Random AsidesSkepticism

Bad Chart Thursday: “Gangnam Style” Video Slightly Delays Doomsday

Tuesday’s daily chart over at The Economist demonstrates the horrible price we pay globally by collectively watching “Gangnam Style” more than 2 billion times on YouTube.

Assuming that each click meant that the viewer watched the full length of the video, the authors calculate that we have spent a total of 140 million “man” hours globally watching Korean pop star PSY’s invisible horse dance. They then wax on about the lost opportunities for how we could have spent those collective 16,000 years, demonstrating their point with a chart comparing the hours spent building such things as the Empire State Building, the Great Pyramids, an aircraft carrier, and even Wikipedia.

Their point is chillingly clear. I for one can say with certainty that had my 7-year-old not watched that video, I would have pressed him into slave labor building a giant tomb for those 4 minutes. I mean, that goes without saying.

And everyone knows that skyscrapers are built by a series of Xtreme Temp workers who put in only minutes before moving on to their next job. Thank goodness every person who watched that video has training and experience in some aspect of building construction or that theory would totally fall apart.

But of course, I’m being too literal. Their point isn’t that we would have each individually done these specific things so much as that we could have achieved something, wherever our talents lie, with all that time “wasted” on entertainment, even if (perhaps especially if) that entertainment is a social commentary on class and the superficial illusions of “achievement,” specifically in the Gangnam district of South Korea.

At the heart of the Economist argument is the obvious assumption that MAN hours spent BUILDING things is more valuable than time spent enjoying art, perhaps especially pop art. Hours spent creating artwork or writing books or composing music are conspicuously absent from the GREAT ACHIEVEMENTS in their chart, but that’s okay, because Wikipedia has entries for all that.

The odds are pretty good that this daily chart article is tongue-in-cheek, but that doesn’t mean the authors haven’t unearthed the BIGGEST SECRET OF OUR TIME. It’s just not the secret they meant to reveal.

They are looking at the positive (albeit completely unrealistic) ways we could have used the time spent watching “Gangnam Style.” They neglect to consider that we also could have spent those 4 minutes and 12 seconds doing horrible things or being the victims of horrible events that might have collectively brought on the END OF DAYS.

Think of all the matches that went unstruck, and therefore all the accidental fires and arsons prevented by one music video, or delayed for 4 minutes, anyway.

Think of all the supervillains who did not eat kittens during those 4 minutes (probably).

Think of all the unsent rape and death threats, the missed assassination windows, the hacking that didn’t get done.

How many people left 4 minutes and 12 seconds late and thereby narrowly missed having a piano fall on top of them from an upper story window?

Even on a small scale, the cumulative effect of unstubbed toes, unbumped shins, unstepped on LEGO, missed appointments for a mullet haircut very likely prevented or delayed the “last straw” moments that could have collectively set the apocalypse in motion.

This chart shows only a small sampling of the negative events averted by watching “Gangnam Style.”


Or, of course, the most unlikely scenario of all: rather than achieving greatness or averting something horrible, the majority of us might have spent those 4-plus minutes watching another video on YouTube.

Melanie Mallon

Melanie is a freelance editor and writer living in a small town outside Minneapolis with her husband, two kids, dog, and two cats. When not making fun of bad charts or running the Uncensorship Project, she spends her time wrangling commas, making colon jokes, and putting out random dumpster fires. You can find her on Twitter as @MelMall, on Facebook, and on Instagram.

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  1. Their calculation of 140 million man-hours lost is so misleading. The same amount of lost productivity would have only cost 98 million woman-hours. #FeministMathJokes

  2. I’m going to sit here in quiet horror thinking of all the people who actually ate a kitten instead of watching Gangnam Style.

  3. Basically, they’re whining that we weren’t reading The Economist. Especially the ads.

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