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December 26, 2008

Tracking Trends

It's been a long time since John Lennon famously declared on March 4, 1966: "Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. I do not know what will go first, rock and roll or Christianity…We're more popular than Jesus now." Long enough that now we have the tools to test its truth.

In its day, the remark stirred up a shitstorm previously unheard of in the frivolous world of rock and roll, a scene that had up until then primarily advocated rocking around the clock and reverence for the Duke of Earl rather than outward contempt for the Christian messiah. The idea that any one thing is more popular than another—in this case, our society's twin pillars of rock and roll and Christianity—is murky, as popularity is a difficult concept to quantify. For a long time, the mysterious "Q Score," Billboard’s weekly music charts, and Nielsen TV ratings have served as accepted measures for the popularity of various media. However, those systems have become less relevant as media has diversified via the Internet, cellphones, and the like. For example, William Petersen (the older dude from CSI) has a higher Q Score than Will Smith and Tom Hanks. Does that really sound accurate?

Luckily the unstoppable information behemoths that rule the World Wide Web have entered the arena, bringing with them perhaps the most reliable measures of familiarity in the history of knowing things. Both Google and Facebook now offer searchable and well-organized lists of how often terms appear in their respective caches. Facebook’s Lexicon searches all of its users’ "Walls" and reports back the frequency with which someone has posted the search term. Google Trends works similarly, but tracks the number of times a particular term has been entered into Google’s search engine. It also counts the number of times the term has appeared in a news publication. Google has the obvious advantage over Facebook in that it has a larger data sample to work with. However, if one were looking to learn about a demographic that skews younger, Facebook Lexicon may be more reliable. Plus, you can have a lot of fun with it.

So, are the Beatles currently bigger than Jesus?

GT blue
GT blue The answer, overwhelmingly, is no. Sorry, John. However, Jesus does have the advantage of his name also being used as an expletive; I imagine many of the Facebook Wall occurrences have less to do with the man himself and are more along the lines of "Jesus, those 13 Mad Dogs sure got us naked and shameful quickly last night, LOLz!" Here are some more fun Google Trends and Facebook Lexicon graphs:

Note: Around Election Day, "Barack Obama" saw a huge spike, but apparently didn’t steal any of that traffic away from "Boobs," so apparently not voting didn’t interrupt anybody’s masturbation schedule.

Note: Joe Barbera, of Hannah-Barbera, died on December 19th, 2006.
Note: Feb. 7, 2006 is when the story broke about the offensive depiction of Muhammad in Dutch cartoons.







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