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Off Brand Video #8: Rebecca Shapass’s “Eggless”

by Patty Gone
July 30th, 2019

Egg worship is old as worship itself. A cursory “fertility goddess” search produces results across Yoruba, Armenian, Celtic, Hawaiian cultures, some part cow, part frog, part lettuce leaf, part ear of corn. Rome alone made room for twenty-three fertility-related deities. So when Rebecca Shapass quotes her father in the epigraph to “Eggless,” asking “How does Jesus lay the Easter Eggs?,” it doubles as dad joke and prescient question that cuts to the core of why so many societies who once “worshipped the life-generating and nurturing powers of the universe,” according to Riane Eisler, were paved over by a man and a cartoon bunny.

“Eggless” calculates what’s been lost in translation as institutionalized religion and capitalism consolidated fertility in their nest. Across a half dozen chapters, Shapass recounts her personal egg history, from watching chicks hatch in hot light in her 3rd grade classroom, to swallowing them daily during fourteen years of vegetarianism, to her current position as someone whose body is, according to societal expectations, in her childbearing prime.

Shapass also hunted eggs. She intercuts home video of her young self, clutching a pastel basket, on the domestic prowl for plastic egg replicas, as her mother holds the record button. The eggs are found, but to what end? Easter originally centered on the Germanic fertility goddess Ēostre, a fecund, flower-laden woman surrounded by animals, but centuries have confined her in plastic sheen. Here, the Shapass family egg hunt reads as contextless chore, a squandered opportunity to pass pride and knowledge between mother and daughter. 

Eventually, Shapass trades her pastel dress for deep red. Her young and old narrators fall away in favor of her present self. “I cycle monthly and gather my losses in plastic cups, examining the evidence of fertility which is seemingly false.” At one point, she dissolves from a shot of her own menstrual blood to beaten yolks. Do these “losses,” whether life, or yellow goo, or money, or sugar-coated marshmallow chicks, all meet the same fate, to be consumed? 

Chapter IV references Edward Bernays, Freud’s American nephew, a pivotal figure in eggs’ fusion with capital. The story goes that Betty Crocker cake mixes were not selling well until Bernays suggested the addition of a single egg to the recipe. The act of cracking and mixing an egg with the prepackaged powder would be enough labor for a woman to feel accomplished upon the recipe’s completion, give her the satisfaction of “making” this cake, while also fulfilling a subconscious desire to give her own egg to her husband. Sales skyrocketed. And soon, Betty Crocker’s fictional body, wrapped in a modest floral house dress, hawking a “Super Moist (TM) Chocolate Fudge Cake” in a cardboard box, became a world famous, chaste Ēostre. At one point, Shapass cuts to a radio interviewer chatting with Crocker herself, a woman General Mills had plucked from a casting call, asking, “If you had more leisure time, what would you do with it?” Maybe consider who, and what, is worshipped. 

The first sound of “Eggless” is “Here I Am, Lord,” a Christian hymn sung by a children’s choir. The verses, written from the perspective of God The Father, ask for someone to translate the Lord’s message to the chosen people: “Whom shall I send?” The chorus answers, an anonymous voice taking up the task, singing “Here I am, Lord…I will hold your people in my heart.” Maybe the voice is Jesus, Shapass, you, me harmonizing a promise to no longer hunt the egg. 

Off Brand Video will return next month with a video premiere from Cate Giordano. Read our mission statement below.

Off Brand Video is interested in pieces that trouble, queer, and speak back to mainstream cultural production. OBV provides access to non-narrative video normally reserved for private collections, gallery spaces, one-off screenings, or personal Vimeo accounts. In a gallery or on YouTube, you may watch for a minute and move on. Off Brand Video is the place to take the time. Send recommendations for artists, videos, or archives to [email protected] 

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