One of the few cool things Penn State has to offer that my beloved Indiana University undergrad experience didn’t is the trivia scene.
On any given night of the week, there is at least one bar you can go to with some friends and test the limits of your collective pop culture memory banks.
While I always have fun when I go, I couldn’t help but notice a glaring omission in the kinds of questions asked — namely, the paucity of questions about black culture.
I first played up this aspect jokingly. Whenever they would ask a black culture question, I would tell my friends that they were in luck as I obviously had to know the answer, being black myself.
But night after night passed without any black culture questions asked. I think the only two I’ve heard in my dozens of times going was one about Public Enemy and another about George Washington Carver, the latter of which was asked on the first day of Black History Month. I hope it was just a coincidence.
Eventually, I became more troubled by this phenomenon. As all minorities know, race to us is an ever-present fact of life, not only a political “issue” like it is for many white people.
I was very aware of my own presence, as usually the only black person there, and also for the total lack of questions on what I thought was a rich and applicable sector of American culture.
It’s not that I think trivia nights should be packed with questions about black cultural minutiae. I understand that there is a certain demographic that attends these events — again, I’m usually the only black person there — and the questions should be tailored to the realm of knowledge of its participants.
What I do find troubling is the denial of black culture’s ubiquity.
Black culture has been general pop culture since at least the 1960s.
The biggest black musicians, celebrities, movies and TV shows are just as big as their white counterparts.
And especially during the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s — the eras these trivia nights regularly mine for tidbits — black culture was more than proportionally prevalent in pop culture.
So it’s not like people wouldn’t get these questions. Whose parents didn’t listen to Prince and Janet Jackson? Growing up, cable TV didn’t just spam us with early Adam Sandler movies and “Forrest Gump,” they also showed movies by the Wayans Brothers and “Boyz n the Hood.” And pick any “Now That’s What I Call Music” compilation from the last two decades and at least half will be rap or R&B.
So why aren’t questions about black people and their contributions to pop culture as prevalent in trivia as they are in real life?
I think this shows the lack of respect and value for black culture. Pardon the pun, but trivia isn’t trivial.
It shows what the culture values enough to pass down among the generations.
Trivia is the stuff a generation memorializes as important and are the signposts by which later generations navigate the past. It’s knowledge you’re supposed to remember or know, not a valueless, random factoid.
The crazy thing about it all is that the people and things lost to history were themselves hugely popular across the board at the time.
Take Prince, for example. In my mind, he exemplifies the 1980s to a T: the androgyny, the costume-y fashion, his widely mimicked new wave synth-pop, his cross-racial appeal. But I’d be much more surprised to hear a Prince question than a Tears for Fears one.
Music is especially prone to this short-term consumption.
The story about how in one’s younger years they listened to music from across the track but eventually moved on to more mature, sophisticated, insert other loaded adjective genres of music as they got older.
While this in itself may not be problematic, as I have found my own music tastes changing over the years, the denial of the time when the other form of music dominated is.
Certain genres and artists are popular in their own time, but written off as fads and eventually forgotten.
This got me thinking about what trivia for the next generation will entail.
Will trivia night 2022 have more questions about Kanye West or Justin Timberlake? Will we remember that Jay-Z was, for more than a decade, the official arbiter of “cool,” and that he and Beyonce were the “power couple” by which all others are measured against?
And that the Chappelle Show was the show you had to watch every week if you had any chance of understanding the conversation during lunch?
If the impact and importance any of these people or trends are in any way lessened, through trivia or any other form, we will be misremembering our history.
William Haisley is a third year law student and is the Collegian’s Wednesday columnist. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.