The 'People Map of the United States' zooms in on America's obsession with celebrity
- Replace city names with those of their most famous residents and you get a peculiar map of America's obsession with celebrity.
- The multitalented Dwayne Johnson, boxing legend Muhammad Ali and Apple co-founder Steve Jobs dominate the West Coast.
- If you seek fame, become an actor, musician or athlete rather than a politician, entrepreneur or scientist.
Chicagoland is Obamaland
Chicagoland's celebrity constellation is dominated by Barack, but with plenty of room for the Belushis, Brandos and Capones of this world.
Image: The Pudding
Seen from among the satellites, this map of the United States is populated by a remarkably diverse bunch of athletes, entertainers, entrepreneurs and other persons of repute (and disrepute).
The multitalented Dwayne Johnson, boxing legend Muhammad Ali and Apple co-founder Steve Jobs dominate the West Coast. Right down the middle, we find actors Chris Pratt and Jason Momoa, singer Elvis Presley and basketball player Shaquille O'Neal. The East Coast crew include wrestler John Cena, whistle-blower Edward Snowden, mass murderer Ted Bundy… and Dwayne Johnson, again.
The Rock pops up in both Hayward, CA and Southwest Ranches, FL, but he's not the only one to appear twice on the map. Wild West legend Wyatt Earp makes an appearance in both Deadwood, SD, and Dodge City, KS.
How is that? This 'People's Map of the United States' replaces the names of cities with those of "their most Wikipedia'ed resident: people born in, lived in, or connected to a place."
Zoom in on the map to find your city.
‘Cincinnati, Birthplace of Charles Manson'
Keys to the city, or lock 'em up and throw away the key? A city's most famous sons and daughters of a city aren't always the most favored ones.
Image: The Pudding
That definition allows people to appear in more than one locality. Dwayne Johnson was born in Hayward, has one of his houses in Southwest Ranches, and is famous enough to be the 'most Wikipedia'ed resident' for both localities.
Wyatt Earp was born in Monmouth, IL, but his reputation is closely associated with both Deadwood and Dodge City – although he's most famous for the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, which took place in Tombstone, AZ. And yes, if you zoom in on that town in southern Arizona, there's Mr Earp again.
The data for this map was collected via the Wikipedia API (application programming interface) from the English-language Wikipedia for the period from July 2015 to May 2019.
The thousands of 'Notable People' sections in Wikipedia entries for cities and other places in the U.S. were scrubbed for the person with the most pageviews. No distinction was made between places of birth, residence or death. As the developers note, "people can 'be from' multiple places".
Pageviews are an impartial indicator of interest – it doesn't matter whether your claim to fame is horrific or honorific. As a result, this map provides a non-judgmental overview of America's obsession with celebrity.
Royals and (other) mortals
There's also a UK version of the People Map – filled with last names like Neeson, Sheeran, Darwin and Churchill – and a few first names of monarchs.
Image: The Pudding
Celebrity, it is often argued, is our age's version of the Greek pantheon, populated by dozens of major gods and thousands of minor ones, each an example of behaviors to emulate or avoid. This constellation of stars, famous and infamous, is more than a map of names. It's a window into America's soul.
But don't let that put you off. Zooming in on the map is entertaining enough. Celebrities floating around in the ether are suddenly tied down to a pedestrian level, and to real geography. And it's fun to see the famous and the infamous rub shoulders, as it were.
Barack Obama owns Chicago, but the suburbs to the west of the city are dotted with a panoply of personalities, ranging from the criminal (Al Capone, Cicero) and the musical (John Prine, Maywood) to figures literary (Jonathan Franzen, Western Springs) and painterly (Ivan Albright, Warrenville), actorial (Harrison Ford, Park Ridge) and political (Eugene V. Debs, Elmhurst).
Freaks and angels
The People Map of the U.S. was inspired by the U.S.A. Song Map, substituting song titles for place names.
It would be interesting to compare 'the most Wikipedia'ed' sons and daughters of America's cities with the ones advertised at the city limits. When you're entering Aberdeen, WA, a sign invites you to 'come as you are', in homage to its most famous son, Kurt Cobain. It's a safe bet that Indian Hill, OH will make sure you know Neil Armstrong, first man on the Moon, was one of theirs. But it's highly unlikely that Cincinnati, a bit further south, will make any noise about Charles Manson, local boy done bad.
Inevitably, the map also reveals some bitterly ironic neighbors, such as Ishi, the last of the Yahi tribe, captured near Oroville, CA. He died in 1916 as "the last wild Indian in North America". The most 'pageviewed' resident of nearby Colusa, CA is Byron de la Beckwith, Jr., the white supremacist convicted for the murder of Civil Rights activist Medgar Evers.
As a sampling of America's interests, this map teaches that those aiming for fame would do better to become actors, musicians or athletes rather than politicians, entrepreneurs or scientists. But also that celebrity is not limited to the big city lights of LA or New York. Even in deepest Dakota or flattest Kansas, the footlights of fame will find you. Whether that's good or bad? The pageviews don't judge...
Although we know better intellectually, we treats celebrities as if they exist in a different realm. Is there an element of misplaced religion at work?
Our society reveres celebrities like gods, but if they are gods, jokes Columbia law professor Tim Wu, then they’re more like the Greek gods, who were hopelessly and petulantly flawed. Nobody as yet fully understands our culture’s obsession with the famous elites among us, but for Wu, the most compelling ideas so far are those that compare celebrity worship to our inherent instinct to look for things that transcend the normal, that hints at life on a different plane. Does going into a two-hour scroll saga through an actor or sport star’s Instagram reflect a religious, seeking impulse within us? "There’s something to those theories," Wu says, "because I just can’t really understand it otherwise." Tim Wu’s most recent book is The Attention Merchants: The Epic Scramble to Get Inside Our Heads.
Tim Wu’s most recent book is The Attention Merchants: The Epic Scramble to Get Inside Our Heads.
A rash of teen idols, singers, actors, and actresses have all come out recently detailing their struggles.
Few things in our society are stigmatized quite like mental illness. Most people try to hide it or manage it on their own. Few seek help. But it is exceedingly common. Nearly one in five Americans – 42.5 million adults – wrestles with it. Worldwide one in four, or 450 million people, suffer with some sort of psychological issue.
Everyone has their own problems of course, both physical and psychological, to one degree or another. Yet, as humans, our high regard for the brain, intellect, and stability make mental illness seem more shocking and less acceptable. Perhaps for certain societies, it harks back to the idea that those with mental illness are possessed by an evil spirt or even satan. With the advent of science, mental illness became seen as a personal failing rather than a spiritual one.
Though seeking treatment may be more acceptable now, the issue of mental illness itself is more pressing today than it has been in decades. The teen suicide rate for instance rose 25% between 1999 and 2014, after a steady downward trend through the '80s and '90s. Today, girls are particularly prone. But it isn’t just teens. Every adult age group under age 75 has seen a significant increase in its suicide rate. The numbers are even more disturbing if we consider that far more attempt the act than accomplish it.
One thing that captures our imagination is celebrities. Whether splashed across magazine covers or TV and movie screens, celebrities are the royalty of the modern era. They’ve reached almost godlike status. Outbursts and jaunts with mental illness and substance abuse among them is certainly nothing new. But today, more and more are speaking out about living with a psychological disorder in a deeply personal way, and experts wonder if this might not make a more substantial impression and so lessen the stigma.
Teen idol Selena Gomez recently opened up about her struggles with anxiety and depression at the American Music Awards. After accepting hers for favorite female rock-pop artist, she said that along her journey, though she soon “had everything,” she often felt “absolutely broken inside.” Ms. Gomez drove herself hard so as to not disappoint her fans, but forgot to devote some energy to herself. Her advice: “If you are broken, you don’t have to stay broken.”
Selena Gomez recently spoke out about her struggles with anxiety and depression at the American Music Awards.
Gomez wasn’t the only celebrity popular among young people to open up. Justin Bieber, actress Rowan Blanchard, and model and actress Cara Delevingne have all recently revealed having depression. Singer and songwriter Halsey went one step further in an interview with Billboard about bipolar disorder. Adele similarly discussed her bout with postpartum depression with Vanity Fair. Bieber and Blanchard instead opened up via Instagram.
Other celebrities who have “come out” in this manner include JK Rowling, Brooke Shields, Glenn Close, and Lena Dunham, though in the case of Close, it was her sister she was supporting. Actress, singer, and songwriter Demi Lovato became so passionate about mental healthcare, that she is now the spokesperson for the, “Be Vocal: Speak Up for Mental Health” campaign. “If you know someone or if you’re dealing with it yourself, just know that it is possible to live well,” she told People. “I’m living proof of that.”
This isn’t occurring only amongst celebrity women. In Bruce Springsteen’s recent autobiography Born to Run, he talks about his lifelong battle with depression. African-American men, perhaps due to a macho streak, have culturally been one of the least likely to open up about certain struggles. But rapper Kid Cudi has gone against the grain. He recently discussed with fans on his Facebook page his decision to check into rehab for anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts. In the last several years, hip-hop has become more emotional.
Mental health issues are being treated differently by Hollywood nowadays too. It used to be that those with mental illness were depicted as raving lunatics, to be locked away in frightening, prison-like institutions. Today shows like FXX’s You’re the Worst and films such as Silver Linings Playbook show a more human side, with characters we relate to and feel for.
Hip-hop artist Kid Cudi recently opened up about his bouts with depression and thoughts of suicide.
So is this trend a case of celebrities leading the way, or is the stigma surrounding mental health issues beginning to recede? After all, in American society, acceptance of psychotherapy became far more widespread starting the 1960s, and Patty Duke arguably in the '80s was the first superstar to advocate for mental health. Harvard Square psychotherapist Melissa Kelly told the Boston Globe that this new celebrity trend is very helpful for those who are struggling, especially young people.
Even so, she has noticed that among millennials, opening up to each other about seeing a therapist and working on themselves is more acceptable. It is not seen as a failing of character, but merely a part of “self-care.” A recent Harris Poll backs this up. It found that among those ages 18 to 25, receiving mental healthcare is more acceptable than for older adults.
So is this a case of life reflecting art or the other way around? That might be hard to tease out. Even so, a stigma remains. But for someone with a serious disorder, such as depression, hearing that your favorite celebrity has suffered similar struggles and yet, still managed to make their dreams come true, can be incredibly heartening. It may even give them the motivation to seek help for themselves.
To learn more about the stigma surrounding mental illness, click here: