Kyle Nazario

Why is it so hard to find out one fact about Marie Antoinette?

I recently watched Sophia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette. I had never seen one of her movies and wanted to prepare for Priscilla.

One of the most enigmatic and fascinating scenes in the movie is when a furious mob of French peasants shows up outside the palace at Versailles. Marie Antoinette, played by Kirsten Dunst, walks out onto the balcony overlooking them. She gazes upon the angry crowd. The ill-fated French queen bows her head deeply and retreats without a word.

Is it an act of submission? Contrition? An apology? A plea for mercy? Dunst and Coppola give us no obvious answer. It’s striking filmmaking.

It also sent me down a rabbit hole which has shaken my faith in internet search. Why can’t anyone tell me if this scene is based on a real event?

Let’s try Quora

I searched “marie antoinette bow” on Google. The top result was from Quora. I’ve had bad experiences with Quora in the past, but this Quora page seems to be exactly my question.

I did not realize tapping this link would open a portal into pure madness.

A screenshot of a Quora page not answering the question of Marie Antoinette bowing the the mob

The title of the page, “Did Marie Antoinette really bow to the crowd,” seems promising. That’s my question. Under that is an ad for narcissistic abuse. Hard to tell where the ad stops. Under that is a box where I can ask ChatGPT the question.

A screenshot of ChatGPT saying it is a legend she bowed

ChatGPT says it is just a legend she bowed to the crowd. However, ChatGPT is terrible for historical questions. It puts together statistically likely words, and sometimes those words are completely wrong and don’t match, you know, actual history.

I closed the ChatGPT window on Quora’s website and checked the answer, written by “Michael.” Michael’s bio is “I have lived a lot of it.” Okay!

A screenshot of a Quora answer with an expand button

He wrote a lot about the history of Marie Antoinette, but he never actually answers the question. In fact, his answer is cut off by a box asking me to sign up for Quora Plus.

A screenshot of Quora asking me to sign up

I don’t think his full answer will tell me if Marie Antoinette bowed to the mob. I don’t think his answer has anything to do with the question, actually. I think Quora auto-generated this page, because people search for it, but they don’t have an answer from a real user. They just gamed Google Search enough to get to the top.

Quora confounded me 1 and did not answer the question.

Some other blog spam

Next, I tried digging through some blog spam.

“All That’s Interesting” claims it’s a legend, but judging by their name and copious weight-loss ads, they seem not credible.

I refined my Google search to “did marie antoinette bow before the mob.” The top snippet was from an article in the Independent, from when Marie Antoinette released in 2006. That article claims she did face the crowd, but it cites no sources. I also can’t tell if it’s talking about the events of the film or reality.

The next Google result is from (not mobile-friendly), a website made to promote a Brazilian Catholic writer’s book. It also seems untrustworthy. The link to buy the English version of the book 404s.

The website claims Marie Antoinette appeared before the crowd, but cites no sources., the next Google result, claims she faced the crowd. Maybe she faced the crowd but did not literally bow? It’s also hard to trust given the name and vaguely NSFW chumbox advertising.


The Google result after HistoryAnswers was an online copy of an article published in Smithsonian magazine in 2006. That’s a real, trustworthy, reputable magazine. The author is a Paris-based writer who’s also contributed to the New York Times. For his piece on Marie Antoinette, he appears to have spoken with the curator of the museum at Versailles. He also quotes from biographers of the ill-fated French queen. His facts actually have sources!

His article says Marie Antoinette did come out on a balcony in front of the angry mob, and curtseyed.

This is probably as good an answer as I am going to get.

The web is full of crap

My question should not have been hard. I should be able to type it into a search box and get a quick, definitive, authoritative, well-sourced answer. And yet the top search results are full of crap.

This is probably not a surprise to anyone who’s done a lot of searches in the last few years. Most blame Google, but frankly I feel sympathy for them. Their job is to index the world’s information, and that information is full of crap. Good user-generated content has moved to Facebook, Tiktok, and other social platforms. It’s why everyone appends “reddit” to their searches.

A lot of what’s left on the public web is junky, lazy, unsourced SEO spam riddled with ads and fact-free AI nonsense. Google has its work cut out for it.

No, what I feel most pessimistic about is AI. Quora tried to answer my question with ChatGPT and failed. It’s also hard not to look at all the blog spam I dug through and imagine even more of it, created at AI volumes.

Feels like the internet will get worse as AI content spam spreads. Balk’s Third Law 2 strikes again.

  1. A friend is obsessed with Quorators, an entire podcast dedicated to answering the question, “What is Quora?”
  2. “If you think the Internet is terrible now, just wait a while.”