Last Summer, a friend and I were turned upside down over Ophiuchus, the newly discovered thirteenth zodiac sign. Every news outlet had written about this astrological shift, people began searching for their ‘accurate’ signs. We compared our old and new signs, neither totally accurate nor inaccurate. Yet, to be told I was a Sagittarius rather than a Capricorn completely threw me.
We millennials are a generation focused on identity, drawn to alternative personality identifiers. You’ll find a plethora of quizzes online, asking you to choose dishes to discover which Tolkien character you are. Granted, they’re for whiling away slow afternoons, but I know people who stand by their Hogwarts House, offer their Myers-Brigg type or are invested in their star signs. This fixation is unique to millennials, so why do we constantly look for new ways to identify ourselves?
Some of our personalities are related to the media we consume. For every series or film, hundreds of tests are created to discover the character we’re most like. Part of that is the undying power of fiction: what signals a great story more than identifying with a character? Traits are copied and replicated, sometimes you don’t even know you’re doing it; eventually, you proudly state you’re a Carrie. The whimsical tests we use to procrastinate become an instrument of validation. After binging the series, I was engrossed in “which Bridgerton character are you” quizzes; sometimes I thought of myself as Eloise, sometimes as Benedict. As I said to my friend, it took several turns to get either of those results. We are so keen to have our internal perceptions confirmed by external means that we are willing to cheat for the desired results. We manipulate the game so we can shout “look at me, I’m like (preferred character)”. Our personality quiz results confirm our self-beliefs and share them with others.
At primary school, playing ‘House’, you could state your case to be the cool older brother or the strict dad, but the self-appointed mum character usually assigned the family roles. Sometimes our roles are decided for us according to how our social group view us. During my second year at university, my flatmates and I couldn’t watch a show or film without calling out the characters we were most like. It wasn’t serious—the sangria running through our veins made sure of that—but it was an exercise in how we viewed each other. My friend Holly still signs her cards to me “To Will…love from your Grace” as a personality in-joke, integrating agreed on personality types into our friendship. The roles we give ourselves are oriented to our interpersonal qualities. For zodiac signs, this is sign compatibility, pairs of complementing or clashing signs. For character-based identities, we look at relationships. You might consider yourself a Hermione—book-smart, a teacher’s pet; she’s also fiercely loyal to a Harry and a Ron. Being part of the ‘Golden Trio’ informs us of our role in said group. Like stars in the constellations of the zodiac, we want to know which star we are, but also where we fit in with our neighbouring stars.
Browse any social media or dating app, and you’ll find declarations of star signs, Myers-Brigg types, and Disney characters. Personality types are a social shorthand. A swiping session and I’ve already found a Slytherin, an INFP, and a Libra. I know the Slytherin boy is cunning, the INFP intuitive, and I have a hunch Libra Boy isn’t The One. Using particular details, I have parsed these profiles and have an idea of each person before swiping. While the previous generation might’ve had “likes walks on the beach”, we now have “Gryffindor on the streets, Slytherin in the sheets.” To swipe on Tinder based only on their Marvel superhero identity would be ridiculous, but it confers a shared frame of reference. I know a Lannister thinks of himself as powerful but I also know he’s a Game of Thrones fan, triggering a snowball effect of possible compatibility: has he read the books, who does he want on the Iron Throne? Such a simple title has a Russian doll effect, revealing more about a person the deeper you delve.
Whether an INFP, an Aries or a Blair Waldorf, we are constantly absorbing media that inspires identities. Some of us dupe the system and others read Twitter bios like tarot cards. Each quiz result is another layer, an ingredient we can add to our label, that prospective friends and suitors can read. However fanciful, personality types are millennial building blocks, an outfit to show the world, and will continue to grow with new media and trends. We may deny it, laugh it off over a drink, but some of us will never date a Gemini…again.
Words by James Reynolds
This article was published as part of The Indiependent‘s May 2021 magazine edition.
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