If you spend any time at all on Facebook, you have seen them: the ubiquitous character quizzes.
“Which Harry Potter character are you?”
“Which Walking Dead character are you?”
“Which Super Hero are you?”
Then there are the pop culture identity quizzes:
“Which 80s pop song are you?”
“Which Broadway musical are you?”
And don’t forget the “actually” quizzes:
“What city should you actually live in?”
“What career should you actually have?”
all implying that the life you live isn’t actually right for you.
I am willing to admit that I have taken a couple of these quizzes. After all, I’m a connoisseur of all things Harry Potter. So naturally I wanted to know if I am Remus Lupin (a compassionate and courageous werewolf) or Hermione Granger (the brilliant book-lover who is mistakenly referred to as “an unsufferable know-it-all” by those who don’t understand her intelligence.) When that particular quiz declared that I was Hagrid (the wonderful but not-too-bright half-giant), I decided it was tragically flawed and most likely created by someone approximately fourteen years of age. I tried to take a couple of other quizzes, but they all seemed to depend upon my choosing between various Beyonces, which I am incapable of doing due to lack of knowledge.
I’m not sure who originally said this, but I heard somewhere that if a person from an earlier time suddenly appeared in ours, the most difficult thing to explain to them would be this: that many of us hold in our hands a device that is capable of accessing an entire world of information, and we use it to look at pictures of cats and get into arguments with strangers. And now, apparently, we must add that we use it to take quizzes. According to Josh Haynam, co-founder of a quiz-building site called Interact, 4.3 million people tweeted with #quiz in the week prior to his article dated May 6, 2014.
These quizzes are mildly entertaining, I admit. But I have to wonder what their popularity says about us as a society. Why do we find it entertaining to be equated with fictional characters? Why is it fun to be pigeon-holed in this way?
Haynam gives three reasons for the popularity of online quizzes: 1) Being categorized helps us make sense of the world; 2) Sharing our results makes our own journey through life significant; and 3) We desire connection, and taking quizzes allows us to “talk with” the quiz, as well as to connect with other people who get the same result. I do not doubt the importance of connection. Hey, I’m a pastor. Human need for connection is an important part of my job and my worldview. And while categorizing can certainly be helpful in understanding concepts and relating to people, I don’t believe that having someone I’ve never met categorize me helps me in any significant way. And really—do I need to share “I am Cat Woman!” to make my life journey significant?
What it boils down to for me is that these quizzes allow someone else to define us . . . someone we have never met, and based on the most trivial of reasons. It took me a long time to stop allowing myself to be defined by others, to stop being who other people thought I should be. If I am completely honest, I have to admit it is an on-going task. Perhaps that is why I don’t like these quizzes. I got tired of giving away my power. I grew weary of looking to others for validation. I worked too hard for self-actualization to be told I “actually” should have a different life.
Those of you who are frequent online quiz-takers are probably thinking that I really need to get a life. It’s harmless entertainment, after all. And I’m sure you could have a field day speculating on the psychological and theological significance of my Angry Birds habit. Still, I find myself wanting to create my own quiz . . . a quiz that asks about your favorite color, ideal vacation spot, and perfect life slogan, only to provide one possible result, regardless of your answers: You are God’s beloved! You could post my quiz on Facebook, along with your results, and your friends could chime in, “Hey! I’m God’s beloved, too!” and we would all be connected and would experience all the compartmentalization we need. Of course, we don’t need a quiz to tell us that; but since we seem to be turning to Buzzfeed for validation, it couldn’t hurt.
But perhaps we would rather be Spiderman.