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Home / Articles / Columns / Born Here /  The Corn Shucker’s Paradox
Born-Here-MAIN
Anson Stevens-Bollen

The Corn Shucker’s Paradox

July 29, 2014, 12:00 am

Have you ever watched the guy stocking corn at the grocery store? You should sometime. You’ll witness a profound detail of our psychology as a nation that primarily identifies itself as consumers.

While we insist that our city is, in fact, different—and as much as many of us try to present ourselves as forward-thinking, conscious world citizens who are above such things—we still all exhibit this culturally ingrained mindset that dictates: “Every product I buy must be the best one there is. From food to diapers to DVD players, I will spend my money only on the best, and doing so will be the mark of my refinement.”

And that bears merit; in a society built around gaining and spending money, the efficiency with which one does so really determines how well they do at The Game. If you still don’t believe money is that prevalent in our collective subconscious, I’ve got one more quick anecdote.

My first name is pronounced similarly to the number million. Of the Miljen or so times in my life (see what I did there?) I’ve introduced myself to Americans, all but five have responded to the above explanation with the phrase, “Oh, you mean like a Miljen dollars?”

Yes. Or a million of any other noun.

“Thanks a Miljen! Haha!”

You’re welcome. Can we move on?

As a town where many self-identify as artists, a lot of us have trouble admitting when something is about the money. The reason we hate money so much is something I like to refer to as the Corn Shucker’s Paradox.

So if you intently watch the above-mentioned young man—who shall remain nameless, though I have it on good authority he spends a lot of his free time writing words on pages and thinking deep thoughts about shallow things—you’ll notice that the corn he’s stocking, when it comes out of the box, is often sun-spotted, covered in dirt and generally visually unappealing.

If he removes just the outer layer of husk, the corn looks awesome, the melted ice it was packed on giving it that commercial glisten.

On weekends, doing this makes the corn sell faster than our hero can keep up, sometimes making it not worth the labor when sales drive down the price.

The other thing it does is make the corn go dry and flavorless about twice as fast.

To review: He is making the corn more visually appealing and thereby sometimes tripling its sales. And he’s doing this by willfully reducing the quality of the corn.

It’s not an attempt to trick the customers. They regularly voice their preference. If he fills up two identical tables with corn, one manicured, one not, he won’t be able to keep the manicured one as full as the other if enough people keep filing past.

As consumers in our Internet Age of Oversaturation, we have evolved this tendency as a necessary survival tactic; quickly deciding how to spend our limited attention in a sea of mimicry and trite, unoriginal spam.

So how do you balance the amount of husk you take off—the degree to which you compromise the quality of your “corn”—in the face of the masses’ apparent unwillingness to buy the raw, unadulterated thing?

As an artist, that’s the twisted game you are trapped in. How do I make what I want to make while still making something people can approach without skepticism—all while knowing my audience can’t tell the difference between quality and cosmetic sheen? How do you reconcile the need to create like Kafka with the desire to sell like Kanye?

Miljen Aljinovic grew up in the shadow
of these hills and now makes things from
words and sound. Engage him in vigorous,
heated debate at miljen@sfreporter.com

 

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