Copyright 2002 PBI Media, LLC

[ January 14th 2002 ]

The Eyeball guesses that Americans will never become fully comfortable with the Internet. This medium is just too explicit and unbounded. Unlike film, TV, magazines or books, where one must make a special effort to encounter weird, offensive or troubling material, here it is a click away, or sometimes in an unwanted pop-up box.

Whether it is porn, fascist claptrap, or even strange hobbies and tastes that veer into fetishism, the Web makes more explicit our secret yearnings. To wit, the year-end reports from the major portals about the most popular searches of 2001 is an invaluable guide through the funhouse that is the American id, the stuff we crave when no one is watching.

Editors who aren't monitoring the Lycos 50 and Google's Zeitgeist pages are missing out on boatloads of offbeat topical story ideas. What the hell is "Loft Story," you might ask, and why is it among the fastest growing search queries of last year? It is a French reality-TV show (a la "Big Brother") that elicited raucous protests in the streets. The French, who have little trouble tolerating rogue nations, bad manners and brie, apparently draw the line at, of all things, voyeurism. Didn't they invent the word?

It is worth noting that despite the best efforts of big media, people use the Web to explore other media in a more critical fashion. We're not just chasing trends online but experimenting with whether we want to jump on bandwagons. For instance, Web search success does not translate into offline success necessarily. The frequent searching for film titles like "Pearl Harbor," "Moulin Rouge," and "Tomb Raider" probably helped many people decide not to see those films.

Google's top women and men lists are a stunning study in contrasts. Britney, Pam, Jennifer, and Madonna dominate a Google roster that seems to have been cooked up in a frat house. There is nominally good news on the magazine front, however. The Lycos list somehow manages to fit Martha Stewart and Oprah into its top women (nine and 11, respectively). Which begs the question: is it scarier that American men fall for the trashy sexuality of Britney and Pam or that they find Martha and Oprah kinda hot?

Meanwhile, the men's list is topped by a long-dead kook (Nostradamus), a maniacal mass murderer (Bin Laden), and a foul-mouthed misogynist/racist/ homophobe (Eminem). In fact, unless you count Michael Jordan, who probably is being searched more by male fans than horny women, there isn't a hunk to be found in the top ten. This makes the Eyeball rethink his rock hard abs program. What's the point in a world where Michael Jackson, whose true physical and sexual composition remains elusive, is the fourth most searched male on the Web?

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