charismatic & television – ngrams

Last week I looked at the sudden rise of the word “charismatic” and this week I’ll look at a very fascinating correlation with that word. Possibly even something of a cause, or at least a facilitator of that sudden rise.

It’s a word we’ve also examined before: television.

As always, here’s an intro to Google’s ngram viewer if you are just joining us on this weekly series.

Without further adieu…


Both “charismatic” and “television” began their rise around the same time, and at about the same rate. This might be easy to dismiss as coincidence were it not for the fact that charismatics have made heavy use of television. After all, don’t we call some of them “tel-evangelists?” And charismatic political leaders – well, all political leaders, actually – seem to regularly find themselves in front of a camera.

Could it be that charismatics (both religious and political) have attained such levels of attention and sway in society because of the place of television in the lives of the general public? And if television were never invented, perhaps the face of religion and politics (among others) in society might be quite different.

This doesn’t seem far fetched to me. After all, television is inherently visual by its very nature. So those who provide the most visually engaging “performances” are the ones most likely to end up on television. It used to be that your audience was only as large as whichever venue you were in – stadium, gym, living room – but now your audience can be many magnitudes larger than whoever is physically present. Television provided a means by which one person, in one situation, could be exposed to millions of people at a time, which would create something of a snowball effect.

The charismatics are visually engaging, therefore they get on television. Because they are on television everybody knows about them and is talking about them. Because everybody knows about them, television producers are now even more motivated to put them on television. Think of the ratings!

And, of course, the copycats. Because everybody wants their 15 minutes. You put that all together and it seems plausible to me that the rise of charisma in our leaders might be due, in large part, to the omnipresent nature of television in society.

I wouldn’t consider that theory bullet proof, but I think there’s merit to it.