What Facebook Quizzes Say About Our Society

Facebook quizzes make no sense. How can you possibly try to describe a human being in terms of what Harry Potter character they are? Or what neighborhood in Seattle they are most like, or which of the “Rocky” movies they would be.

I realize that these quizzes are nonsensical and are not meant to be any serious measure of who you are as a person. But it is intriguing to think about whether people can be described through abstract comparisons instead of traditional character traits like age, race, gender, weight, height, nationality, and personal interests.

Take, for example, a recent quiz a friend of mine took that told her which Hogwarts teacher she is most like. For those of you who don’t know, apparently “Hogwarts” is the school that Harry Potter and his compatriots go to where they learn their wizardly craft. I have never read any of the books nor seen any of the movies (and things shall stay that way forever, mind you), but I know this at least.

Given the fact that I have never read any of the Harry Potter books, I can assume that each teacher has their own special quirks and individual characteristics. And they all must be different from each other, I suppose. And if the Facebook quiz matches you up with a strict and hard-nosed Hogwarts teacher, that must mean you yourself are a stern and authoritarian person. It must be that simple.

This annoying trend is simple in its approach. We are slaves to pop culture, therefore we are dying to find out how we measure up to the people/characters/movies/television shows/cultural time periods that we love. It might be unfair to call us “slaves” to popular culture, but in reality, what we read, watch, and listen to does in fact occupy a significant amount of our time that we spend on earth.

Besides, all of this is very trendy, after all. The plethora of Facebook quizzes are so numerous that there has even been a backlash against it. I have seen several people update their Facebook status to read that they are sick and tired of seeing their friends take these pointless quizzes. How annoying it must be to have your homepage inundated with the latest news of which Shakespearean character your girlfriend is most like (note to the reader: if your girlfriend is most like Lady Macbeth, get out of the relationship now!).

Trends are common in our society. We jump on any bandwagon that seems exciting at the time. We jump on it especially if our friends are too. Look at the almost record-breaking five day opening of Michael Bay’s loud and disastrous “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.” With a $201 million box office gross, it was $2.6 million shy of the record set last year by the vastly superior film “The Dark Knight.” (I will confess that I have not seen the second Transformers movie, but judging from the negative reviews it has received, I think it is a safe assumption that Christopher Nolan’s film is a lot better)

So if taking these myriad of Facebook quizzes are trendy, when will it all stop? Maybe when people discover that comparing your life to superficial pop culture creations are not a very good idea nor a good use of your time. People can be so immersed in popular culture that they feel like they are part of it, not just passive consumers. It might be ridiculous to actually think people will believe that they are comparable to “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan,” but one can never know.

Consider this: with the recent death of pop singer Michael Jackson (I mentioned his name this time), tributes have poured out all over the world. Everyone from celebrities to politicians to common everyday people are publicly telling the world how much the King of Pop meant to them. Baby Boomers who grew up with Michael Jackson might consider him to be the distant cousin they never had. African Americans of that generation might think of him as a hero for breaking racial barriers in the music industry.

There are folks who are mourning him like they knew him. The same goes for Farrah Fawcett, who died of cancer the same day. This goes for any famous person who has spent years in the public spotlight. Us common people may not have ever met them, but we sure as hell feel like we have.

In a more interesting case, during this past Fathers Day President Obama invited several boys and young men from troubled urban areas to visit the White House. He spoke of his absent father and how his story relates to those of the young boys and men, many of whom never met their own fathers. One 16-year-old boy named Danilo Downing, who never knew his father, said the President’s story resonated with him.

“I think of him as my father now. He’s really special to me. He’s an amazing man,” Downing said.

Downing only shook Obama’s hand and received a pat on the back from him. That’s it. Yet despite their limited meeting, this young man considers, at least in that moment, the President to be his father figure. Not a small deal. This illustrates how powerful a public figure’s persona can be. They can change people’s lives without ever having to meet them.

The same goes for pop culture figures. Harry Potter, Indiana Jones, Luke Skywalker, and Captain James T. Kirk have impacted more people’s lives than some actual people. They may not be real flesh and blood human beings, but their appearances on television screens, movie theatres, and pages on a book do just the job.

I’ve had friends who said they cried when a major character in the Harry Potter series died. A character, let me remind you, who exists only on paper. There are those who shed tears for Michael Jackson, Farrah Fawcett, and Karl Malden, I’m sure. And they never even met them. Is there something wrong with this?

Maybe, maybe not. The media are so pervasive in our society that media figures exist almost like a real person. But this is dangerous. We need to realize that those who are really important in our lives are our family, friends, and close associates. Victims in Darfur might be an exception. But, nevertheless, it is weird to mourn someone who doesn’t even know you exist, let along your name.

So now it makes sense why we love to take these seemingly innocuous Facebook quizzes. We need to find out which “Friends” or “Lost” character we are because they are, after all, our actual friends. They might not be real, but that doesn’t matter. We spend time with them. They make us laugh, cry, and think. What’s so fake about that?

There is a media theory out there that hypothesizes that people treat the media like they treat real people. We expect the media to do things that people do: entertain us, educate us, inform us, titillate us. We want the media to be our escape from reality. We even watch “reality television” because their lives are so much more exciting then ours. Our realities are boring. The Real Housewives of New Jersey are exciting.

But, if we consume media to escape reality, but our reality is becoming more saturated with the media, what’s the difference? What are we really escaping? If we spend all our time sitting on our sofas watching reality TV shows, that becomes our reality. There is nothing else. Nothing else to fill our “free” time. The media aren’t our escape. It’s where we have to escape from.

And that should make your mind boggle. But if you don’t want to think about it, turn on the tube and see what Oprah is up to.

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