Low Concept

Hot Stuff

The results from Slate’s Google Trends contest.

Last month, we invited readers to take the Google Trends challenge: write a deadpan, Associated Press-style news item using as many Google “hot trends” as possible from the hour of their choice. The most popular search terms from the competitive time period included some easy-to-include headline events—the earthquake in Haiti, Apple’s iPad announcement, Barack Obama’s first State of the Union. Other briefly hot trends, though, presented more of a challenge: rhotacism (“several phenomena related to the usage of the consonant r,” says Wikipedia), which surfaced because of a Who Wants To Be a Millionaire question; Hawaii’s Aqua Aloha Surf and Spa; naked photographs of Jersey Shore’s Jenni “J-WOWW” Farley, rumored to be shopped around to gossip mags.

Some of you managed to combine these disparate elements elegantly. Others did not. We’ll start with those.

Granted, it wasn’t easy to make a cohesive story line out of amaryllis flowers, the death of 6-year-old Rihanna fan Jasmina Anema, and offensive lineman Shon Coleman’s decision to sign with Auburn instead of Alabama. But anyone who artlessly attempted to work in “Challenger explosion”—a trend from Feb. 4, the anniversary of the disaster—as a simile or metaphor was automatically disqualified: “This hit me like the space shuttle Challenger explosion.” “This will be as huge as the Challenger explosion.” “He went off like the Challenger explosion.” “This is the worst thing that’s happened to me since the Challenger explosion.” Bad form.

Perhaps the easiest way besides naked pictures—I’m looking at you, Jenny Farley and Greg Oden—for a celebrity to make her name burn up Google Trends is to die. J.D. Salinger and Howard Zinn both passed away during our contest. Some submissions handled these passings quite well; others chose to simply put words in the mouths of these late, great men. This entry was off to a good start—until Zinn showed up looking surprisingly animated:

The annual State of the Union address, President Obama’s first, led to a creative GOP response this Wednesday evening. The governor of Virginia, Bob McDonnell, focused his talk on the newly-released iPad as a metaphor, alternately for Mr. Obama’s new economic plan and his wife, Maureen McDonnell. “It’s expensive, unrealistic, and comes with a lot of hidden defects,” he told the small crowd, which included his five children and Howard Zinn. After the speech, Mr. Zinn railed fiercely against the governor’s policy goals. But he reluctantly admitted that they had some common ground: “the new iPad *is* a disappointment.”

Other entries, however, spun surprisingly realistic tales. This well-crafted entry from Andrew, which included 15 of the hour’s 20 trends, is framed as an obituary for Salinger, taking advantage of the fact that so many of the day’s trends focused on the Catcher in the Rye author’s work and life:

Author J.D. Salinger died on Thursday at 91 in his home in Cornish, NH. His book “Catcher in the Rye,” and stories such as “A Perfect Day for Bananfish,” “Franny and Zooey,” and “Raise High the Roof Beam Carpenters,” have already been the subject of an intense bidding war for film rights with Miramax taking the lead and an open casting call for the part of Holden Caulfied scheduled for this spring. Margaret Salinger has not ruled out the possibility of sullying her father’s legacy by making his beloved and sacrosanct fiction into major motion pictures. One of Salinger’s quotes, “It was a very stupid thing to do, I’ll admit, but I hardly didn’t even know I was doing it,” represented Ms. Salinger’s equivocation over the future of her late father’s work. Salinger’s former lover, Joyce Maynard has vehemently opposed any filmic representation.Miramax is also in talks with the family of the late Howard Zinn to create a left-leaning documentary based on his last book to be posthumously published under the name “Wall Street 2,” the book is an examination of the financial crisis from a dialectical materialistic standpoint. In the book, Dr. Zinn is expected to be especially critical of Fed chairman Ben Bernanke whose reconfirmation vote he opposed. Zinn, who died after an accident in one of the Toyota models affected by the recent recall, was eulogized by consumer advocate Ralph Nader who called Toyotas, “Unsafe at any speed.”

Among the submissions that created an entirely fictional news story, Mike’s about a war between Virginia and Louisiana—started because of the states’ governors’ disagreement about whether the iPad failed to live up to the hype—was the most entertaining:

When Virginia Governor Bob Mcdonnell voiced, “I vote the iPad a disappointment, plain and simple,” it elicited a response from Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal no one could have expected; a shooting war between the two states.It is now apparent that this war has been brewing for some time with sleeper agents in area high schools in both states. Pro-Apple Louisiana transfer students have been detected in Virginia’s Boyertown Area School District and Valley Central School District. Vice versa, Pro-Microsoft Virginia transfer students have been detected in Louisiana’s Daniel Boone School District. …One Virginia Guardsmen told this reporter, “It’s a tough call knowing who to shoot. Basically, if they look too cool we figure they’re using an iPhone and are Pro-Apple Louisiana murdering [profanities] and we light ‘em up.”

Reader James chose to take a more analytical approach and managed to work in 20 trends:

Obama State of the Union Reveals Choice as The Key Issue for Modern Black MenWhile conservative pundits will be fact checking the state of the union, it goes without saying that a number of left-leaning politicos are so turned off they are busying themselves with tit-for-tat info about Robert Schimmel’s Wife. All things considered, it looks to be a better day for Obama in Tampa than it certainly does for Bob Schimmel. Or Melissa Schimmel for that matter.Pundits agreed that Obama’s speech represented an interesting cross-roads for the typical perception of the African American male. While Greg Oden Dirty Pictures may certainly capture attention on the blogs, traditional media was focused entirely on Obama. The response was so strong that Chris Matthews forgot he was black. Obama strives to transcend race, and he did it last night, if the Washington insiders are to be believed.

Our winner, hands down, was Stephen Michalowicz, who called out us—and the rest of the media—with this entry:

What do Deuce Bello, Samantha Harris, Pat Ryan, Myron Rolle, Kimmie Caracoles, Bobby Jindal, James O. Keefe, Morgan Harrington, Devan Downey, and Erica Rhodes have in common? Absolutely nothing—except for the fact that they’ve all been featured this week, at one time or another, on Google Trends, and they were all heavily tweeted topics. …[I]s this dependence on trending topics making news organizations lazy? Yes, Bob McDonnell, the governor of Virginia, may be a trending topic because he held his own pseudo-State of the Union address, but that doesn’t mean that news organizations need to write a dozen stories about it when one will do. Ditto John Boehner’s comments on Obama’s proposed Pay as You Go Law, and first Jackson Jeffcoat, and then Jordan Hick’s announcement that they’re both heading to Texas. Only one story would have been necessary.

Congratulations, Stephen: You have won eternal Google glory, even though you kind of cheated by stringing all those terms together. Who knows—you might even make it into Google Trends. Naked photos would help.

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