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Wednesday, November 26, 2014
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Published: Friday, 1/3/2014 - Updated: 10 months ago

CULTURE SHOCK

2013 Google searches: Death becomes thee

BY KIRK BAIRD
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Welcome to 2014.

Even as many of us are already scheming how to explain our New Year’s resolution failures — a diet is like the three-second rule: No harm is done if you pretend it never really happened — we wonder what the remaining 362 days will bring.

When it comes to popular culture, I can tell you:

Random celebrity stupidity and PR-pushed mea culpas. Scandals. At least one disaster that briefly unites the nation, until partisan rancor divides it again. Scandals. Tragic deaths of people we’ve never met and maybe didn’t like, but now that they’re gone we suddenly care and think highly of. Scandals. And an as-yet-identified dance craze, trend, or meme.

And no, I don’t have amazing powers of prognostication beyond those of ordinary men, aka The Amazing Kreskin (a deliberately outdated reference lost on younger readers). I simply looked to Google’s 2013 trending and most-popular searches to divine the future. And based on last year’s top trending searches on Google, we can expect an unexpected celebrity passing to dominate our Web queries as did actor Paul Walker after his death in a fiery car wreck in November.

For last year’s top 10 “search topics with the largest increase in search volume since the previous period,” the costar of the popular The Fast and the Furious movie franchise won the top spot over the Boston Marathon bombing (No. 2), and Nelson Mandela’s passing (No. 3.). Just to be clear, there was a bigger spike in Google searches last year for Walker, a decent actor in a movie series that found its fun again, than for Mandela. Perhaps a new Google search should be “what more must a man do to land at the top of the Google’s trends list?”

At No. 4 was another unexpected celebrity death in Glee’s Cory Monteith, and No. 5 was the iPhone 5s, followed by the “government shutdown,” actor James Gandolfini, the Harlem Shake, “royal baby,” and Minnesota Viking’s All-Pro running back Adrian Peterson. I suppose Peterson can take pride in that he’s the only living person on the list — though the murder of his 2-year-old son most likely contributed to the popularity of his name in these online searches.

Other than his untimely death, it was a banner year for Walker, who scored another top 10 trends search for people, followed by Monteith. Former NFL star now accused murderer Aaron Hernandez was No. 3, then Peterson, Miley Cyrus, Gandolfini, Paula Deen, Mindy McCready, Trayvon Martin, and Amanda Bynes. Judging by the reasons these names were Googled — death, crime, questionable career choices — 2014’s top-10 trending people is one year-end list on which you do not want to land.

There are exceptions, though, as in some of those on 2012’s trending people: Jeremy Lin at No. 2. (“Lin-sanity” puns, oh, how I miss thee.), Kate Middleton at No. 5, One Direction No. 6, and Paul Ryan at No. 10. Whitney Houston, by the way, was No. 1 on the list, keeping with the trend of the popularity of celebrity deaths.

If you look beyond the trends and to the overall most popular searches for people in 2013 — which essentially removes the spike in Google searches over a celebrity death, for example — there’s a considerably different top 10. For starters, everyone on the list is alive and active in their careers, and most are singers/rappers. Cyrus twerked her way to No. 1 (searches for “twerk gif,” incidentally, also landed atop Google’s “Most Popular GIF” category), followed by Drake, Kim Kardashian, Justin Bieber, Beyonce, Rihanna, Taylor Swift, Selena Gomez, Katy Perry, and Kanye West.

For comparison’s sake, 2012’s most-Googled people had its share of musical talent, but also reflected the year’s biggest story: the presidential election, with Democrat Barack Obama at No. 1 and his Republican opponent Mitt Romney at No. 2. At No. 3 was Bieber, followed by Kardashian, Drake, Michael Jordan, Nicki Minaj, Houston, Swift, and Rihanna.

Contact Kirk Baird at kbaird@theblade.com or 419-724-6734.



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