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  • Writer's pictureDeborah Yaffe

Elizabeth Beeblebrox, anyone?

Just a few days after my uncharitable swipe at those who promulgate Austenian misinformation, a reminder of human fallibility crossed my screen.

Two years ago, it seems, a young Brit named Max Baker won a coveted slot on a British TV quiz show called Pointless. I can’t quite grasp the rules – the game seems to be some odd combination of Jeopardy! and Family Feud – but there’s little doubt about the incompetence of Baker’s play.

On his first question, confronted with several sets of literary characters and asked to name the books they came from, Baker answered, “Pride and Prejudice.”

Unfortunately, the character list he chose as Austen’s was not the one consisting of Elizabeth Bennet, Fitzwilliam Darcy, and Charles Bingley. No, Baker instead selected the trio of Arthur Dent, Ford Prefect, and Zaphod Beeblebrox.

As every British lad of a certain age knows, these folks – while they do indeed hail from an immortal comic novel set in a world far different from our own – people the pages of Douglas Adams’ 1979 classic, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

As you’d expect, the poor Baker boy was roundly ridiculed. The studio audience chortled, the Twitterati mocked, the Daily Express wrote about the Twitter mockery, and plenty of people contacted Baker directly to share their scorn.

And to what does Baker attribute his idiocy? Nerves. “I was absolutely petrified . . . . I froze,” he explains in a piece published last week. “The bright lights and the eyes of the audience focusing on me, I completely panicked and had a total mental block.” And so he blurted out the first title that came into his head.

For the record, I get it. Long ago in the mists of time, I was a TV quiz show contestant, and I too blew an important answer. It happens. We must try to be less critical of our fellow human beings as they attempt to navigate this crazy world of ours.

On the other hand: while on-the-spot, national-TV nerves are an excuse for stupid errors, no such excuse is available for those who blog and post and tweet their way to Austenian misinformation. Those people have time to check their facts. Even without a third arm to help them.

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