APRIL 7, 2020
This week on Dear Television:
We all took that Psychometric Statistical “Which Character” Personality Quiz on the internet, we have some feelings about it, and we’re all trapped in our homes while a terrifying virus jet-sets around planet Earth. So, some of us here at DearTV and our friends are going to register some of those feels—we’ll start with Sarah and Phil, and we’ll update throughout the week. There’s probably some spoilers, I guess. Anyway, take the test, read along, dance as if no one is watching, STAY HOME!
Paul Kinsey // Mad Men
by Phil Maciak
I took that Psychometric “Which Character” personality test, and it roasted me. I’m an internet person. I’ve taken plenty of TV character tests on Buzzfeed and even on less reputable clickbait ad sites. Sure, I’ve wanted to know which Muppet I am. Of course I’d be happy to learn how my taste in interior design lines up with the characters of Game of Thrones. Come to think of it, I don’t actually know which member of One Direction I am! But this was different. This was like going up to a Guess My Age booth at a county fair and having the carnie look you in the eye and say, “I know you copied answers on a health sciences homework worksheet in eighth grade—have you ever forgiven yourself?”
I answered the questions zippily, I enjoyed puzzling about what the difference between “bold” and “serious” might be. I’ll admit, I treated it lightly. I thought it was a game, a lark. I thought, most of all, that this would be three to five minutes during which I could take my mind off of the Johns Hopkins coronavirus map, the lack of a state-wide stay-at-home order in the state of Missouri, the question of whether and how I needed to wash produce delivered to our home. TV is for fun, right? Online quizzes are an escape from reality—who might you be if you weren’t you and you didn’t live in this time and you didn’t have to worry about the things you have to worry about? Then, the Psychometric Personality Test picked up a rotary telephone and slugged me in the jaw.
You’re Paul Kinsey, you fucking pretentious fraud.
Is it possible Paul Kinsey is the worst Mad Men character? I don’t mean that in an abstract moral sense—lots of people, from Don to Pete, were worse in a holistic way, as imaginary people. Kinsey committed no real crime, save stealing a typewriter from the office. But Mad Men, which was unduly forgiving of some of its worst characters, could still be mean to its own, without provocation and without compunction and seemingly at random. The show—Matthew Weiner, or perhaps an amorphous, anthropomorphic “Show” that existed somewhere in the multiverse—famously resented Betty, laid its worst interpersonal atrocities at her feet, made her a Vietnam war supporter, put January Jones in a fat suit. But, Betty aside, did Mad Men ever hate anyone more than Paul Kinsey?
His service to the show, in a broad narrative sense, was to be a) the sort of boy Joan Holloway would leave and b) the sort of mediocre Ivy League hack writer it would be most satisfying for Peggy to outpace. His defining character trait is that he sucks. His second defining character trait is that he knows that he sucks. His entire personality is built around accumulating enough pretentious affections—his Orson Welles voice, his shipwreck brandy, the beard and pipe—that people won’t notice how much he sucks. And, even after casually dispensing with him in season 3, Weiner went out of his way to bring him back, make him a Hare Krishna, have Harry Crane have sex with the woman he loves, credit him with the authorship of a hysterically dumb Star Trek spec script, and then send him off to Hollywood and ignominy. They didn’t need to do Paul like that.
But they did, because he’s exactly the kind of person Mad Men loathed the most. He’s fake, but not mysteriously fake like Don. He’s talentless, but he’s not funny or sympathetic like Freddy Rumsen. He’s smart enough to understand the shallowness and shittiness of the advertising business, but too cowardly or thirsty for approval to ever leave of his own volition. He’s a kiss-ass but a bad one. He’s pathetic without being tragic. He’s morally compromised without being ruthless. My favorite show hates him, but this Psychometric Personality Test thinks we might get along!
And oh what a party we’d have. Among other pretentious frauds, we’d be joined by the Potterverse’s Horace Slughorn (75%), Battlestar Galactica‘s Gaius Baltar (74%), Scranton’s own Andy Bernard (71%), Jimmy McGill (80%—not pretentious, but certainly fraudulent), and Jay fucking Gatsby (81%). Imagine all the stories about college we’d tell, the expensive liquors we’d performatively sip, all the books we’d pretend to have read! A cloud of insecurity floating over this group of friendless prigs, desperate for just one person to be impressed by us.
So what happens when you try to distract yourself from reality, and then an online quiz dunks on you? I mean, the first thing you do is not care, but that’s where the PSYCHOMETRICS come in. I don’t know what psychometrics are, but they sound pretty scientific! PSYCHO! METRICS! This test isn’t just a randomizing algorithm—it’s really judging you. But it’s not really the test, is it? Because what you find out when you pay more attention is that other users are calibrating the test with the optional survey at the end. So it’s not a robot, it’s the people of the internet who perceive me this way. I thought you liked me, internet! Or at least I thought you didn’t really know who I was!
I retook the test the following day, the longer version, and I really thought about the answers. I tried to be as careful as I could. I got Sam Seaborn from The West Wing. Sounds great, right? I loved The West Wing! Sam’s the best! Until you realize Sam was also a Princeton grad who sang a cappella, didn’t treat his female co-workers very respectfully, and was desperate for the approval of his enigmatic boss. Sam is just the handsome, talented guy Paul Kinsey was devastated he couldn’t be. I retook the test searching for a better outcome, and all I got was Paul Kinsey’s fantasy projection of himself. The test got me again.
So, I guess I’m just Paul Kinsey now. Why would an internet test with a methodology I don’t understand lie to me? We used to spend a lot of time—we who think about TV—grappling with what it means to sympathize with Tony Soprano or get excited about Walter White or otherwise accept the POV of bad men. We don’t spend a lot of time, maybe, questioning whether or not our most honest vector of empathy is actually someone the show doesn’t care about at all. Are we heroes or anti-heroes? Turns out, those aren’t the only options.
That’s maybe the most tough-love implication of this result. It’s not who Kinsey is, but who he was to the show. Earlier this week, my daughter was doing some quarantine theatre in our back yard. She was playing a princess battling a dragon. At some point, her invented dialogue kind of stalled out, and she just repeatedly shouted at the dragon, in increasingly passionate tones, “I am the main character!” Like an incantation. Kinsey and I understand.
Kinsey’s last scene (excepting his one-off Krishna cameo) is after Draper, Sterling, Cooper, Peggy, Pete, Lane, and Joan—the characters who matter most—have staged their escape. Kinsey arrives at the office, realizes what’s happened, and opens Peggy’s office, which she’s clearly cleaned out in order to join the cool kids at the new firm. “Dammit!” he shouts. What can I say? It’s relatable!
And that’s it for Paul. No long goodbye, no haunting memory. The show didn’t need him at all. Paul will remember the hurt, the failure, the shame of that moment his whole life; nobody else will. When he returns for that one episode, it’s just so the show can kick him a little more. For Paul Kinsey, history repeats itself, first as farce, second as farce. Who would I rather be than Kinsey? It feels like that’s Kinsey’s question, too. We’re just hoping to be better.
Who the hell are you people?
Lady Sybil Crawley // Downton Abbey
by Sarah Mesle
What a thing to be told, in the midst of pandemic 2020, that the character you most resemble is Lady Sybil Crawley, youngest Downton Abbey daughter, romantic and radical. What is it like to be this romantic and this radical? Lady Sybil lives in a gorgeous estate and chastises her family’s politics in the very strongest of terms, and she eventually runs off to Ireland with the chauffeur, true signs of radicalism if ever there were any. “I’m interested! I’m political! I have opinions!” says Lady Sybil in season one, and, Dear Television: if you’ve stood next to me at a bar after a couple of drinks, you’ve probably heard me say exactly the same thing.
I stopped watching Downton Abbey back in probably season two, so the “Lady Sybil” verdict led me to spend an enjoyable half hour on the Downton Abbey fandom wiki, reading about how Lady Sybil is “free from prejudice, free from narrow thinking,” and, according to the housekeeper, “the sweetest spirit under this roof.” I mean,Dear Television: Lady Sybil is beloved by the help! That’s right, I thought to myself, beloved, thinking also about Lady Sybil’s very good eyebrows and whether I myself could maybe pull them off, with all this quarantine time to work on my tweezing.
Lady Sybil is a romantic, like literally she enacts all her radicalism romantically, and being told you are a Lady Sybil is its own kind of romance, the romance of being — like Rose from Titanic or Fox Maid Marian from Fox Robin Hood (obviously the best Robin Hood)— the very privileged person whose “sweet spirit,” the romance of personality, absolves them of all systemic responsibility for their privilege. It’s a very particular fantasy, and since it likely involves an archetypal scene of being the upper class lady who gets to dance down in steerage or the forest with “the folk,” my general sense is that in slotting me into the Lady Sybil avatar, this literary character psychometric sorting hat was giving me a little indulgent present, if a lot of side-eye too.
But Lady Sybil, well-tweezed lady radical, seems different when you consider her (which is to say, consider me) along with the other characters on my list. Nothing bursts the Lady Sybil/Maid-Marian/“I’m down with the people” fantasy more quickly than putting her on a team with June George, Amy Poehler’s “cool mom” character from Mean Girls. June George is also trying to rebel against her social role, which you can tell because she is a mom but also wears Juicy Couture lounge wear and lets you sneak into the liquor cabinet. She too would probably be very interested in the chauffeur.
Look up and down my matched characters, in fact, and you see a line of ancillary romantics, existing adjacent to power, often looking at it askance but still usually dressed from its closet. “Sincerely-felt care-taking and concern” would seem to be one of my central qualities, but not more so than “rapturous textile-driven escapism.” Consider Carrie Bradshaw and Effie Trinkett: I would not have seen these two women together, but now deeply respect the algorithmic genius that recognizes a sort of style-driven self-fashioning as instrumental to how both these women, and similarly, have been called into their roles as willing-ish narrators for their powers that be (heterosexuality and the capital[ism], respectively). There Lady Sybil is too, in her pretty clothes: commenting on the flaws of her functional world, not so much to upset it as to keep its ethical sense of itself as self-questioning fully in place.
Who would I rather be than Lady Sybil? Lady Mary maybe, or Regina George? (A friend of mine, whom I envy hugely, got all wizards up and down her list.) Another personality quiz from a few years ago, the results of which I gleefully posted on facebook, matched me with Season 3 Blue Dress Daenerys Targaryen, whom we can all agree was absolutely the best Daenerys Targaryen. The Mother of Dragons! The Queen!
This is what makes the Lady Sybil verdict so perceptive and so right: if Lady Sybil took the personality test (which she would!), she, like me, would probably want to be Daenerys Targaryen (who would not, ever, take an online personality test). So here’s what I’m interested in asking: what in this pandemic season made me answer these 28 questions in the mode of Lady Sybil’s ornamental critique, rather than Daenery’s burn-it-with-fire actual militancy? Why the avatar of ornamental radicalism, rather than radicalism itself?
The question that gave me the most pause when taking this quiz wasn’t any of the ones about politics or interests (I’m political! I’m interested!), it was the one that asked me to locate myself on spectrum between “submissive” and “dominant.” Where are you, the algorithm asked? And I said: damn, algorithm, that is one hell of a question to ask a middle aged lady trying to work and carry out some sort of adult creative and emotional life while also homeschooling two children in the midst of a global pandemic.
Submissive to what? Yesterday when I walked my dog, I wore a dish towel like a face mask but left it around my neck while I snuck under the yellow “closed” tape at the local park. Things are growing here in LA; the red tail hawks swoop and dive; I held tight to my dog’s leash as she tugged after ground squirrels. Where on the submissive/dominant spectrum is that?
Can you be a submissive and a subversive at the same time? That’s the question of Lady Sybil, and there are all sorts of stories (Downton Abbey is one; Fox Robin Hood is another) that want you to assure yourself, comfortably, that the answer is yes. But this psychometric quiz seems smarter than those generic forms, and there’s no getting around truth that you can have your well-clad Lady Sybil but only if you swallow your Effie Trinket too.
But then, again, the character psychometric quiz was written before Pandemic 2020. And I’d venture to say that this situation raises entirely new questions for our politics and interests and opinions, for our sense of what kind of romance is possible and what kind of radicalism matters. The very idea that our relation to those experiences might come from our personalities, rather than from the systemic conditions in which we exist, is one that Lady Sybil would find flattering to her sense of sweet subversiveness, but it’s not an idea that’s very tenable in this moment in which we are quizzing ourselves, as the virus exacerbates the cruelty of every inequlity. Daenerys never forgets about structures — her birthright, the wheel she would break — but I’m not just sure this is a situation you can Dracarys your way out of.
My dog, the one I was walking subversively in the park, was named by my sons after Luna Lovegood, who is third on my list of matched characters. It took me a while to consider her presence there; I overlooked her, just as the Harry Potter characters do for most of her early appearances. “Luna gave off an air of distinct dottiness,” Rowling tells us; Cassandra-like, Luna has seen things that, ironically, make her easy to ignore. She has seen death and has been alone and has come out the other side, weird and brave. It’s hard to see Luna as either subverting or submitting; what she does is more like lingering, hanging around, wearing weird necklaces, improvising ways of living through dramas that she doesn’t make. When the time comes, she, weirdly and bravely (with her Rabbit Patronus!) does the right thing. She is not a character with whom I ever had a particularly romantic attachment. But it’s encouraging that the algorithm sees something of her inside me. She might offer one honest, even admirable, way to get through.
Don’t worry—you’re just as sane as I am,
Rita Skeeter, et al. // Potterverse
by Jane Hu
I’ve decided not to focus on my top character match in the Psychometric personality test, since my results tell a richer story as a totality. For, while my highest match was exceptionally high–92% for Rita Skeeter!–it seems more honest for me to share the love, by which I mean, obviously, the hate. Rita Skeeter is…arguably the most hateful, most evil Harry Potter character after, y’know, that guy. But guess what: fucking Voldemort is also on my list–at a whopping 80%. That’s still higher than some people’s top character match! My list is a stunningly consistent row of murderers–often literally–that can only really be comprehended in its entirety. Behold:
Like Phil, I also took the quiz on a whim, pondering along the way if “ferocious” was really the opposite of “pacifist,” whether “intellectual” really ought to be posed as diametrically opposite to “physical.” I imagined being rewarded with a whimsical result such as a Paul Kinsey, a Lady Sybil Crawley–some generic character who thinks more highly of themselves than is probably merited, and which one might treat with equal measures pity and humorous tolerance. I imagined myself inhabiting some ironic paradox: nothing so heroic as a Dumbledore or God, of course, but maybe something akin to a Monica Geller, a Kitty Bennet, perchance even a Severus Snape. For instance, my friend Lydia Kiesling got Jay Gatsby from the novel titled The Great Gatsby: not a Great Character in the moral sense exactly, but definitely, like, “great” in the literary sense. Jay Gatsby: infamously complex interiority, mysterious past, unrequited love interesting, a synecdoche for anyone with an American Dream. Relatable!
In contrast, there is nothing nearly so poetic to be said about Rita Skeeter, who manifests evil in such a banal and unambiguous form that the only way to interpret one’s apparent affinity with her (I took the test twice to confirm) is literally. I consider myself a fairly confrontational person: quick to point fault with others, but also ready to accept them myself. But it turns out that I’m actually just an uncomplicatedly evil person–a mad villainess who isn’t even clever in her deceptions. Instead, I merely spew lies for profit, indulging in other people’s pain! I am the kind of person who eats people like Sarah’s third highest ranked character match, Luna Lovegood, for breakfast. I am television’s fictional equivalent of this meme:
What does it mean to be, quite simply, the worst? A global pandemic is reason enough to get down on oneself, but I feel like this list is trying to tell me something else: you really should feel like the absolute trash you clearly are. My characters for self-identification include such sterling candidates as Joffrey Baratheon, Gavin Belson, Leland Palmer, and The Joker lol. (At least Rita is a woman? Yay representation!) My list might as well read “Hitler” 30 times in a row. A friend, upon seeing the list, asked: “What does this say about me?” My boyfriend found the results so alarming that he sent it to his entire extended family’s group chat. The whole thing is a stunning testament to my ostensible capacity for banal evil. To those I know, I can only say: I am so, so sorry.
In the days since taking the quiz, I’ve had more time (lots and lots of time) to reflect on my results, and all that has led me here. Another very Quarantine Feeling, alas, akin to this meme:
In doing so, I’ve tried to rationalize my results, tried to understand how my self-perception of inner complexity has since translated into the same bad thing, over and over. Do I hate myself too much??? Or is my real problem an intense narcissism? How did I not see this whole time that I am not a complex human character with a varied emotional terrain and sympathetic contradictions, but am in fact simply the Devil? And not even, like Milton’s Devil. This devil:
Just incredible. Where did I lose the plot? Was it when I ranked myself in the Psychometric “Which Character” personality test very high on “demonic” (as opposed to “angelic”) but also very high on “awkward” (as opposed to “charming”)? Was it when I rated myself as both “artistic” and “mainstream”? I’ll probably never know. My one condolence: at least Rita Skeeter makes a living off of writing.
The worst psychotic death wish,
Tyrion Lannister // Game of Thrones
by Jorge Cotte
I never liked personality quizzes. Their questions give rise to distress. Am I playful or shy? And if I’m more playful, am I 82% playful or 81%? Self-evaluation is at the heart of these quizzes, but the more I search for the exact right answer, the more my certainty clouds over.
When I first took the Psychometrics “Which Character” personality quiz, my top match was Tyrion Lannister from Game of Thrones. Portrayed by Peter Dinklage, Tyrion is a popular character from a show that was once (seemingly long ago) also popular.
I sat for the test a second time because I wanted to distance myself from that first result. If you didn’t read the fine print, you might not know there are two versions to the assessment besides the default. There is the “Random” which is just 14 questions—basically personality Russian Roulette—and the “Complete” which has 121 questions, eliminating any doubt as to who you are. I took the latter, of course, and the match became official. Still Tyrion.
Now, the younger Lannister isn’t a bad character, and morally, you could do much worse in the world George R.R. Martin created. Tyrion is among the most prominent pillars of the series’ veneration of “Cripples, Bastards, and Broken Things,” the outcasts who are sidelined by society but fight back against marginalization by being craftier, more willful, more studious, and (surprisingly often) wealthier.
My problem with Tyrion is not that he’s unlikeable. He’s too likeable. He’s the misfit that doesn’t take anyone’s shit and still lands in positions of power. He responds to pressure (in earlier seasons, at least) with aplomb and hyper-competence. He exists too close to the realm of spectatorship in which viewers, seeing themselves, similarly, as looked over and underestimated, experience the rush of fantasy and wish fulfillment.
On the quiz’s homepage, there’s a disclaimer alerting participants that the test should not be used as psychological advice. But on character pages, the website explains that, because each character’s traits are scored through the wisdom of crowd voting, the profile is “very accurate” and “much more accurate” than what any individual could produce.
The key to the psychometric character quiz is two distinct but interacting levels: 1) my own evaluation of myself and 2) aggregated evaluations of traits for fictional characters. The test overlays one level on the other to match you with your persona. But there’s a potential disconnect here: an arrogant person might think that they are just accurately appraising their own abilities, an overly-cautious person probably thinks they’re appropriately cautious.
While I don’t have a specific grievance against Tyrion, I’m embarrassed by the prospect that the test says that in the story I tell myself about myself, I am the great underdog. I’m left wondering, Dear Television, was it one or two egregious lies or 121 responses skewed by spills of generosity and splashes of self-aggrandizement?
This brings me to another point: With all the recent evidence we have that personality tests can be appropriated, mined, and manipulated to serve the interests of tech companies, advertisers, and nefarious “consulting groups,” it would be sensible to avoid them. (If even Facebook has banned personality quiz apps, well…) Why can’t we stay away?
There’s fun in taking seriously an obviously silly game. Precisely because we know better than to trust the accuracy of this test, we can take pleasure in entertaining its insights. We hold personality quizzes at a distance so we can laugh about them and retain the sense that they do tell us something.
I am not a fictional character, but this quiz offers the allure of concrete knowability. The Psychometrics quiz takes all these facts you give about yourself, supercharges them with math, like Pearson Correlations and the Law of Large Numbers, maps them onto our collective knowledge of fictional characters, and tells you who you are. The essence of this knowability depends on the relationships viewers nurture with characters in long-form stories, such as Mad Men, Downton Abbey, Harry Potter, and Game of Thrones.
Part of the pleasure of watching Thrones and Dinklage’s performance is in coming to know and understand Tyrion. We come to anticipate his quips and his reactions to plot developments. It’s even satisfying when he surprises us, if done in a way that makes sense retroactively. If he changes, becomes less brash, more tender over time, we can identify the causes and understand his trajectory. If he backslides into old habits and drink, there’s our old friend.
The development page for the quiz states “a fictional character does not have a real personality, but people might perceive it to have one.” The second part is true; the reason the quiz works is that a bunch of people can look at a character and evaluate them on a spectrum of two (sometimes oddly paired) traits. But it’s the first part of the statement on which I’m hung up. It assumes “a real personality” is something that exists in the world and can be identified, quantified, correlated.
I say: people don’t have immutable personalities. We might have tendencies and pet peeves and preferences. These traits are in flux and contingent (where are you, who is around you, what did you eat today), and so is how we feel about them. I don’t know about you, but half the time, my personality is me catching up to myself.
Real Personalities exist because we perceive them in others. We look at people around us from the outside and see them as coherent surfaces. (Think of how frustrated we get at the hypocrisies and contradictions of others while happily glossing over our own.) This sense extends even more strongly to fictional characters, who often exist with specific motives and dispositions revealed to us over time. (Think back to the backlash that stirred in response to how characters lost established traits or changed too abruptly in the last season of Thrones).
Isn’t Tyrion all surface? A figure on a screen that moves and produces sound? When the show ends, don’t we still have the things he said and did, and the way he did them? Aren’t his traits static and unchanging in a way that makes him knowable? Dear Television: If anyone has a Real Personality wouldn’t it be a television character?
In contrast (maybe as a direct result) I feel threatened when faced with my own incoherence, when I deal with paradoxical and irresolvable feelings. And if I perform personality, it is with a kind of doubleness, an awareness of an invisible audience that would grade me as 81% playful vs shy. Finding out I’m an Aries INTP Miranda (with a hint of Samantha) Tyrion is a balm on that anxiety, even if I’m still not sure how playful I am.
A good personality quiz offers the anxiety of rummaging around in yourself and then provides relief. It makes you believe, for a second, that you map onto something knowable. That for a second, you are stable.
Is my personality real enough?