Sunday, 30 November 2008

On the Subject of Subjects : -

Specialist Subjects

If you read my last entry, you'll know that I commented that Friday's Mastermind featured my favourite unusual specialist subject of this series so far - Rare Breeds of British Farm Animals. This led me to thinking about the whole issue of specialist subjects. Every year since the BBCTV revival in 2003 we've had to endure the same old 'dumbing down ' controversy, and the same complaints that too many 'popular' entertainment or popular culture based subjects are being allowed.

In 2007, in my first round heat, Stacey Mitchell answered questions on the Life and Career of Jennifer Aniston. For the amount of national comment this raised, you'd think that Stacey had committed some gross outrage to decency.

I've tried to categorise the specialist subjects we've seen so far this year. This isn't always easy since some specialist subjects sit comfortably in two categoris - eg - Genghis Khan is both biographical and historical. In cases where it is the life of a single person I have always counted it as a biographical subject. Likewise, The Mod Movement in britain is certainly social history, but I have included it within Popular Culture and Entertainment, rather than History. This is purely a personal decision. So , here we go: -

CategoryNumber of contenders
Literature- books11
Popular Culture and Entertainment6
Science and Technology2
Natural world1

looking at this its easy to see that the 'traditonal Mastermind subjects - History - biographical subjects - books - are still very much to the fore. Even sport, which has its own specialist series now - has so far provided more specialist subjects than Entertainment and Popular Culture.

As regards the argument that a Popular Culture Entertainment subject gives you a better chance of winning - well of the 13 heat winners so far, sport - history - biographical - and pop culture/entertainment have each provided 2 winners. Literature and books have provided 5 winners. So - just using this series so far as our guide, you could say that these are your chances of winning a heat, based on your choice of specialist subject:-

Subject% chance of winning
Pop culture/entertainment33%

So if you go by this, there is nothing like the advantage from taking a popular culture/entertainment subject that there is from taking literature/books.

Of course, this is open to question. For one thing it doesn't take in the actual scores in the subjects. For another thing , performance in the specialist subject is clearly only one factor in deciding whether a contender does or doesn't win - quality of general knowledge and quality of opponents being every bit as important. However it does tend to back up my personal feelings on the subject - that a contender certainly does not receive any unfair advantage from choosing a pop culture/entertainment specialist subject. In fact, I would go so far as to say that there are occasions when it works in the opposite way. In my opinion the hardest set of specialist questions to prepare for in the 2007 Grand Final were those of Sandra Piddock. Her specialist topic ? 'It Ain't Half Hot Mum '. I don't believe for one moment that anyone who chooses a topic from this category has to do any less work, or put in any less dedication time and effort than any of the other contenders. So why do people moan about it then ? I'm guessing, and this is only a guess, I admit, but I'm guessing that elitism has a lot to do with it.

One final word on this subject. Go to any pub quiz, any League Quiz - watch any quiz on television. Pop culture questions will feature. They are an accepted - even important - genre within the quizzing world. As a genre, it has no more, and just as importantly , no less value than any other.

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