I have yet to meet someone free of this experience: scrolling through your Facebook feed, you see someone you barely know share a link to a Buzzfeed Quiz: "What type of flower are you based on your favorite condiment?" Or, "Which pair of Hunger Games tributes are actually your parents?". Of course you click on it because even though you have never thought about it before, you just HAVE to know if you belong to Rue and Thresh or if your parents named you after the right flower.
But why? Why have these strange personality quizzes taken ahold of our psyche? Why do we care so much about seemingly pointless labels?
I think in order to explain the presence of pointless labels we have to explain the presence of labels in the first place. I'm actually very fascinated by labels. They are at fault for a lot of negative stereotypes that are perpetuated across society and easily allow us to look down on others. Take the popular cliche of a "jock." If I call a boy a "jock" because they are sporty and hang out with the popular kids I may also think the same boy is also foolish because of that categorized group. However, at the same time, labels often help us to organize and get through life. Just think back to that moment of "Mean Girls" or any Disney Channel TV show where they film a shy teen navigating the cafeteria to a group of friends through the seas of cheerleaders and geeks galore.
I'd like to think about this historically as well. Think back to a 'simpler' time of identity in which all your expected behavior, career, and position is decided for you by what family you are born into. A young, middle class, white woman born the only child in the 1800s knows she is supposed to marry up to protect her mother. She knows she is supposed to act polite around those with more money or age. She should be able to play piano reasonably well and read a bit, although this should not come into the way of her courtships. Of course, she must not be better at those hobbies than any man around (Yes, most of this comes form Jane Austen oops).
But things have changed drastically in the past few hundred years. We have let go of many of these social norms. Of course we still have class distinctions but there is a lot less relying on the family you were born into. When my cousin Sammy was born no one was able to make any assumptions as to what job she might have in the future, who she will marry, or if we will make more money than her older brother. Instead, she is building her identity on a blank canvas, exploring what she likes to do and hopefully succeeding based on her own desires.
This of course is a win for humanity. But all victories come with some negative unforeseen yet inevitable repercussions. We have lost our identity, which is not to say that we don't have one, but rather that we work much harder to find it. It's not given to us out of the womb. There may be expectations placed on me as to what I should do with my future, but no one claims to know what will happen based on the position and social ranking of my parents (which is too bad, because my dad is a pretty awesome guy).
But looking for our identity is hard, especially in a consumer society of mass marketing where everywhere we look brands are looking to form our identity into a nice little demographic bubble to check off a list. More than ever, we are forced to ask the question "Who am I?" because we have to somehow forge a self out of a rubble of pebbles, passions, and everything in between.
And this is where we come to clickbait personality quizzes. Or maybe not. Maybe we start with Myerr's Briggs and narrow it down to one of 16 basic personality tests but there are way more than 16 kinds of people in this world. So when we see that there are so many little ways to define ourselves into sentimental or random categories we click because it's easier to take a two minute quiz than go out into the scary world to find our identity.
And so there's an explanation but not an answer to the question that is at the core of this all. Why do I keep clicking? When will I finally discover who I am? When will I be secure enough in my identity to avoid the Buzzfeed quizzes and turn myself into an original copy?
I can't give an answer for this but one thing I know for sure:
"One may understand the cosmos, but never the ego; the self is more distant than any star." (GK Chesterton)
- Alexandra Kytka
Copyright © 2015