Race, Supreme Court, Hunger Games (March buzz)

Vera H-C Chan
March 31, 2012

The madness of March wasn't relegated to brackets, although there was plenty of insanity there. The GOP slugfest continued, even as former president George H.W. Bush, in his endorsement for Mitt Romney, made a bid for party unity. Madness erupted into rage over individual tragedies (Trayvon Martin in Florida, Oksana Makar in the Ukraine), and an acceptance to talk peace failed to stop the violence in Syria. In pop culture, madness paid out in a record box-office take for a movie with a female archer. Below, just a few things that consumed the masses online in March.

Those conversations about race
In 2008, presidential candidate Barack Obama electrified many with his speech, "A More Perfect Union," in response to critiques over his relationship with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Now, in the wake of the Trayvon Martin shootings, a freelance writer restarted a discussion in the Washington Post by suggesting that a conversation about race is actually harder with a black president in the Oval Office. (Meanwhile, an Arizona sheriff presses on about Obama's papers.)

There have been plenty of conversations—as well as bumper stickers, petition, rallies, and a hoodie march. The most notable is the controversy around the late 17-year-old Martin, as his parents and the father of George Zimmerman, the Florida neighborhood watch captain who claimed he shot in self-defense, took their battles to the media. Racial controversies surfaced in election strategy, as Newt Gingrich accused Obama of divisiveness when the president stated, "If I had a son, he would look like Trayvon." Forbes magazine had a conversation with Paula Smith, a Georgia woman who defended her bumper sticker "Don't Re-Nig 2012" as not racist. And plenty of fans of "The Hunger Games" came down hard on people offended by the casting of black actors, even though the characters are described as dark-skinned. Whether those conversations lead anywhere remains to be seen. As Obama said in 2008, "It's a racial stalemate we've been stuck in for years."

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Supreme health care reform
The circus of media coverage and protesters came to town, as nine black-robed justices sat for three days to grill lawyers over the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The hearing lasted just three days, long enough to combust a solicitor general's reputation, reintroduce "individual mandate" to the vernacular, and get people wondering about the link between interstate commerce and broccoli. A judicial decision won't be announced until late June. The chokeliterally a few coughs, some stammering, sips of water, and seeming hesitancegarnered searing critical reviews for Solicitor General Donald Verrilli's performance. The judges, though, were more focused on the limiting principle, individual mandate, and whether just pieces of the health care act could stand. The president signed the act in March 2010.

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Ravenous for "The Hunger Games"
The studio didn't want to admit it out loud, but tracking for "The Hunger Games"based on the 2008 dystopian young-adult trilogypromised that the March debut would be big. The box office backed up the numbers with a $152.5-million domestic take, behind only "Harry Potter" and "The Dark Knight." The film was among the first in 2012 to bring in decent reviews ("21 Jump Street" was another). Much of the praise centered on the performance of Jennifer Lawrence (a best-actress nominee for "Winter's Bone"), who should see a nice income for her archery heroism. Given her role as Mystique in another blockbuster franchise, "The X-Men," Lawrence may well rocket up in the Hollywood financial stratosphere. The movie's rating belied the violent theme of the book; the PG-13 made kids killing kids a family-friendly venture.

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Yahoo! March 2012 Web-Hot Searches

Search Terms with Significant Percentage Changes
  1. Trayvon Martin (off the charts). See above.
  2. Kony 2012 (off chart). A viral video calls attention to the Ugandan warlord and the documentarian has a psychotic incident.
  3. George Zimmerman (off the charts). See above.
  4. Best Buy Closings (off the charts). The electronic chain will close some stores and downsize others.
  5. NCAA Brackets 2012 (+84,776%). Maddening.
  6. Erika Van Pelt (+84,776%). The first of the "American Idol" top 10 to be voted off.
  7. Willem Dafoe (+59,866%). The busy actor stars in "4:44 Last Day on Earth" and the upcoming "The Hunter." No need to mention "John Carter."
  8. 336 Million Powerball (+46,011%). $36 mil, what, is that all?
  9. Spring Equinox (+44,467%). Follows a record warm winter, but tornadoes and pollen at an all-time high.
  10. Whitney Houston Will (+20,694%). The late singer, who died of accidental drowning likely triggered by heart disease and cocaine left all to daughter Bobbi Kristina.
Biggest Search Terms
  1. Mega Millions
  2. Kim Kardashian
  3. The Hunger Games
  4. Lindsay Lohan
  5. Miley Cyrus
  6. Bristol Palin
  8. NCAA Brackets
  9. American Idol
  10. Jennifer Lawrence