The World Record Egg and the Cult of Relevance

The incredible inedible egg is the most-liked image on Instagram, with almost 33 million likes as of Monday morning. Why?

Kylie Jenner no longer holds the record for the most-liked Instagram post, because an account called @world_record_egg has overtaken her with more than 33 million likes (up from 18 million on Sunday, when it broke the record).

The account has only one image: an egg. As food pics go, it’s quite nice, a lightly speckled brown egg positioned on its rump end. It looks as though it may be tilting ever so slightly to the left. The account has the one post, but also 4 million followers, and follows 925 people, most of them average folks. A lot of them have private accounts, and many of those private accounts seem to belong to teenagers. @world_record_egg also follows a fan account called @eggworldrecordfan that has 3,143 followers of its own, as well as the San Diego Fox 5 affiliate. If we had to make an educated guess, it seems like @world_record_egg was started by a teenager in Southern California, unless all the “clues” are an elaborate red herring. Coyly, it includes its email address in its bio, although it has yet to respond to SF Weekly‘s inquiry.

It’s clearly spawning secondary memes. Within minutes after I liked the post, a plucky pretender to the throne, @world_record_shawarma followed me. It’s an even more banal image than the egg, without the speckled symmetry, and it only has 16 followers. According to its Story, its well-aware of the virality, calling the fracas “a madness” with a promise to reply to all its messages soon, but the creator needs sleep first. There are also some dumb memes involving MC Hammer and the opening scene to Raiders of the Lost Ark.

If you want to follow it on Twitter, good luck finding it in the ocean of fake accounts. And it appears Kylie isn’t taking it lying down.

The answer to the burning question why is superficially obvious: because why not? But a more interesting question might be, What did you do as soon as you found out about it? Presumably, you either ignored it completely or liked it, and if you liked it, you almost certainly checked to see which of your friends liked it, too. And if you did that, you did that because we have trained ourselves to live our lives constantly comparing our world-weary relevance to one another. That way, when someone asks you if you heard about the egg, you can say you were in on the nebulous joke before they were. Since it will not hatch into a cute baby chick — by far the cutest emoji — and it doesn’t seem to be a viral-marketing campaign, that is the entire purpose of following the egg. It’s a random status update with negligible but non-zero consequences for your real-life status. It’s a meta-Easter egg, an inside joke whose shell we cannot penetrate, because the surface is all that there is.

Why is it an egg? They’re as banal as they are mysterious, forming in a sort of assembly line inside the body of a hen. Eggs are symbols of fertility, ovoids that show up everywhere in culture, from Dr. Evil’s escape pod to Daenerys Targaryen’s scaly trio of dragon eggs in Game of Thrones.  There are Fabergé eggs and Kinder Eggs and pantyhose eggs, and unhatched Sheldon on U.S. Acres was just two chicken feet poking out of a shell, the perfect visual metaphor for arrested development. 

Eggs are strange. Many people believe you can stand them on their end on the vernal equinox (a myth). You can’t crush one in your hand, if you squeeze evenly and take off your rings, and if you drown it in a vinegar bath you can dissolve the shell and leave a freaky, extra-fragile blob. The thickness of that shell depends on the age of the hen — they thin over time — and the color of the shell relates to the color of the hen’s earlobes. Shells are porous, so if the egg floats in water that means it’s been around long enough to absorb a lot of air, meaning it’s no longer fresh. And the 100 folds in a chef’s toque allegedly represent all the many ways to prepare an egg. In its Story, @world_record_egg promises branded #EggGang apparel soon.

The egg resists interpretation. It probably isn’t social commentary on how, say, women taking over ranching and agriculture. It’s just a dumb thing we’re all entranced by because it won Instagram by playing by almost none of Instagram’s rules. In the time it took me to write this, the egg gained 350,000 likes.

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