Jeopardy! and Philosophy: What is Knowledge in the Form of a Question?

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Shaun P. Young
Open Court, Nov 13, 2012 - Philosophy - 288 pages
Since its debut in 1964, Jeopardy! has been one of America’s favorite and longest-running daytime quiz shows. It turns the question-answer format of traditional quiz shows on its head and requires contestants to pose correct questions to answers in selected categories. While mining information and facts from Alchemy to Zoology, Jeopardy!, is a uniquely intellectual, erudite, and challenging daytime television program. Far beyond entertaining its fans with nail-biting contests of knowledge, memory, and speed, it all but requires them to participate. Few people watch Jeopardy! without pressing an invisible button and blurting out questions to their TV screen.

Because of this personal and intellectual investment, most Jeopardy! fans are devout. Watching the show is valued as a daily ritual in which genuine intellectual skill and encyclopedic knowledge (as opposed to thin Hollywood depictions such as those in Big Bang Theory or Rain Man) are not only respected and placed in the spotlight, but also rewarded with national prestige and prize winnings. Champion Ken Jennings (who contributes to this volume) has won over three million dollars and remained champion seventy-four times. For those who embrace Jeopardy! as an intellectual oasis in the arid desert of popular culture, it is the geeks who shall inherit the earth.

Jeopardy!’s celebration of intellect and forward-thinking is well recognized throughout popular culture and among all age groups. Ken Jennings, Chuck Forrest, and other all-time champions are near celebrities, while the show itself regularly reaches out through special tournaments to different segments of American culture, such as actors and musicians (Celebrity Jeopardy!), high-school and college students (Teen Tournament and College Championship Jeopardy!) and senior citizens (Senior Tournament Jeopardy!). Still, despite its widespread respect and, some might complain, smug self-respect, neither the show nor its fans take themselves too seriously. Jokes about host Alex Trebek’s hair and famous parodies of Jeopardy! on Saturday Night Live are as familiar as Weird Al Yankovic’s MTV-mainstay “I Lost on Jeopardy!” (to the tune of “Our Love’s in Jeopardy”):

Don't know what I was thinkin' of,
I guess I just wasn't too bright.
Well, I sure hope I do better
Next weekend on The Price Is Right.

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About the author (2012)

Shaun P. Young: Is Senior Policy Associate at the Mowat Centre for Policy Innovation at the University of Toronto. He's also a sessional lecturer at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology.He is the author or editor of four books and fourteen journal articles in the fields of political philosophy and public policy.

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