Sunday, October 02, 2005

Trivia Night

Place people in a group, give them a common identity and purpose (real or imaginary), and two things will happen. The first is that each individual will identify their own self-interest with that of the group, and will set about reinforcing the collective identity. The second is that the group, and its constituent members, will come to see itself as inherently superior to all other comparable groups. Add the element of competition between groups, and conflict is the inevitable result.

This is true for all arbitrary groups, from nation states to Survivor tribes. Yet perhaps the most insidious, divisive example of this ugly group dynamic is the humble suburban trivia night. There, ordinary, peace-loving people are placed in groups and transformed into cheating, whining, self-aggrandising sociopaths, all for the sake of ephemeral glory and a crappy prize.

Lady Sterne and I attended one of these allegedly "fun" events last night. It was my parents' fault. Their Lions Club had organised the night and my parents thought that we'd be perfect ringers for their team, although the questions turned out to be piss-easy anyway. Frankly I think we were only invited so my parents could point me out to their friends who haven't seen me in a decade and say, "We always knew he would cut his hair, settle down with a nice girl and start drinking mid-strength beer." *

Anyway, despite the questions being so easy as to make those posed on Temptation seem positively curly, our team only managed second place. I say "only" because at a trivia night there really isn't a second place - it is all about winning. And boy, do people take winning seriously!

Barely a round went by without challenges to the veracity of a question or answer. Threats were regularly traded between teams, always in a jocular manner, but with accompanying glares that hinted at more serious intent. Worst of all, the organiser/quizmaster had a bad case of the Peter Berners, frequently rendering questions and answers alike unintelligable. It all amounted to a lot of shouting, pointing, and disgruntled mumbling. A huge success, in other words.

I of course remained aloof from the hubbub. No way would I forfeit my individuality for the insular, self-reinforcing superiority of the team. No, I managed to remain calm, seeing not competing groups, but deluded individuals, striving pathetically for trivia glory. Individuals, that is, except for those pricks on Table 4, who were quite obviously subhuman, and cheats besides, and who really should have given us that question in round eight, because after all we let them go with one in round three, and...

* Carlton Sterling, which I was drinking only so I'd have something to nurse that wouldn't result in me becoming outrageously drunk, in which state God knows what I might have said to the old lady tottering around in an oversized purple jump-suit.

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