During the pandemic, I've been ordering out for food quite often. It's not about being lazy as much as it is being bored by my own cooking. Last week I ordered dinner from El Pollo Loco. In case you're not familiar with the chain, El Pollo Loco specializes in Mexican-style grilled chicken. And so, with the chicken, you get sides that include beans Mexican rice and corn, as well as all sorts of salsas.
And, of course, you get tortillas. El Pollo Loco offer a choice between corn tortillas and flour tortillas. And I was thinking about how seldom the Americans get to choose between wheat and corn anything. Because, at least in the United States, corn is everywhere.
You cannot get away from corn.
Corn is far more than those ears of sweetcorn that you throw on the BBQ, or that popcorn you munch on at the movies. It’s biofuel and plastic and packaging and livestock feed and sweetener and...
Here, Derek Sawyer talks about the many uses of Kansas corn:
And yet, for most of its history, corn was maligned. People who ate corn were often seen as rustic, lower class or even more primitive than the people who ate more civilized crops like wheat.
But corn is hardy and adaptable, wildly so. In fact, it's been called an “genetic monster” for its ability to be tailored to specific locations. Perhaps what made corn so scorned in the first place--its cheapness, its coarseness—was eventually the reason it became so ubiquitous.
And so, despite the prejudice, it was just too useful and practical to ignore. And because of that, our culture changed.
Now corn tortillas, instead of being scorned as backwards by the hipsters, are lauded for being less processed and naturally gluten free.
There are many ways to overturn prejudice, but one of the most satisfying is when what is scorned just works better.
When I was a child, I can remember that proper manly fighting was done with fists. Legs were for standing on. Kicking was for sissies. Once Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris showed up, kicking became more cool, along with Shaolin monks, Samurai, and everything Ninja,
But there was still this idea of proper fighting being done while standing. And nobody, nobody wrapped their legs around their opponents and squirmed around on the ground. That would have just been weird.
Even wrestlers limited themselves by avoiding positions with their back on the ground and their legs in the air. In a grappling art like judo, the match was over when somebody was thrown. Yes, there were some grappling aspects, but many judoka preferred to concentrate on the more elegant and spectacular throws. You threw somebody on their back, and the match was over. We’re done.
But nobody bothered to tell this to the Gracies. Helio Gracie, his son Royce, and the rest of the Gracie family realized that when you're lying on your back, you have two arms and two legs facing your opponent.
You're stronger fighting from a position that many arts avoided because it had signaled defeat.
The result was a system that was damned near invincible for its time, and to this day forms the base for many of the most successful MMA fighters. And nowadays, Gracie Jiu Jitsu and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu overall is a very acceptable for proper fighters of all genders.
Again, it's popular because it works.
The fight is not over when people are on the ground.In real life, there's no referee around to give someone a standing eight count, or motion them back to the center of the mat.
I think when we talk about modernism or how things look in the future, one of the most satisfying developments are the practical ones. We can have our opinions about corn or BJJ—but in the end, function wins out.
And when I think about form and function, there is no finer example than the great Charlotte Perriand. Go to any IKEA right now. You're going to find pots and pans. You're going to find tapestry. You're going to find chairs and bookshelves. You're going to find things to hang on the wall. And all of this is in one giant store.
Did you ever wonder why? Probably not—It just seems obvious.
But it wasn’t always this way. During the first part of the 20th Century, modern methods of construction and manufacturing provided architects and designers with the tools and materials to create work that had previously been impossible.
Architects such as Le Corbusier and Walter Gropius (and most of the rest of the Bauhaus) became obsessed with the machine of living. If this sounds theoretical, yes it was. How can we not only redesign our world, but ourselves, to match this world of machines?
Here is Oskar Schlemmer's "Triadic Ballet," which, among other things explored the merging of architectural elements with the human form:
A real modernist architect and designer didn't concern himself, (and yes it was usually himself, and often he was Le Corbusier) with trivial, silly things like fabric selection, tapestries, which, at the Bauhaus, had been seen as women's work.
In fact, when Perriand first applied to work with Le Corbusier, he said that he had no use for someone who did fabric embroidery. And yet, what Perriand brought to design and architecture was this idea that the modern era should be a place where we could all live.
Perriand saw how a true living space was not bare theory, but theory that was woven into the fabric of living. Technology had its place, but this was still home, and in our home, we could integrate our machines and materials into a harmonious and integrated workspace.
For most of us, that insight seems obvious, just as it seems obvious that corn tortillas are yummy, or that a Kimura is a crazy effective way of immobilizing an opponent.
At the time, it was seen as odd, improper, even trivial.
Except it worked.
Even now, her mark upon how we live is unmistakable. It’s everywhere. Look at some of her work and see how even in the middle of the 20th century, she was producing things that we could put our laptops on right now, bust out our phones, using the latest technology and machines to order from El Pollo and get our corn tortillas and chicken.
All while being so very, very at home.
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Cover: Charlotte Perriand on the LC4 chaise lounge (source: etapes.com)
*Oliver Propst, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
**Holly Stein/collection:Getty Images Sport/Getty Images