A good many men on the far-right are being pelted with eggs at the moment. We go first to Melbourne, 16th March, where Australian senator Fraser Anning decided it was a good idea to blame Muslim immigration for the Christchurch terror attack, and got splatted with an egg at point-blank range. Next to Coventry, 20th April, where UKIP candidates Ian Rogers and Marcus Fogden said they were “hit by eggs which were ‘thrown with force’ by two women in a passing car in Walsgrave”. And let us continue our journey by travelling across the pond to Manhattan, 2nd May, where swastika-wearing Jovanni Valle was pelted with an egg by a vigilante in sunglasses. Add to this the fact that Tommy Robinson has just been milkshaked (milkshook?) in Cheshire, and something of a pattern emerges. With the exception of the UKIP-bound eggs – thrown, let’s not forget, from a moving vehicle “with force” (emphasis mine) – all of these incidents have been caught on camera for the annals of history. And yes, its acceptable to admit it – they were all very, very funny.
Consider the egg. An inherently absurd object, the delicious comedy of the egg lies not just in its amusing shape but, crucially, its precarious mixture of strength and fragility. Some would argue that the age-old comedy staple the banana peel pips the egg to the post as the world’s most comical foodstuff. Not I. The egg is the king of food-based comedy. You never quite know where you are with the egg, do you? I love it. The egg is a cradle of life, impressive in both physical and symbolic terms. But, let’s not forget, it is also delicate and liable to irrevocably break at any time, oozing its essence onto your carpet. There is a reason that the creators of the world-record-breaking Instagram photo chose the egg as their public face: the egg is incredible but the egg is ridiculous. The egg, in a very real sense, is like life itself.
On the subject of the far-right being slapped with eggs, people have divergent opinions. Unsurprisingly, when the topics of eggs and perceived racial intolerance are combined, things get steamy. One school of thought posits that you must never argue with an ideologue, because it lends credibility and a platform to his atrocious opinions: his views get aired, his opinions amplified. An ideologue, this argument goes, is beyond the reach of discussion, impervious to debate. The only rational response to an ideologue is ridicule. If this ridicule is via the medium of the timeless egg, then so be it.
But the comedian Adam Hills belongs to the other school of thought – that if violence is wrong on one side of the political spectrum, it has to be wrong on the other. It’s easy to see the logic here; an egg for an egg makes the world covered in eggs. But is throwing an egg at someone a meaningful act of violence or is it a valid, subversive expression of defiance? Violence is “behaviour involving physical force intended to hurt, damage or kill someone or something”. The express intention of the egg launcher is surely not to commit physical harm but to commit reputational harm. Unless you seriously overestimate the physical dimensions of an egg, you’d be mad to think that it would hurt, damage or kill your opponent. Someone throwing an egg is not the same as someone running up to Richard Spencer and punching him in the face (though this does not mean there is not widespread support for the latter).
People are fickle on this point. Now there seems to be nothing but praise for Danuta Danielsson, the Polish woman – an Auschwitz survivor – who in 1985, handbagged the Nordic Reich Party supporters demonstrating in her neighbourhood. Her action – desperate but brave – is considered minor against the scale of the violence we know that history’s Nazis really did inflict. Despite the fact that the Nordic Reich were demonstrating ‘peacefully’, it would be churlish to condemn her for violence. (It is relevant to note that Danielsson committed suicide because of the media attention the photo attracted.)
I’m not implying that those who’ve recently been egged (or milkshook) are Nazi sympathisers (well, apart from the guy wearing the swastika) but comments like Anning’s really do look like acts of verbal violence; so it seems disproportionate to denounce a teenager for plopping an egg on his shiny bald head. People the world over saw the incident as a form of divine justice. Because the truth is that cracking eggs and flinging handbags are the kinds of action most people would condone when committed by someone they like, and condemn when committed by someone they hate. The rate at which the eggs are piling up certainly implies that the throwers realise they will be perceived as modern heroes of the resistance.
But, while momentarily triumphant, the egg pelt may be an admission of something approaching defeat: we don’t know what to do in a world whose pockets are increasingly filling with nationalists. But maybe you can’t fight the far-right without breaking a few eggs.