Bluff The Listener

Our panelists tell us three stories of life before the Internet, only one of which is true.

CARL KASELL: From NPR and WBEZ-Chicago, this is WAIT WAIT...DON'T TELL ME!, the NPR News quiz. I'm Carl Kasell. We're playing this week with Mo Rocca, Jessi Klein and Alonzo Bodden. And here again is your host, at the Wang Theater in Boston, Massachusetts, Peter Sagal.

PETER SAGAL, HOST:

Thank you, Carl.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: Thank you so much. Right now, it's time for the WAIT WAIT...DON'T TELL ME! Bluff the Listener game. Call 1-888-Wait-Wait to play our game on the air. Hi, you're on WAIT WAIT...DON'T TELL ME!.

WALTER RICH: Hi, Peter. This is Walter Rich from Los Angeles.

SAGAL: Hey, Walter, how are you?

RICH: I'm good. How are you?

SAGAL: I'm fine. What do you do there?

RICH: I'm a school teacher, high school teacher.

SAGAL: That is tough work and I thank you for doing it.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

RICH: Thank you, thank you.

SAGAL: And knowing, as you do, the tenth graders of today, do we have a future?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

RICH: If they stop texting.

SAGAL: There you are.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Walter, welcome to the show. Now, you're going to play the game in which you must try to tell truth from fiction. Carl, what is Walter's topic?

KASELL: Peter bit my finger.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Before Farmville, there were real farms. Before Facebook, people had faces and books. It's easy to assume many of our internet trends started with the internet, but it turns out at least one of the most popular internet means had a history long before the internet and our panelists are going to tell you about it. Guess the true story; you'll win Carl's voice on your home answering machine or voicemail. Ready to play?

RICH: I'm ready.

SAGAL: Let's hear first from Alonzo Bodden.

ALONZO BODDEN: If you think the notion to put cute slogans on top of photographs of kittens originated with the internet, think again. Even in the 1870s, humans were obsessed with ridiculous photos of cats.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

BODDEN: Long before dogs began playing poker on velvet paintings, the dignity of the domesticated feline was doomed. Probably the first person to blame for silly cat pictures was English photographer Harry Pointer, who snapped approximately 200 photos of his perplexed, albeit jovial, Brighton cats.

Pointer often arranged his cats in poses that mimic human activity. A cat riding a tricycle or cats roller skating was what people loved. Harry Pointer soon realized that even a relatively straightforward cat photograph could be turned into an amusing or appealing image by adding a written caption.

So, the next time you see a viral pic of a kitten hanging on for dear life with the caption, "hang in there, baby, Friday's coming," keep in mind that he's been hanging in there for a long time.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: Well done. LOL cats of the Victorian era. Your next story of a pre-internet life comes from Jessi Klein.

JESSI KLEIN: We've all heard of Star Wars kid, the unfortunate boy who's embarrassing video of himself swinging around a golf ball retriever as if it were a light saber was uploaded by another student and because one of the first worldwide internet memes. But it turns out this kind of public humiliation is nothing new.

A medieval historian has just published an article in the British Historical Review called "King Arthur Kid," about a 12th century English boy named Edric, who was the first child to be shamed on such an enormous scale.

It all began when Edric, a bookish ten year old, was wandering around his father's estate and found a stick in almost the exact same size and shape as a sword. Edric was obsessed with the King Arthur story and began swinging the stick around, pretending he was the famous knight and the stick was Excalibur. It looked so stupid.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

KLEIN: Unbeknownst to Edric, the blacksmith's teenage son Willem was watching the whole thing from behind a nearby rock, and because Willem was a total jerk, he started telling everyone about what he'd seen.

From the town cobbler to the town wench, the story was passed along. Soon the town crier began shouting the news and town criers in other villages picked up the tale. Before long, the story of Edric and the stick had been yelled almost 200 million times.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

KLEIN: Poor Edric was so badly harassed he would have dropped out of school if kids at the time had gone to school.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: A Star Wars kid of the middle ages. Your last story of the web before the web comes from Mo Rocca.

MO ROCCA: Long before we learned to rely for answers on an online encyclopedia, residents of 17th century Salem, Massachusetts had their own alternative to a good old fashioned reference library. They asked witches, specifically, a group of supposedly learned heretics known as "The Wikipedia Coven."

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ROCCA: Said Harvard folklore and mythology professor, Abby Cohn, quote, "lazy puritans would seek answers from a Wikipedia. She would incantate over a cauldron, praying for the answer, and then just say whatever crap came to mind."

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ROCCA: But beware the witch with two different answers for one question. She would curse you with disambiguation and perpetual confusion.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: All right. One of these things which we thought was an internet thing existed before the internet. Was it, from Alonzo Bodden, cute pictures of cats in the Victorian era? From Jessi Klein, the mass humiliation of some kid swinging a stick around, just like the Star Wars kid but this time in the middle ages? Or from Mo Rocca: Wikipedia, a coven of knowledgeable witches in Salem, who you could ask anything?

RICH: Wow.

SAGAL: Yes.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

KLEIN: That's the right answer.

SAGAL: Exactly.

RICH: I feel like one of my students on a test. So I'm going to go with B.

SAGAL: You're going to go with B: Jessi's story of the medieval Star Wars kid?

(SOUNDBITE OF BOOING)

RICH: That's the one.

ROCCA: Really?

SAGAL: They don't like it here, but this is Boston. They're naturally judgmental.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ROCCA: They boo you even when they like you.

SAGAL: Exactly. It's how they express their enthusiasm.

RICH: Well I love Boston, so I'll go with A.

SAGAL: You're going to go with A. You're going to change you...

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

SAGAL: They like A. They like A, a lot. All right, your choice is A. That would be Alonzo's story of the kitten pictures from the Victorian era. Well, we actually spoke to someone who wrote about this, this week.

CYRIAQUE LAMAR: People these days are obsessed with cats on the internet and slapping goofy little slogans on them. But this tradition stems way back to about a century ago.

SAGAL: That was Cyriaque Lamar, an editor at i09.com. He was writing about this phenomenon of Victorian LOL cats. Congratulations, you did it; you picked the right story, thanks to the audience.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: You've earned a point for Alonzo.

BODDEN: Thank you.

SAGAL: And you've won our game. Carl will record a greeting on your home voicemail. Yay.

RICH: Awesome, thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: Well done. Thanks so much for playing.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

Copyright © 2012 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.