What is the internet, if not a place for poor unfortunate souls to turn around if they don’t know who they are? Astrology memes have grown in popularity because people really like it when someone brings their whole being together in very specific, but extremely broad, characteristics. (The Co-Star app also proves that people are a little bitchy from their horoscopy.) Give BuzzFeed a little demographic information and you can also discover which character How I With Your Mother you really are. Do you want to know your Hogwarts House? A Sorting Hat is waiting on the Wizarding World website. Now a new form of online personality test has come into battle: Instagram filters – enough to give a full Myers-Briggs Type analysis, delivered through random pop culture comparisons.
I don’t know exactly how this trend started, but on my own feed it started with Pokémon. Friends of mine started posting selfie videos with the animated characters of the game flipping over their heads like a slot machine in Las Vegas. Some of them were people I knew they liked Pokémon, but more than a few were non-gamers who were just curious enough to let an app tell you what they didn’t really need to know. I can’t tell a Metapod from a Geodude, but that didn’t stop me from trying it myself and immediately forgetting the result. (It was not Pikachu, I know so much.)
Since then, I expect – and almost need – to see the look of deadly anticipation on the faces of my friends when I tap their little round avatars at the top of the app while trying new versions of the “What Pokémon Are” You? ‘Filter. But the fun doesn’t stop at Pocket Monsters. What kind of Disney character are you? Which friend character are you? Which democratic presidential candidate are you? Which MTA train are you? Which item in the Cheesecake Factory menu are you? The latter does not yet exist – but it might as well be. As long as people use Instagram roulettes for a spin, why don’t they make them as absurd as possible? After all, this senseless trend is, hopefully all, radically stupid. But at the same time it is strangely comforting. There are no definitive answers here; one can simply press the small button to restart the cycle if the first result was not what they expected. (There is no way that I am a Monica Geller. Come on!) But the dopamine rush that comes with a small app that pretends to scan my face and decides that I look like Quasimodo from the animated version of The Whistleblower of the Notre Dame? It is neither high art nor high comedy, but it is worth a few seconds of pleasure.
Our constant need to generate content that others can see is at the heart of these popular filters, as evidenced by the bored glances on everyone’s faces as they wait for their fictional, often animated counterparts to be assigned to them. What does it mean that an app has decided that you are Hermione Granger based on absolutely nothing? Do I have to share your disappointment or excitement that you are more of an Elsa than any other Disney character in the Magic Kingdom? Or should I pay attention to the things that another selfie offers me, your modest follower: that your skin is clear, your hair looks beautiful and you have determined the best angle to photograph yourself? The idea that you are a Daenerys is not relevant, but everyone seems to know that already.