I can’t continue to write about life on this strange island without talking about the quiz.
No, I’m not talking about the test I had to take in order to stay here. That was a test. If you judge it on length it might have passed for a quiz, but it had too much riding on it. What I’m talking about is the British addiction to quizzes in general.
Am I using the word addiction loosely? No, your honor, I am not. I maintain that the population of this country (which is spread over all of one island and part of another, so I was using the word island loosely in my first sentence) is heavily dependent on the quiz and incapable of going for more than a week without one. This doesn’t apply to every individual, but if we take the population as a whole, addiction isn’t too strong a word.
Exhibit A: the pub quiz. These are held for entertainment while the participants are in varying stages of inebriation. Pubs that hold them schedule them weekly, indicating that problems would arise if the time between them is extended beyond that interval.
Exhibit B: multiple Radio 4 quiz shows, some of which make fun of quiz shows (see, for example, Exhibit B.1, I haven’t a clue) but are still quiz shows. These also repeat at seven-day intervals and give social approval to quiz addiction.
Exhibit C: village fundraising quiz nights. Yes, people pay money to show up and take a quiz. These are social events, where people compete in teams, reinforcing each other’s addiction. They are held at random intervals, but the social aspect makes them insidious.
And here we’ll take a break from court and gossip in the hall, where I can tell you that I was once asked if I’d pay a pound for a quiz supporting a local folk music group. After a blank moment during which my brain argued about whether I should say “No, I hate quizzes” or buy one and use it for scratch paper, I compromised by saying I’d pay a pound for the privilege of not participating. Everyone went away happy.
If you’re British, none of this (except maybe my shock and horror over it—and, yeah, the word addiction) is news to you. Of course you think quizzes are entertainment. But if you’re not British—or at least if you’re American, since I’m not all that sure where the rest of the world stands on this earthshaking issue—you’re thinking, They pay money to do what? So let me repeat: The quiz is a form of entertainment in Britain.
But let’s drop the addiction argument, since I only threw it in to justify organizing my examples into exhibits and write “your honor.” We all know an argument like that will fall apart if it’s left out in the rain. And it does rain a lot here.
I have a hard time finding the fun in a quiz. They’re something I escaped when I got out of school—those moments of Quick, prove you finished the reading and understood it.
Wild Thing, like me, has trouble figuring out how this is fun, but unlike me she has a phenomenal memory. I’ve come to think of her as my external hard drive. She should do well on them. But a fall-back category of quiz questions involves British pop culture circa, let’s say, 1970. Or whenever. It depends on the age of the person who puts the quiz together—and if the quiz-maker’s playing fair, on the age of the audience. This is stuff Wild Thing can’t possibly know. We weren’t here then.
Every so often, she’ll give the person who put the quiz together a hard time about discriminating against Americans. This is done in fun, although (as the idea that the quiz is entertainment proves) fun is in the eye of the beholder. I don’t know that it’s always heard as a joke. And I don’t know that there isn’t a sharp edge lurking under the joke’s padding.
Talking about what I don’t know may not be a bad place to end a post on quizzes, because they have a way of reminding me what vast fields of knowledge lie beyond my horizons. There’s so much stuff I don’t know. Some of that is a problem, either often or occasionally, but the stuff I can’t answer on the (very few) quizzes I’ve participated in has never yet been anything I care about not knowing.
I understand that not everyone cares about the same things. For some reason—damn, the world’s a baffling place—nobody’s brain is a replica of mine, and the things our brains hold onto and value vary. Why should we score ourselves or let other people score us according to some standard that isn’t ours?
Sorry, that sounded way more serious than I expected. Take it lightly, folks. It won’t be on life’s final exam, and life’s final exam won’t be graded anyway.