In the beginning, there was soup.
Rumors of a soup black market had made their way to the Campus Times office, and following an exchange with URTV’s director and one of the team members, they agreed to grant me exclusive coverage. The pair welcomed me into the URTV headquarters, a mid-size, L-shaped, eccentrically furnished room in the basement of Todd Union. Camera stands line the walls and murals with former reporters’ names are painted onto the bright white brick. There is a child-sized camping chair joining the chairs and couch where the three of us sit, around a table littered with bits and pieces amassed from mysterious origins. We were there for journalism, so that’s what I did.
When first-year URTV team member (and prolific Humor writer) Caden Dillon was struck down by illness at the start of this semester, his first impulse was to buy soup. “I thought I could heat up the soup, and it would make me feel better,” Dillon recounted. However, as the weeks went on, the cans stayed put. “I remember thinking, ‘What can I do with this?’ And then it turned into, ‘What if we made these cans look really sketchy and sold them?’”
Serendipitously, the same idea had been floating around in senior and TV Director Victor Chang’s mind. He wanted to test the limits of human social interaction, and see what people would do if faced with unlabeled tins and a choice. “It started off as ‘Would they buy them?’” Chang recalls. Faced with the realization that college students are broke, the URTV team instead embraced the barter system. “Our new question became ‘What would you give up for soup?’”
Dillon’s three cans of tomato soup were soon joined by more tins. “They may not have been soup in the orthodox way,” Chang admits. With labels removed and replaced with lined paper with ‘SOUP’ scrawled in black letters, the ten or so cans presented to the general public contained a few surprises. Really if you look at it, corn is soup; and if you disagree, Chang and Dillon will try very hard to convince you. Corn and beans joined “traditional soup” alike in the media venture devised by Chang and “his little minions,” also known as Dillon and fellow first-year and noted fedora enthusiast Jacob Greenberg.
The date was Saturday, Feb. 4, at the peak of Winterfest. The time was between 5 p.m. and an NJR rehearsal scheduled for 7 p.m. The intrepid reporters set up a white folding table at the entrance to Hirst Lounge in front of the cinema club poster display, and covered it up with a WRUR-TV poster to let everyone know who was in business. With a microphone set on the table, three stacks of shady-looking cans, and two minions seated, URTV was ready to roll the camera.
“The main reaction,” Dillon says, “was confusion.” But what they really learned, adds Chang, is that “before anyone can know anything, they always ask, ‘What flavor?’” To URTV, this is baffling news. “Soup is soup, after all,” proclaims Chang, upon which Dillon jumps in immediately with
“Soup is soup is soup.” It’s great to see people doing what they love. With great finality, Chang concluded, “If there’s soup, I’m buying.”
Standards were high as they began the soup exchange. Chang recalls that they turned down a student offering a bag of chips for a can of soup; the student was told to offer better. Shortly thereafter, the team realized that they would be unlikely to see any monetary profit. Thus, the bartering began.
One of the first offers they received was for “a Russian detective novel,” from Take 5 student Ezra Kruger. Upon learning that Kruger had only just started the book, Dillon and Greenberg settled for “a nondescript ziplock bag of tea leaves, dried leaves” which did, in fact, smell like tea. No illegal substances were exchanged for soup. Another party, junior Nadia Todd, donated her expired blood donor card for ‘unorthodox’ soup — which later turned out to be beans.
Dillon and Greenberg drove a hard bargain. Sophomore Madeline Murray got what was eventually revealed to be tomato soup after giving up an Old Navy coupon and a cheese stick wrapper. “We made soup later!” Murray told me. Claire Syverson, another sophomore, settled for one penny, some pocket lint, and her dignity. The soup was hopefully worth it.
“This experience really altered my perception model of what a can of soup was worth,” says Dillon. Some of their other profits include a Lactaid pill (“it’s still good until June 2024, so I should use it,” said Dillon), and a “crumbling Insomnia cookie.” By far the best sale they made was to a Wilson Commons employee, who walked up and gave them five USD to pay a can of soup forward. It went to “someone who probably wouldn’t have traded with us,” Chang claimed, but the student in question wasn’t going to say no to completely free soup. Although, for the soup purists out there, Chang believes that the free can was technically beans.
Along the way, the team developed lore. Initially, the premise of the sale was that the team was “leaving town soon” and “needed to get rid of all this by Thursday.” Recall that the event was on a Saturday, so really, they had time to spare. Progressively, their sense of urgency grew. Dillon recalls informing potential buyers that “if we don’t sell it by Thursday, the government will come after us.” This someone morphed into Winston Churchill, after one student inquired what ‘WRUR’ was and Dillon responded “Winston Radio University Radio.” The British politician allegedly appeared to them as a genie. Another factor in the story’s turn toward desperation followed from one of the cans simply being labeled “the government is hunting me, help.” If you can believe it, the can contained soup.
In a near miss, senior James Harrod attempted to trade in his expired driver’s license. For obvious legal reasons, he rescinded this offer. But the legal implications of the soup sale did not end there. Three days after their purchase, two customers sent in a formal complaint, which read as follows:
“Dear Caden and Jacob,
In what I can only assume was a comedy sketch for URTV, my co-plaintiff and I (Paul Viscardo) willingly bartered items for soup. However, much to our dismay, these soup cans in fact were not soup but rather were corn and tomato sauce, respectively. While the tomato sauce was used to make pasta, this is a gross breach of our verbal contract to trade items for soup. This amounts to a deceptive act under New York State Consolidated Laws – General Business – Article 22A §349a. To that end, we are demanding the unedited video from that day (2/4/2022) that shows the verbal contract we made to use as evidence and your CMC Box numbers to serve a lawsuit amounting to no less than $10. I have no doubt that Mr. Churchill would not have wanted you to defraud people to sell your cans of ‘soup.’
Pained from lack of soup,
URTV complied, and the requested footage was released into the plaintiffs’ hands after photo identification was confirmed. The plaintiffs were intent on gaining compensation for the treachery, and continued to deliver threats such as “We are both attorneys and on the e-board for Mock Trial and my co-plaintiff has all three of the original Ace Attorney games on his Nintendo Switch and has completed the first one.” Eventually, URTV made an offer: Either settle out of court for two genuine cans of soup, or take the matter before ACJC with full media coverage. Upon this point, the plaintiffs ceased correspondence. Perhaps they were too afraid. Cowards.
“Legally, I don’t know if I can ask to be sued,” Dillon said dejectedly. When Chang graduates this May, Dillon will assume control over the station. “We’re big fans of totalitarianism,” the future director tells me. The team is planning a follow-up to the soup sale, which has yet to be fleshed out. Reader, rest assured that the five USD will go to funding their next project.
To close off the interview, Chang and Dillon were asked a series of rapidfire ‘soup or not soup’ questions. To no one’s surprise, they firmly asserted that cereal, applesauce, milk alone, dried cereal alone, loose cereal in someone’s hand, and even water were all definitely soup. “A hand is just a bowl,” Chang said. Then he got philosophical: “We are soup.” Without a beat, Dillon continued, noting, “There was always soup to begin with.” Think of the Milky Way! Finally, Dilllon concluded, “What is the Earth if not a potato in the solar system?”
Soup is soup. You can check out the URTV feature “What would you give up for Soup?” on their YouTube channel WRUR-TV.