Miley Cyrus, Marc Chagall, and 39 other topics that distracted us—at least briefly—from the election this year.

Arts, entertainment, and more.
Dec. 26 2008 11:17 AM

Who Says Obama Was the Story of the Year?

Miley Cyrus, Marc Chagall, and 39 other topics that distracted us—at least briefly—from the election.

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Dancing With the Stars (season finale, May 22).
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Lost (season finale, May 29): The enigmatic ABC show occasionally crested above the candidates throughout the fourth season, though the numbers are somewhat inflated by searches for the (unrelated) video game Lost Odyssey. The jump in searches after the season finale is unmistakably attributable to the show.
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Sex and the City (film released May 30).
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Sydney Pollack (died May 26).
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Harry Potter (actor killed May 24): Robert Knox, who played the character Marcus Belby in the sixth Harry Potter movie, was stabbed in a fight.
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June
George Carlin
(died June 22).
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The Happening (released June 13).
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CampRock (released June 20): The Disney original movie upset Obama's figures during the lull after the end of the Democratic primary.
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Wanted (released June 27): The unwatchable Angelina Jolie thriller crested above Obama during a slow stretch in the campaign. (Note: While wanted is a fairly generic word, other terms in the queries, like review and angelina jolie, suggest the majority of the searches were for the movie.)
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July
Hancock (released July 2).
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The Bachelorette (season finale, July 7).
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Marc Chagall (born July 7, 1887): Huh? Why would the Russian-born modernist artist, who died in 1985, skyrocket to astronomical heights—we're talking Sarah Palin magnitudes—for one day on his 121st birthday? A LexisNexis search for Chagall in early July turned up nothing remarkable, though Chagall also shows up on Nielsen's BlogPulse rankings for rising stars in the blogosphere on that day. Mystery solved: That day, Google displayed a Chagall-style version of its logo on its homepage, which was hyperlinked to a search for Chagall's name. (See more of Google's specialized logos here.) Alexander Graham Bell enjoyed a similar surge in March when Google gave him the same treatment, as did Diego Velázquez in August.
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The Dark Knight (released July 18): The sequel to Batman Begins steamrolled over political searches for nine days in July, surpassing Obama a day before the movie was released. Several of the stars in the movie, such as Christian Bale and Heath Ledger, rode the wave of interest ahead of Obama for a day or two.
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Harry Potter (trailers released): The boy wizard spiked twice in July on the releases of trailers and other news from the forthcoming sixth movie.
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August
Morgan Freeman
(car accident, Aug. 3).
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Bernie Mac (died Aug. 9): Bernie Mac's death at age 50 generated about as much search interest as George Carlin's, though for slightly longer. Mac's death even topped interest in the conventions.
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Isaac Hayes (died Aug. 10).
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Bigfoot (discovered Aug. 15): Two Georgia men who claimed to have found a Bigfoot corpse generated about as much traffic as Obama did on the first day of the Democratic convention a week later.
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September
Travis Barker
(plane crash, Sept. 19).
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October
Jennifer Hudson
(relatives murdered Oct. 24).
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Saturday Night Live (Palin appears Oct. 18): After the sketch show's mock vice-presidential debate on Oct. 4 and the real Palin's SNL appearance two weeks later, searches for it outranked searches for the candidate herself.
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Honorable mentions
Stonewall Jackson
(discussed on Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader Jan. 11): The Confederate general very nearly unseated Barack Obama after Access Hollywood host Billy Bush—a first cousin of the president—incorrectly guessed Jackson's given first name during an appearance on Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader? Bush guessed "Andrew." Many searchers appeared to be looking up the answer themselves, adding the word name to their queries. The correct answer is Thomas.
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Kristin Davis (sex tape leaked March 18): If images from your sex tape must be leaked, take a cue from Davis on timing: Obama gave his acclaimed speech on race relations the same day her tape was released. Searches for Kristin Davis, who played the wholesome Charlotte on Sex and the City,didn't top searches for Obama but still outnumbered those for Clinton and McCain.
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Chris Wilson is a Slate contributor.