Editorial

How Stephen Colbert Just Exposed the Worst Aspects of MBTI

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Written by Eric G

For all of those MBTI enthusiasts who have been conversing in the shadows for years, it must have been a revelation to see those four little letters hit the big time as Stephen Colbert introduced them to millions of unsuspecting people on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert”.

How would he answer the questions? What type would he get? Would he agree with the assessment? All of these questions, of course, fell to the wayside. Instead, what viewers got was every personality enthusiast’s worse nightmare: an overflowing fountain of sweeping generalizations and narrow earnestness masquerading as an MBTI expert.

Now that might seem like a brutal assessment. Perhaps. In truth, there was no way that the pleasant, good-natured, too-straightforward-for-her–own-good lady was getting out of that situation looking anything but silly. And Colbert, for his own part, seemed to have his irony level toned-down to “slightly mocking”- MBTI fans might view this as a possible indication that he has some knowledge and enthusiasm for the theory. Either way, I found the segment to be hilarious, but sadly, chock-full of examples of why many Sensors view the theory as nothing more than an academically gilded horoscope.

I mean, the average person watching the segment must’ve been thinking, “What the hell is up with those questions?” Hmmm… let me think, “a quick and brilliant mind” or “practical… with a lot of common sense”? Not a particularly hard decision, but just in case anyone was having trouble deciding, the resident expert helps out by placing a big fat emphasis on brilliant. She didn’t fare better with other parts of the segment either, appearing to be absolutely confident- and somewhat oblivious to his teasing- in her ability to type the host with simple questions structured around a rigid dichotomy. Of course, Colbert spoke for most of the non-MBTI population when he mocked her context-less questions with “I’m an extrovert in the streets, but an introvert in the sheets”. How else would anyone respond to a test that proclaims that it can accurately narrow down your personality to one of sixteen distinct types, with questions that are both biased (“brilliant”) and lacking in nuance?

In the end, Colbert received an INFP on the test and an A+ for satire. I’m sure all over the globe numerous Colbert fans who also happen to be INFPs were patting themselves on the back- which is just another reason MBTI can be so obnoxious to those viewing it from the outside. It speaks to a certain sense of entitlement, as if possessing the same personality as Einstein (INTP) somehow bequeaths his genius and accomplishments onto the individual bearing the same type. A person’s personality type shouldn’t be a validation of who they are. No amount of abstract theory is going to be able to do that. Only actions can. A kind person doesn’t talk about how kind they are. They don’t congratulate themselves for all of the kind thoughts that are floating around inside their head. A kind person is someone who does kind things. Ideally, discovering one’s type emboldens them to perform such actions befitting their type. I guess that’s the thing with self-discovery. It’s sometimes mistaken for the beginning of the end, when in fact, it’s only the end of the beginning.

Unfortunately, self-congratulation is nothing new to the MBTI community. The saccharine-tinged positivity spewing out of the mouth of the “expert” was just another example of an MBTI enthusiast living in a rainbow-colored tower. Everybody likes INFPs… wait, really? I mean, personally, I love INFPs, but to tell an INFP that they just have to be themselves and everyone is going to love them is just plain wrong- and coming from a professional, that’s borderline malpractice. INFPs make up less than 5% of the population, so it’s pure wishful thinking to assume that their moody, iconoclastic ways are going to be embraced by “lots of people”- I know INFPs who don’t love themselves as much as that lady was purporting that others would love them. It’s not only a disservice to those INFPs who have faced persecution and alienation in the past, but also a missed opportunity to inform any new INFPs- new to the theory- about the possible negative consequences and misunderstandings they might have to deal with as part of a very small minority in a Guardian (SJ) world.

The beauty of personality theory is that it gives people a better understanding of themselves and others, and the friction that may develop due to differing types. It can enhance a person’s strengths and shed light on a person’s weaknesses. It can add nuance to actions and desires that, due to crude reasoning, were previously attributed to simplistic motivation. It can debunk stereotypes based on culture, ethnicity, and gender. And for those alienated souls who have faced persecution for most of their lives, it’s an epiphany; the realization that there’s nothing wrong with them even though they’re not like most other people can be life-changing. It was sad to see all of these things being tarnished on national television by someone who feels that it’s accurate to sum up a specific type as “the most brilliant, creative, intellectual mind”. In fact, based on that “insight” I think I’m changing my type to INFP so I can be brilliant, creative, and intellectual too.

As for Colbert’s results? Pretty dubious. Can anyone really get super excited over the results of an assessment/segment that was clearly made for comedy and not for accuracy? Whatever type Stephen Colbert is- perhaps that’s a topic for another article- it is highly unlikely that he’s an INFP. He even mocks the results by juxtaposing himself with Johnny Depp- yep, there’s an obvious resemblance there. I can see it clearly. Perhaps they’re both Scorpios.

About the author

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Eric G

English lit. by choice, english speaker by default,
Native to los angeles, foreign to parties, tardy to everything,
Franny glass' long-lost brother, and
Pan-hobbyist

2 Comments

  • Avatar Colleen Nevins says:

    I really enjoyed this article. I agree with what you said that it should not define, but just help you understand yourself a little better.

  • First, there is no way they could do MBTI true justice in explanation because it really only was a 5 minute segment. Stephen Colbert is like Johnny Depp because they are both chameleons. Johnny Depp is very shy in interviews- but he plays very outgoing characters. Do not forget Stephen Colbert has been playing a character for years. It is obvious he has a television persona.

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