'Big Data' and Film Preferences

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In 2017, the Oscars met “Big Data.” Google Trends has mapped out regional differences in film preferences. Any Internet User can now examine a film’s geo-social appeal and any geo-cultural differences. 

When someone talks about regional cultures, people tend to see the Blue-Red State divide. Color coded states reflect political choices, not cultural affinities. Mapping those affinities allows people to observe if, and how, those affinities differ from those choices.

Blue-State voters have been described as Coastal Cosmopolitans. They live in Central/South Florida, Hawaii, the Northeast, the West Coast, and parts of the Midwest. Red-State voters have been described as people from The Heartland. They live in Alaska, the Plains, the Rockies, and the South. 

Six Oscar nominees this year for best picture highlight this cultural clash. While three films have a conservative, cultural focus, three others have an Afro-centric focus.

 

Culturally Conservative Films

Two focus on masculinist issues: “Hacksaw Ridge” and “Hell and High Water.” The first concerns a WWII pacifist who proves his courage in that war. The second concerns white Texans driven to violence to stop foreclosure. The third film, “La La Land” focuses on romanticist issues. It concerns young het white artists and lovers trying to make it. Hollywood could have filmed any of these in the 50s, if not the 30s.

While the films with masculinist themes fit somewhat into the Blue-Red State divide, “La La Land” did not. The two masculinist films drew high interest from the Plains and Rockies, but less in the South. “Hell or High Water” drew some interest in Appalachia, Mississippi, and Texas. Outside of Texas and Appalachia, “Hacksaw Ridge” drew almost no interest in the South. Coastal Cosmopolitans showed great interest in “La La Land.” It also drew some interest from Texas and the Virginia/Carolina area.  

The South has distrusted Hollywood for a long time. Its failure to show much interest any Oscar nominee may reflect that distrust. The Plains and Rockies showed high interest in the masculinist films. This supports the argument that masculinist ideology partly drives GOP appeal.

Masculinist ideology refers to the values and beliefs that support patriarchy and romanticize violence. A key belief holds that force solves all problems. It has nothing to do with Leather.

 

Black Films

The Black films stress intersecting identities. “Hidden Figures” deals with Black women’s issues, “Moonlight” with Black gay male issues, and “Fences” with Black working class issues. Until recently, Hollywood failed to make any Black centric films.  

Only “Hidden Figures” and “Moonlight” interested people along the entire Atlantic coast. “Moonlight” has an unusual geographic spread. In the South, interest was greatest in the Atlanta-Washington DC corridor.  

Race could influence LGBT migration patterns. Some cities may be more attractive to certain racial groups than others are. LGBT Latinos may find bi-lingual Miami or Los Angeles more attractive than Anglo Seattle. If a “visible” LGBT group migrates in large numbers to an urban area, then their “admirers” will soon follow. This pull to Atlanta and Washington DC could explain the high levels of interest in “Moonlight” in these two cities.  

 

Method

When people search YouTube for a film’s trailers, it leaves a cyber trace. Google Trends (GT) counted those searches for Oscar nominees. Each film’s total counts represented a proportion of all YouTube views. This became the national baseline. 

For regional totals, GT repeated this process at the county level. This provided a county's proportion. GT then compared how the county proportion differed from the national proportion. GT left those counties with lower proportions than the U.S. baseline unshaded. GT shaded those with higher proportions various shades of blue.  

To view all Oscar maps, please visit https://googletrends.github.io/google_oscars/

Follow Sean McShee on Twitter @SeanMcShee


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