The Boston Globe’s Ideas section today features an updated version of my “X is the new Y” diagram. [Update: it's actually the front page feature of the Ideas section. Thanks to Kelly for the picture...]
Originally inspired by the LeisureArts chart from 2005, I decided to bring the idea up to date in September. Essentially, it’s a few pages of results from a Google search for “* is the new *” (and “* are the new *”). For this latest version I also added “+2007″ to the search term, so it picks up things that happened (or were at least written about) in 2007. I then ran the results through some basic text processing. “x is the new y” became “x -> y”. This happens to be the required syntax for Graphviz, which then automatically drew the directed graphs for me.
The search was a bit of a manual process, and I ended up doing additional searches in order to flesh out the diagram (oh.. pirates are the new ninjas.. I wonder what are the new pirates… I’ll search for “* are the new pirates”).
All of this is very similar to my first pass at this idea in September except this latest version, being 2007 specific, misses out more general links and includes culturally specific recent references such as the werewolves -> vampires -> zombies -> pirates -> ninjas chain (which I’m really happy about) as well as the iPhone and a few other recent highlights of this year.
Drake Bennett at the Boston Globe wrote a thoughtful piece about it.
If you want to know what happened in 2007, you could do worse than noting what it was that people decided was the new black, or the new oil, or the new golf.
Because it is so ubiquitous and so adaptable, because it so easily captures the human mind’s penchant for analogies, and because it is constantly rendering itself obsolete (what is the new iPhone? who is the new Amy Winehouse?), this off-the-shelf rhetorical device makes an ideal marker of a year’s conversational currents. The charts here are an unsystematic attempt, culled from Web searches, to trace the patterns that emerge.
Eventually, sapped by this sort of subversion, the phrase might have to give way to another equally handy one. What the new “new black” would be remains anyone’s guess.
The team at the Globe took my ugly diagrams, which looked like this…
…and turned them into something beautiful, like this…
If you don’t happen to get the dead-tree version, you can read the article on the Boston Globe site.
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