Rape culture v fathers’ rights

Google Ngram viewer

After some inspiration from a guy called Ben Schmidt – who is a historian who specialises in looking at the enormous data sets that have been created since the world started digitising its history, geography, literature and so on – I started exploring the Google Ngram Viewer.

You can see more about Ben’s work here – a more accurate description of the field is ‘digital humanities research’. You can also see a bit of wicked historical geography (or geographical history?) at Spacial Analysis blog. End of digression.

The dataset and the graphing tool available at Google Ngram Viewer represents a ‘big picture’ view of what we think and how we think, which is of course one of my smaller obsessions.

For example, in the gay marriage rights debate, it is often argued by conservatives that legalising gay marriage would mess with an ancient tradition. Yet I suspect that in the thousands of years of human history, most couples have got together, had children, built a house, got on with life and so on without it, so to make marriage sound ‘natural’ or a default position of any kind is not at all accurate. If I could just figure out two approximately equally important phrases that represent ‘married’ and ‘de facto’ (sic, de facto can refer to lots of things) over 200 years, I could do a graph of it right now.

Instead, I made one which compared the phrase ‘rape culture’ with ‘fathers’ rights’ from 1990 to 2000. And this is what it looks like:

To use a music metaphor, it looks like a jaunty little duet. It’s not even a fugue or a call-and-response. It’s two voices a third apart, rising and falling, but mostly rising. So I wondered if that was just a blip, and decided to try ‘rape culture’ against ‘female graduates’. That graph produces another duet, but this time a fifth apart:
There are no controls, so weighting, and absolutely nothing else to tell you that this is some legit piece of research that you should bring up in polite (or even drunken) conversation. However, we now have ways of testing our ideas about things and looking more clearly into the deep pool that is human (literate) culture. We should use it not only for advertising, but also to settle arguments about Downton Abbey.


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