The Worst Thing We Read Yesterday™
The egg was a horror. The horror was this: the egg had no purpose, but the egg could not have no purpose. It was meaningless but it still inescapably had a meaning. Why are zombies our contemporary emblem of apocalypse? They are dead but they cannot die.
The original understanding of the egg seemed to be that it was a “spoof,” a sort of commentary on the bodiless and indefinitely replicable nature of fame or success in the online world, a world whose visible and seemingly voluntary surface is social media. The gag was that everyone was going to make a picture of an egg become the most popular Instagram post of all time, ahead of the previous most popular post, Kylie Jenner’s photograph of her baby. It had certain attributes of “culture jamming,” the old theory of guerrilla warfare against advertising and consumption, using the techniques of promotion against promotion. The egg—the default avatar, the symbol of noninvestment in being online—could become more popular than Kylie Jenner, because why was Kylie Jenner popular in the first place? Who created this entire hierarchy of online being, anyway?
Marketers did, of course. Marketers marketing about marketing. At the end of a bad Super Bowl, in an exclusive deal with an online streaming service, supported by an embargoed rollout of media coverage, the egg was revealed to be the only thing the egg ever could have been: the work, according to a cooperating story in the New York Times, of a “29-year-old advertising creative who works at The & Partnership in London,” along with two friends.
A spoof requires a substrate of reality. But the attention economy refers only to the attention economy; there is no getting outside or around it. There is no culture to jam; trying to jam it only makes it swirl faster around itself. Every line of the Times story was hall of mirrors receding to a vanishing point of more of the same: another ad agency, commenting on the egg, “won industry praise in 2013 when it worked with Oreo to quickly tweet ‘You can still dunk in the dark’ during an unexpected blackout at the Super Bowl.”
Marketers agreed that the youth had been key to the egg’s success. (Instagram technically requires users to be 13 to create an account, but that rule is often disregarded.)
Technically (inside parentheses) the platform Instagram forbids underage users, whose usage of the platform created the egg’s success, to use it. Instagram is owned by the mass-surveillance and data-marketing company Facebook; Facebook’s market capitalization currently sits a bit below $500 billion, but is capable of swinging up or down by tens of billions of dollars in a single day.
Money is also an abstraction whose value depends on people agreeing to treat it a certain way:
The egg team is being paid by Hulu. It said that Nick Tran, Hulu’s vice president of brand marketing and culture, pursued the opportunity, and that he was introduced to them though The Times, a new agency in Chicago created by the Instagram enthusiast Jason Peterson. It would not disclose what it was paid.
The three people are an “it” which would not disclose, in the two-bylined collaborative publicity story, how much money it (they) was (were) getting paid for the egg, or for the attention the egg had generated, or for the attention the attention about the egg had generated. The egg, on being “opened,” delivered a public-service announcement about mental health, talking about “the pressure of social media.”