felt so triumphant for those opposed to Anning’s statement is obvious at the macro level — bad guy is punished for saying bad thing — but there is something specifically satisfying about seeing that bad guy get egged as opposed to, say, sucker punched. But why? What is it about egging that is as devilishly thrilling to watch as it is singularly humiliating to experience?
According to Tiffany Watt Smith, an emotional historian, lecturer, and author of Schadenfreude: The Joy of Another’s Misfortune, egging has a rich, gloopy legacy in acts of political rebellion, particularly in the U.K., where she’s from. David Cameron, a former prime minister, was egged, as was Nigel Farage, whom Watt Smith describes as “one of the horrible people behind Brexit.” Much earlier — like, Elizabethan era earlier — throwing rotten food (and eggs in particular) was a way to signal one’s disapproval of a bad actor, she adds. In George Eliot’s classic Middlemarch, Eliot describes a would-be parliamentarian being subjected to a “hail of eggs.” Because we’ve been doing it for so long, says Watt Smith, egging has become something of an honored tradition, possessing what she calls a “formal choreography of humiliation.”
In fact, Watt Smith says, it is egging’s very ubiquity (and accessibility) which makes it so satisfying to watch (and do). “It’s a way of taking back power,” she says. “It’s a moment of revolution, almost. George Orwell says every joke is a tiny revolution, and it sort of has that quality.” When one eggs, one sticks it to the Man — partly because eggs are so cheap, and can be purchased spontaneously. (Also relevant here may be their strange, surging popularity with teens, nature’s rebels.) “I remember the guy who egged Nigel Farage being interviewed afterward, and he said ‘Oh I just saw him and ran around the corner to Tesco and bought some eggs.’ It’s so easily available, as a missile,” says Watt Smith, admiringly.
Egging is also, generally speaking, nonviolent (though people do tend to get hit afterward), and our schadenfreude is perhaps purest when there’s no real harm suffered. Egging has the benefit of administering shock and disgust without inflicting any real pain. “It’s got this comical edge where you feel like it’s really unpleasant, but it’s not an actual threat,” says Watt Smith. That said: egging isn’t without skill, either — typically it requires very good aim, or, as in the case of Egg Boy, a self-assuredness, and the courage to get close to someone whose presence typically calls for respectful distance. “The fact that you can get close enough to egg someone means you could do something worse to them, so it does have that edge of danger,” Watt Smith adds.
Of course, our thrill at watching someone be egged requires that we find the prospect of being egged completely mortifying. Obviously, the texture of raw egg is gross, and it’s hard to get off your hair/skin/clothing, but what is it about eggs, in particular, that elicits this response? Watt Smith says it has a lot to do with the egg’s unique shock value. “You get a lot of schadenfreude when people are taken by surprise,” she says. “Most politicians are so manufactured and groomed in their message — at least here, I guess that’s not true of Trump — and when people are shocked you see a different side to them.” Watt Smith compares an egg to the cranium as a mask slipping off, presenting a window into the person’s truest self. Often, those true selves are frustrated, sensitive, rash, and inelegant. “When Anning turns around, decides this guy isn’t so much of a threat, so he slaps him, and it’s a bit pathetic looking,” she explains.
Much as we derive more satisfaction from seeing someone we don’t like egged because it’s not violent, being egged is almost more embarrassing for the same reason. In its cheapness, its impermanent damage, its slime, the egg imparts the message that its target is undeserving of more thoughtful, deliberate protest. “I think the egging is almost like a rhetorical device. It’s like, you’re not worth stabbing, or assassinating,” says Watt Smith. “You’re just worth egging. It’s a gesture of that person’s inferiority.”
Ultimately, though, egging is about hope. In a world in which our elected representatives frequently disappoint and often appall us, heroes like Egg Boy remind us that there are revolutions to be had, and protests to be made. “We’ve given over so much power to politicians, and they rule us,” says Watt Smith. “We need to feel that we can reclaim some of that power every so often.” If only for a moment, a good egging can do that. Love live Egg Boy. Long live the almighty, humbling Egg.