I have learned more about myself by learning who I am not.
I should have gone to Northwestern. No, wait, NYU. I should live in Flushing. Or London. Or Wisconsin—because of my laid-back disposition. If I were a classic rock band, I’d be Queen. If I were on Girls, I’d be Charlie because I like to work for a living, unlike anyone else on the show. Among the Beatles, I’m late-’60s John Lennon because I’m complex and can be a little mean, and I seek out challenging romantic partners. Of Jesus’ disciples, I am Saint James the Less, because I’m introverted and calm, with a tendency toward quietness.
Oh, the things I’ve learned about myself from taking BuzzFeed quizzes.
A friend recently asked who the greater fool was, the person writing the quizzes, or the person taking them. Easy: The quiz taker. And one such quiz-taking fool is me. I take one a day, like vitamins. And, though you may be loath to admit it, you probably do, too. BuzzFeed—masters of the listicle, home of the most awwwwww-inspiring animal pix, innovators of GIF-propelled features—have found yet another way to make their content go viral, baiting enough of your clicks to explode the site’s growth to a record 130 million unique visitors as of this past November. They have so many brilliant gimmicks, in fact, that many people might not even realize that the site employs top-notch journalists at posts around the world, breaking stories from the realms of entertainment, international news, politics, tech. So, they may lure you in with shtick, but they keep you there with the high quality of their long-form, cutting edge, up-to-the-minute journalism. Sans GIFs.
Okay, that makes a person feel maybe a little less bad. But why does someone like me, a 43-year-old working mom who barely has time to go to the bathroom, fall down the rabbit hole, and take the time to consider the arbitrary answers to inane questions posed by some wry millennial who gets paid to pick away at our psyches?
I am a procrastinator, and taking these quizzes offers a welcome break for an editor/writer when I get stuck—and then they hold me hostage. They prey on my enthusiasms. Curiosity. My sense of humor. At times, my sense of nostalgia. Sometimes, if I’m feeling a little vulnerable, I’ll admit, they validate my sensibilities, my aesthetic. They’re certainly more personable and interesting than online horoscopes, and I hope, more revealing. So when I first saw the quiz, “Which Grease Pink Lady Are You?” last June, I couldn’t resist. I clicked. I had never imagined myself as being a Pink Lady. The fact that I could be one at all amused me. So when I got Rizzo—STOCKARD CHANNING, SCORE!—I was extremely flattered. My time spent procrastinating was not in vain. BuzzFeed explained that I am often misunderstood—true. They do understand me. They said I speak my mind—I do, I do!—and that makes others around me feel threatened. Absolutely.
I took another: “What Career Should You Actually Have?” Writer, it answered. BINGO! I am a writer. Okay, so perhaps there was something to this, I thought. I’m sold. My ego, totally sated.
I was hooked. Now a quiz was telling me I should have gone to Northwestern—that wasn’t so off the mark. I grew up 45 minutes away from the university, which is in Evanston, Illinois, in a suburb as architecturally beautiful and progressive as my native Oak Park. But I wanted to live far away, near New York, so it made more sense when I got NYU the second time I took the quiz. But I hadn’t applied to either because they were private schools—way out of my budget. I only applied to two schools: University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Rutgers, and I went to the latter. Still, it fed into my fantasies.
I am Kim Deal—which pleases me to no end because I love the Pixies and the Breeders (’90s rocker). I am Queen, which is flattering, too, because they were the perfect blend of glam rock and stadium rock, and Freddie Mercury was the kind of frontman I could only dream of being (classic rock). I am late-1960s John Lennon, who was indeed my favorite Beatle. I am Jello Biafra of the Dead Kennedys—a band I never listened to but I respected as a concept (I apparently got him because we shared the same political outlook. Still, I am much more of a Patti Smith, if you ask me. But maybe I’m just being aspirational).
Okay, now I’m taking it all too seriously, getting too invested in the veracity of the answers, as the questions are getting sillier. Because now BuzzFeed seems to be messing with our minds, with the algorithms.
To wit: I’ve lived in Park Slope, Brooklyn my entire adult life—it is very much my home. And while I love the food in Flushing, the people in London, the beer and cheese in Wisconsin, I would never live in any of those places. Nobody would ever describe me as laid back, unless they were being ironic. But increasingly, BuzzFeed chooses to use among their “questions” stock photos of vistas—computer wallpaper—and those I pick blindly because they all look the same to me.
As Slate’s Emma Roller reported in late January, BuzzFeed didn’t invent the quiz; they’ve just colonized Facebook, mostly in the past couple of months, seizing upon our possibly narcissistic desire to define ourselves—because these aren’t done privately. We post our results, which begs for our friends to “like” them, weigh in and debate—oh my God, you are so not a Charlie, you totally are a Jello Biafra—share their results, bond over disappointments, and virtually high-five when you realize you are among the other Kim Deals. I’ve fallen down the rabbit hole, and I’m slowly crawling out. Maybe I am a fool for taking them—not to sound paranoid, but what if these are personality tests created by the NSA to collect data? If I am so interested in learning about myself, I’d be better off taking a Myers-Briggs personality test instead of goofy quizzes.
But, hey, they’re all in good fun. Maybe I am still taking them on occasion; I am posting my results less—unless they are notably ridiculous. I mean, do I care if the millennials think I am Ross on Friends? I know I’m more of a Chandler—I’m not a whiner, I’m a jokester. The fact is, I’m a middle-aged working mother who really needs to get work done before my toddler wakes up from his nap. Which is, by the way, right now.
Except, there’s just one more quiz I think I want to take.
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