OutbreakCoronavirus, COVID-19 and Chicago

Quarantine and Chill: What are People Searching for?

Analysis by Sophia Lackens |  @RedLineProject | Posted: Friday, May 22, 2020

In the height of uncertainty, where are Americans turning? Netflix.

Since the initial COVID-19 outbreak in the United States, Americans have been grappling with a new reality. Terms that were unheard of in January, such as “social distancing” or “shelter-in-place,” have stormed into the American consciousness. Students have been displaced from their schools. Non-essential employees have transitioned to working from home.

Our daily lives have massively shifted to accommodate the mandates of politicians and the recommendations of physicians. In the height of uncertainty, where are Americans turning?


According to an analysis of Google search data on Google Trends, “Netflix” has been searched more than “CNN” or “Fox News” since shelter-in-place orders began taking effect in March. Rather than seeking out the latest updates from their preferred news outlet, Americans are cozying up with a nice distraction on Netflix. Since March 20, searches for the news outlets have steadily declined while searches for “Netflix” have continued to peak every weekend.

A single Netflix series stands out among the rest as the true savior of the American public during these trying times: Tiger King, a docuseries about the life of zookeeper and exotic animal owner Joe Exotic has captivated the country. The series follows the life of Exotic prior to his arrest. The country’s love for the show was immediately apparent.

Based on an analysis of Google search data from Google Trends, both Joe Exotic and President Donald Trump have been searched frequently throughout quarantine.

In general, “Donald Trump” has been searched more throughout this time period; however, in weeks following the release of Tiger King on March 20, “Joe Exotic” took the lead. Joe Exotic stayed on top from March 26 until April 12, peaking on March 29. Searches for Donald Trump have remained relatively stable with the largest peak on March 13 (the day the president declared a national emergency) and a smaller peak on April 24 (the day of the White House Coronavirus Task Force briefing).

Chart: Joe Exotic vs. Donald Trump

Some fear that America’s fixation on Tiger King is a sign of a long future for celebrity politics, citing Exotic’s 2016 presidential campaign as evidence. Perhaps, a more accurate understanding of this cultural phenomenon is that politics takes place whenever and wherever we are watching.

What we choose to pay attention to is inherently political; we are choosing to give our time and energy to one thing over another. Exotic’s legal team has capitalized on this by using their platform to lobby for a presidential pardon. (Maybe they would have more luck if he had attempted to sell a senate seat instead of attempting murder.) Exotic’s team has created a petition and chartered a bus to D.C. to help the cause.

While the future remains uncertain in terms of Joe Exotic’s prison sentence, politics, and the pandemic, we can always rely on entertainers and artists to offer us a distraction in challenging times.

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