Stump Speech

Back in the days when Channel 4 was Jacksonville’s CBS affiliate, Sam, the sports reporter, used to have a segment every week called “Stump Sam.” The conceit was this: every week, said sports anchor would receive and attempt to answer difficult sports trivia questions from viewers without any help from books (the Internet still being a gleam in Berners-Lee’s eye at the time). Most of the schadenfreude-rich fun was in seeing Sam fail, but he was surprisingly good at answering some of the most ridiculous minutiae: people who had the home-run or yardage records in the 1950s, the original names of sports teams that changed hands six or seven times between their founding and the present, even personal details about the athletes.

Damn, did I ever want to be like Stump Sam. Sports meant nothing to me at the time (and still mean very little), but the result was still that I began dreaming of appearing in my own version of the segment. Stump Allie didn’t have much of a ring to it, but I was going to be too awesome to care about silly things like that. My arena of trivia knowledge? Pop culture, of course.

And even though there were a few missteps along the way, I’ve mostly been able to accomplish that original purpose. In other words, I am sort of like iMDB with legs. Often, when someone thinks of “that actress in that thing,” I’ll pretend not to know who it is to avoid being unbearably obnoxious. In actuality, I can probably spit out a long list of facts about that film (and just about every film made since 1993, the beginning of my conscious lifetime).

On Sunday night, though, I watched a movie I had never heard of before. And that was pretty weird.

It got even weirder when I saw the cast. I had no idea that a film starring Robert Redford, Sidney Poitier, Dan Aykroyd, Ben Kingsley, Mary McDonnell (that’s Laura Roslin to you), River Phoenix, and David Straithairn even existed? And I was even more mortified when I learned that it was a favorite of many of the people I was with.

The film, in case you hadn’t guessed, is Sneakers. It’s a pretty great movie, one of those films that has the decency to be campy and funny in the moments when it knows it can’t be good. I probably would have liked it even more back in high school– but took me 21 years to know it was out there.

Now, I know what you’re saying. “Well, duh.” No one is infallible; no one can know everything. And this film was made in 1992, which places it just on the back edge of my consciousness. Plus, isn’t film trivia kind of a dumb thing to know everything about? Shouldn’t I be trying to refine my knowledge of foreign languages or Middle Eastern politics?

To which I say: absolutely. But we don’t choose what engages us; it chooses us, and it comes with consequences. I know a multiplicty of people who couldn’t get enough of Star Trek as kids, and took more than a few punches for Capt. Picard in the process. Trivia about stupid movies that failed two decades ago is what chose me. And while it’s not necessarily the most lucrative or prestigious form of knowledge, it can be rewarding in its own way– ask Nathan Rabin.

So for now, I’ll deal with my not-so-secret shame, and my now-even-less-secret shame about that shame. Hey, at least everyone else liked it when Sam got stumped.


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