Hey, Google Images: When Did ‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ Win a Pulitzer?


In a Google Images search for Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalism we were a little surprised to find the first result: “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.”

Not that Tobe Hooper’s 1974 indie horror film isn’t worthy of some kind of award for dramatic photography. (Only an unflinching cameraman is brave enough stare down a chainsaw wielding Leatherface.) So how did an early harbinger to the slasher film genre end up mixed in with some of the nation’s most distinguished hard-news war photography like “Napalm Girl (Phan Thị Kim Phúc)” and “Saigon Execution (Nguyễn Văn Lém)?”

Blame the Google Images algorithm for being unable to discern fact from fiction.

Earlier this week, the search engine giant unveiled a redesigned version of Google Images to no small amount of controversy from the online publishing community. While earlier iterations of the tool required users to click through thumbnails to view larger images on publisher sites, now users can view and download images without ever leaving the Google URL. Google’s removal of a direct source of traffic, and the publisher ads associated with those images, is clearly not designed to help the mission of online publishers. (A bit chintzy when the company also claimed Google Images clocks one billion page views a day.)

In light of Google’s Images overhaul, it’s highly likely that algo tweaks and refinements are underway. This may clean up issues like, you know, mixing up a campy horror film with distinguished examples of battle zone photojournalism filed from the frontlines.

Triggering the absurd search returns is an AMC TV blog post about Tracy Letts, a Pulitzer Prize winning playwright, who cites “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” as his all-time favorite movie. The headline on AMC’s blog post, “Pulitzer Prize Winner Tracy Letts on The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, “Poorly Acted, Poorly Directed …. Genius,” is apparently cueing Google’s Images algo brain to “think” the AMC TV post is about a Pulitzer Prize Winner — and it’s right. Google subsequently crawled the post’s main image, a movie production still featuring fictional Wisconsin serial killer Ed Gein, and associated it with the dominant keyword phrase “Pulitzer Prize Winner.” Therein lies a source of confusion.

Which leads us to a related question.

Why is “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” the penultimate movie for Letts, the prize-winning dramaturg behind “August: Osage County.

“At first glance, it’s the most poorly acted, poorly directed, and poorly written movie on my list, but therein lies its genius,” explains Letts. “Chainsaw feels utterly authentic. One can easily believe it’s the work of madmen (as opposed to the many great auteurs present elsewhere in my list). Therefore, there is no net, no safety valve, no escape — truly anything can happen.”

At least until someone calls, “Lunch!”

Unless of course, the chainsaw wielding killer and his family of grave-robbing cannibals are … real.

Sheigh Crabtree

Follow Sheigh on Twitter: @Sheigh

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