Let’s thank women’s magazines for quizzes

March 5, 2014
Category: Uncategorized

Slate | Time | Mashable

Have you Travolta-fied your name yet? (I’d be really surprised if you haven’t; the name-generator from Slate has been “the most popular post Slate had ever done–yes, even more than thinkpieces on Jonathan Livingston Seagull!” James Poniewozik wrote for Time on Wednesday.)

In “Why Name Generators and Quizzes Are the New Crosswords,” Poniewozik wrote about those quizzes and why they don’t mean an end to good journalism.

Slate publishes plenty of pieces that may never get Travolta traffic but are worth doing and supporting. (That Jonathan Livingston Seagull essay, for instance, is terrific.) If money and traffic pressures lead editors and publisher to reward and demand nothing but viral posts, that’s something to worry about. But journalism will be fine as long as we don’t start ordering their staff to start making more name generators, dammit, and the hell with Ukraine and Obama.

Mashable also took a look into the rise of quizzes on Tuesday, with Jason Abbruzzese’s “Q: Why Are Quizzes Suddenly So Popular? A: Narcissism.”

“We find that when people take one quiz, they want to take more,” said Melissa Rosenthal, director of creative services at BuzzFeed. “People love to share things that kind of represent who they are and say something about who they are.”

This combination of addictive and shareable is powerful, propelling the most popular quizzes to millions of views. With that traffic comes the lucrative opportunity of pairing sponsors with a format that has proven friendly for pop culture, brands and nostalgia.

Quizzes may be the new crosswords, and the new traffic generators, but they’re also the old quizes, as Joanna Coles, Cosmopolitan’s editor-in-chief, pointed out Tuesday night.


True, a lot of them are about sex and relationships and sex in relationships and just sex. But quizzes have been a magazine thing for a while now. And they get why we like to take them. “What could be more fascinating than you?” Cosmo asks.

In 2010, for instance,Teen Vogue asked “Which Disney Leading Lady Are You?” before the release of Tim Burton’s “Alice In Wonderland.” (I got Alice; I took a similar quiz on BuzzFeed and got Jasmine.) There’s a quiz at Cosmo that explains everything you need to know about your relationship via hot dogs. (My marriage is solid, phew.) And “Lucky” asks, “Which Famous Designer is your Spirit Animal.” (Didn’t even try to take that one.)

But quizzes go back past this decade and last. In 2006, Lynn Peril wrote in The Guardian that “Ladies Home Journal” created one of the first regular quizzes in the 1950s. Those quizzes weren’t exactly fun or revealing, however.

In the world of women’s magazines, femininity was, and often still is, a lifelong occupation requiring vigilant self-awareness and upkeep. Quizzes let readers assess themselves on subjects from cooking and cleaning to beauty and charm, though sometimes it was difficult to see what the questions had to do with the answers. “Do you like either public speaking or horseback riding?” was one poser in a 1947 Ladies Home Journal quiz that asked Am I a Career Woman? Other questions had a threatening tone. A teen magazine asked, “If your bureau drawers or closets were open to view without warning, could you stand the inspection without apologies?”, a question guaranteed to bring an unhappy blush to any teenager’s cheeks.

Did they cause harm? Peril asked. Hard to know, but quizzes in 2006 (and 2014) are mostly fun and harmless.

Of course this needs some updating, but there’s even a Quizilla quiz from 2003 that asks “Which journalist are you?” (I got Bernstein.)