A New Wing to Ben Greenman’s Museum of Silly Charts

My name is Ben Greenman and I will be your Chartist in Residence today.

I started posting charts at ILoveCharts sometime last year, when I was in the process of inventing them for a character for a forthcoming novel. Even though I finished that novel (coming next spring, Harper Perennial, the line forms at the register), I have kept posting charts at ILoveCharts because, as it turns out, I love them too. My charts have been called meta-charts or charts about charts, and that’s not entirely inaccurate. From the first, I didn’t quite trust traditional infographics; Jason Oberholzer gave me space to explore that distrust.

What is a graph, at root? It’s a way of reducing the world, via simple graphic language, to a comprehensible place. But what if the world stubbornly resists this reduction?

Jason also gave me the opportunity to stretch the idea of the graph format. The first graph I ever did for him, I think, was a Venn diagram that said “Diagrams” on one side and “Things That Venn Thought Of” on the other. The middle was blank. About a year later, I went back to the Venn to try to make sense of the most world-changing of modern inventions.

ILoveCharts is a great place to try out new ideas. Sometimes the first version hits the sweet spot; sometimes graphs need to be revised until they’re perfect.

And there were political moments, too. In the heat of the first wave of the Occupy movement, I produced this chart, which addressed the inherent unfairness of the alphabet. I passed it out around New York City. Some people took it with a grain of salt; others, with an entire shaker.

Salt, of course, was the source of one of the pieces I created for ILoveCharts that wasn’t exactly a chart. It’s in the book, so I won’t reprint it here. I will only remind you to go out and buy the book, so that you can experience the glory of the chart form in all its rational, irrational, sensible, senseless glory.

Oh, one more thing. Since these graphs posted this morning, I have received some feedback. Some of it has been nice (thank you). Some has been too nice (no thank you, I am married, and besides, I am not sure I know what a “Panamanian Backflip” is, though it sounds exciting). Some has been negative. One man wrote to complain specifically about the height graph, and to point out several logical flaws that he believes undermine its premise. “I’m sure that what you were going for was a kind of recursive comedy,” he said, correctly. “But I can think of at least ten ways to do it better than that.” Perhaps, but he furnished zero, even when I replied to his message. Maybe the rest of you can make good on his presumption.

Look at the graph above. Try to think of a better title—by better, I mean funnier, cleverer, brain-twistinger. The graph will not change—you just have to think of a title. Write it in the comments or send it here. The reader who submits the best one, as judged by me — and, by extension, by the guy who hates my graphs—will win a copy of the I Love Charts book.