March 18, 2014

WEISMAN | What Buzzfeed Quiz Actually Labels You?

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Have you ever taken a Buzzfeed quiz? If the answer is yes, you are Katniss Everdeen. If the answer is no, you should have a beach wedding. If you have no idea what I am talking about, then your patronus is a turtle.

For the adults who read my column — Hi Mom and Dad! — Buzzfeed is an online social news and entertainment website. They report real news, as well as funny articles and videos that people can relate to. They also have online quizzes with a variety of silly questions that predict something about you. Those answers reflect some of the many weird and random quizzes available, ranging from, “What Should You Name Your Child?” (Reuben — um, why?) to, “Which Fast Food Chain Are You?” (Wendy’s — but we all know I should have gotten Dunkin Donuts) to one of my favorites, “Which Secondary Harry Potter Character Are You?” (Dean Thomas — the jury is still out on this one). Although they have been available for a long time, Buzzfeed quizzes only became popular recently and have taken the Internet by storm. Everyone seems to be obsessed with finding out which characters, various foods or inanimate objects we are, or what major life decisions Buzzfeed thinks we should make — i.e., haircuts we should get, cities we should move to, the list goes on. An avid Buzzfeed quiz-taker myself, I confess that I get very agitated when I don’t get my favorite character or answer.

But have you ever really looked at the questions on Buzzfeed quizzes and thought about if they really predict your fate? Picking my favorite puppy in a sweater really won’t indicate whether I should have studied abroad in Amsterdam, and picking a specific picture of Obama won’t differentiate me from which alcoholic beverage I represent, so I have to conclude that Buzzfeed quizzes do not actually tell us anything.

The popularity of Buzzfeed quizzes reflects our culture’s norm that we need to identify or label ourselves as one thing. We live in a world where we have to define ourselves in 140 characters, restricting our identities to the labels we give ourselves. In my Media and Human Development class last semester, we talked about how a big part of our development at this stage in our lives is figuring out our identities and who we want to be. It is no wonder that we love taking these quizzes — silly or serious — to help us in this process or to validate decisions we have already made for ourselves.

We see this need to label everywhere in our culture. For example, people are expected to identify their sexuality — to label themselves as straight, gay, bisexual, etc. — when in reality, sexuality is fluid. Though many people are comfortable defining themselves in this way, there are many who are not, and who feel pressured to label themselves because everyone expects them to. While language can be very helpful in understanding each other, it becomes a problem when it restricts us from being who we want to be.

Nonetheless, I do not think that all labels are bad and that we should not use them. I am proud to call myself a feminist, a Jew and a Harry Potter fan. I’m also proud to have gotten Olivia Pope in the “What Scandal Character Are You?” quiz. Not all labels are bad: They help describe and portray ourselves to the world. However, I have a problem when these labels limit how people know and view me. I am more than just these labels, just as everyone who gets McDonald’s in the fast food chain quiz is not limited to only eating at McDonald’s for the rest of their lives.

Despite the potential limitations when it comes to putting labels on ourselves, it can be helpful when our choices are validated. When Buzzfeed told me that I got an A- grade “In Life,” it made me feel a little bit better about the shambles I always seem to be in. While I realize they are mostly silly and for fun, I do think that Buzzfeed quizzes provide a unique opportunity to help us think about how we choose to label ourselves, and whether we even really should. There is no harm in taking them, as long as we know we are more than just the labels society or Buzzfeed give us — as well as the ones we give ourselves.