Look behind you
Happy new year one and all! Let’s hope 2012 holds as much quizzing fun as 2011 did. For a final moment though, let’s look back at the highlight of 2011, our trip to the European Quizzing Championships, one last time. Mike and myself have already had our say. Now it’s David’s turn.
And so, late to the party I arrive and whether I’ve brought the finest wine or the cheapest bottle of generic vodka will be in the eye of the beholder. The entrées have been provided by John and an intriguing little number supplied by Mike but enough of tortured party metaphors and let us talk of Bruges.
Looking back after this length of time, it is even more obvious to me that there are fundamental failing within Irish quizzing that mean that Ireland as a nation is a long way from ever appearing in the finals of the EQC. John and Mike have made most of the salient points on this issue but there are a couple more I’d like to throw into the mix
I think Mike nailed it on the head by challenging quiz setters to no longer pander to their audience. Something I’ve been accused of more than once is setting table quizzes that are far too hard and I did write half the questions for the supposed quiz from hell (see Don’t work… too hard; however, the shocking round was written by the silent-but-deadly Michelle) but I honestly believe that a) it wasn’t that hard a quiz and b) that making it a quiz where the scores are higher, the central premise of it being a GK quiz, i.e. the display of more general knowledge than your opponents, would have been lost. This is not the Special Olympics, not everyone “can be a winner” so why not accept that and reward ostentatious outbursts of intellectualism?
The dumbing down of quizzing is a real bugbear of mine going back to my own brush with TV quiz glory. I’ve always felt that Challenging Times was doomed once it moved from the intelligent time zone between Prime Time and BBC Question Time to the slot after Home & Away on Network 2. The time change seemed to influence the standard of question as in later series, the early rounds were frankly basic (Smart kids do well because they do anyway but they do really well as questions are aimed at the less smart kids). For a while it appeared Mastermind was changing tack with specialist rounds on pop culture replacing those on the classics but at least there is still a need for obscure minutiae even if the topic is ‘The Life and Works of Katie Price’. However, one show that has driven me to despair with its dumbing down is Pointless. The clue is in the title and yet most contestants are clueless. It is a show where to win cash, you need obscure, particular knowledge (Steve, quizzings’ Tony Cascarino proved this by winning the jackpot) yet when teachers can appear on it and say Mexico is a state of the USA and everyone goes “Oh what larks”, I find myself yelling at the TV “No they’re morons! Please treat them like Morons!”
Pointless becoming easier may be traced back to it moving from BBC2 to BBC1. It is significant that more intellectual programming remains on BBC2 and BBC4 (to our chagrin we cannot go on Only Connect, damn having to actually live in the UK) where viewing figures and yoof programming are not the be all and end all.
But at least they have quiz shows in the UK. It occurs to me (and I am open to correction on this) that the only regular show where Joe Soaps are asked about obscure knowledge is Ceist GAA on TG4, whose fundamental failing as a General Knowledge Quiz is quite obvious. When UK shows like 15-to-1 disappear, there is still Mastermind or Brain of Britain on Radio 4, my love/hate (love the quiz and knowledge; hate the mong contestants) Pointless or the less heralded but equally interesting The Chaser. Since the demise of WWTBAM (IRE), Irish TV and quizzing have gone their separate ways. But it was not always so. As well as Challenging Times, there was Blackboard Jungle, Rapid Roulette, Where in The World? and Murphy’s Micro Quiz-M. However, since Bunny Carr and the late Peter Murphy left our screens, there has been no consistent multi-series General Knowledge quiz on Irish TV. Yet table quizzing remains strong in the country so in theory Ireland should be producing as many international quality quiz teams as an equivalent country such as Belgium. So why don’t we?
John’s audioboo with Stejn and Mike’s discussion with Chris from Belgium explain how different Belgian quizzing is from our own. The non-use of pubs is a red herring as one of the British quizzing scene’s biggest threats is the closure of village pubs, something I discussed with former Mastermind winner David Edwards (in a gratuitous namedrop). As Mike has points out, it is more than just an issue of team make-up or question phraseology so maybe Irish quizzing has within it an inherent flaw. There were thirteen countries in the Team competition in Bruges and while none of the British Isles teams were as aided by local questions as we felt the German and French were, we were surprised that there wasn’t at least one gimme question for an Irish team in any of the four major quizzes. Is that the fault of the question setters? Of course not, as it doesn’t have to be compulsory to pander to contestants. In Ireland, however, we do, not just in making questions simple but in the major failings in Irish quizzing of all forms: Hibernocentrecism and parochialism.
In our fund-raising quiz, I asked a question about who were the 2010 Galway Senior hurling champions, using the logic that that Clarinbridge were also All-Ireland champions. But this very simple question highlights one of the faults of Irish table quizzes. GAA questions only appear in Ireland but, as such a central tenet to Irish life, it would be difficult to leave out any mention of GAA in an Irish quiz. However, given that they won’t come up in international quizzing (and that has to be the context in which this whole diatribe is seen) it is time that parochial and Irish questions be set aside for more worldly topics. After Bruges, I know I don’t know Central European literature, the myths of India, South American geography and the flora and fauna of Asia. These topics don’t come up in Irish quizzes but Gráinne Seioghe always seems to.
If Ireland wishes to make an impact on world quizzing, then we need to abandon the insularity and accept that unless we embrace Polish harpsichordists, or classical music as a whole. Compare Challenging Times’ and University Challenge’s music rounds – we will never impact the finals.