Menus Subscribe Search

Follow us


jagger

The Rolling Stones in concert at RFK stadium during the Voodoo Lounge Tour in Washington, D.C. (PHOTO: NORTHFOTO/SHUTTERSTOCK)

Fame, Once Established, Is Not Fleeting

• May 02, 2013 • 8:00 AM

The Rolling Stones in concert at RFK stadium during the Voodoo Lounge Tour in Washington, D.C. (PHOTO: NORTHFOTO/SHUTTERSTOCK)

New research finds that celebrity status is surprisingly stable over time.

According to artist Andy Warhol’s much-quoted prophecy, in the future, everyone will be world famous for 15 minutes.

In fact, it’s more likely that 0.15 percent of us will have fame for a lifetime.

Newly published research concludes that, contrary to Warhol’s prediction, genuine celebrity status does not disappear as quickly as it appeared. Once you become famous, you tend to stay famous.

“Fame exhibits strong continuity even in entertainment, on television, and on blogs, where it has been thought to be most ephemeral,” writes a research team led by Stony Brook University sociologist Arnout van de Rijt. Its analysis finds fleeting celebrity status occurs “only at the bottom of the public-attention hierarchy.”

New research concludes that, contrary to Warhol’s prediction, genuine celebrity status does not disappear as quickly as it appeared.

The study, published in the American Sociological Review, utilizes data from more than 2,200 news sources collected since November 2004. Most were American, but some major foreign outlets such as London’s Guardian were included. The sources range “from reputable journals with nationwide circulation to college newspapers to fashion magazines to TV stations’ websites,” the researchers note. Archival data going as far back as the 1980s was also obtained from 13 newspapers, including The New York Times.

An analysis of which names pop up in the selected sources most often found that, contrary to the cliché, “fame has low turnover, except at minimal levels of public attention.”

“Even in areas of social life where occupational success is most determined by trends, hypes, and consumer taste, and less by formal positions of public prominence—that is, entertainment, arts, and fashion—there appears to exist a similar degree of annual stability in the ranks of the celebrated,” the researchers write.

Even on blogs and television station websites, they write, public attention “tends to be brief only when it is of small magnitude”—say, when an otherwise unremarkable person witnesses a tragedy and describes his or her experience. That sort of “ephemeral fame” is “passive and limited to the respective event,” according to the study.

But for the truly famous, celebrity status “is long-lasting and is not constrained by a limited public attention span,” the researchers add. “The events in which these people are involved are almost automatically of interest, and the attention they attract further increases interest, turning their name into a brand.”

The data suggests that people can move from the fleeting category of fame to the stable level, but not the other way.

“When a previously unknown individual is involved in an event that triggers a large and long enough public conversation, or reserves a place in a series of follow-up events, the name locks in,” the researchers write. “Enough people now recognize the name for an audience to desire it, or find it natural to hear more about the person.” The media feeds that desire, perpetuating the person’s fame.

To cite one of their examples, Mike Huckabee ran for president in 2008 and was briefly the subject of intense media coverage. But rather than ending with his unsuccessful campaign, his celebrity status solidified, to the point where people still know his name.

So, to truly understand the nature of celebrity status, perhaps a different Warhol analogy is in order. Fame, once established, is like a can of Campbell’s soup: It’s perpetually recognizable, and it remains on the shelf for a long, long time.

Tom Jacobs
Staff writer Tom Jacobs is a veteran journalist with more than 20 years experience at daily newspapers. He has served as a staff writer for The Los Angeles Daily News and the Santa Barbara News-Press. His work has also appeared in The Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, and Ventura County Star.

More From Tom Jacobs

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

December 19 • 4:00 PM

How a Drug Policy Reform Organization Thinks of the Children

This valuable, newly updated resource for parents is based in the real world.


December 19 • 2:00 PM

Where Did the Ouija Board Come From?

It wasn’t just a toy.


December 19 • 12:00 PM

Social Scientists Can Do More to Eradicate Racial Oppression

Using our knowledge of social systems, all social scientists—black or white, race scholar or not—have an opportunity to challenge white privilege.


December 19 • 10:17 AM

How Scientists Contribute to Bad Science Reporting

By not taking university press officers and research press releases seriously, scientists are often complicit in the media falsehoods they so often deride.


December 19 • 10:00 AM

Pentecostalism in West Africa: A Boon or Barrier to Disease?

How has Ghana stayed Ebola-free despite being at high risk for infection? A look at their American-style Pentecostalism, a religion that threatens to do more harm than good.


December 19 • 8:00 AM

Don’t Text and Drive—Especially If You’re Old

A new study shows that texting while driving becomes even more dangerous with age.


December 19 • 6:12 AM

All That ‘Call of Duty’ With Your Friends Has Not Made You a More Violent Person

But all that solo Call of Duty has.


December 19 • 4:00 AM

Food for Thought: WIC Works

New research finds participation in the federal WIC program, which subsidizes healthy foods for young children, is linked with stronger cognitive development and higher test scores.


December 18 • 4:00 PM

How I Navigated Life as a Newly Sober Mom

Saying “no” to my kids was harder than saying “no” to alcohol. But for their sake and mine, I had to learn to put myself first sometimes.


December 18 • 2:00 PM

Women in Apocalyptic Fiction Shaving Their Armpits

Because our interest in realism apparently only goes so far.


December 18 • 12:00 PM

The Paradox of Choice, 10 Years Later

Paul Hiebert talks to psychologist Barry Schwartz about how modern trends—social media, FOMO, customer review sites—fit in with arguments he made a decade ago in his highly influential book, The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less.


December 18 • 10:00 AM

What It’s Like to Spend a Few Hours in the Church of Scientology

Wrestling with thetans, attempting to unlock a memory bank, and a personality test seemingly aimed at people with depression. This is Scientology’s “dissemination drill” for potential new members.


December 18 • 8:00 AM

Gendering #BlackLivesMatter: A Feminist Perspective

Black men are stereotyped as violent, while black women are rendered invisible. Here’s why the gendering of black lives matters.


December 18 • 7:06 AM

Apparently You Can Bring Your Religion to Work

New research says offices that encourage talk of religion actually make for happier workplaces.


December 18 • 6:00 AM

The Very Weak and Complicated Links Between Mental Illness and Gun Violence

Vanderbilt University’s Jonathan Metzl and Kenneth MacLeish address our anxieties and correct our assumptions.


December 18 • 4:00 AM

Should Movies Be Rated RD for Reckless Driving?

A new study finds a link between watching films featuring reckless driving and engaging in similar behavior years later.


December 17 • 4:00 PM

How to Run a Drug Dealing Network in Prison

People tend not to hear about the prison drug dealing operations that succeed. Substance.com asks a veteran of the game to explain his system.


December 17 • 2:00 PM

Gender Segregation of Toys Is on the Rise

Charting the use of “toys for boys” and “toys for girls” in American English.


December 17 • 12:41 PM

Why the College Football Playoff Is Terrible But Better Than Before

The sample size is still embarrassingly small, but at least there’s less room for the availability cascade.


December 17 • 11:06 AM

Canadian Kids Have a Serious Smoking Problem

Bootleg cigarette sales could be leading Canadian teens to more serious drugs, a recent study finds.


December 17 • 10:37 AM

A Public Lynching in Sproul Plaza

When photographs of lynching victims showed up on a hallowed site of democracy in action, a provocation was issued—but to whom, by whom, and why?


December 17 • 8:00 AM

What Was the Job?

This was the year the job broke, the year we accepted a re-interpretation of its fundamental bargain and bought in to the push to get us to all work for ourselves rather than each other.


December 17 • 6:00 AM

White Kids Will Be Kids

Even the “good” kids—bound for college, upwardly mobile—sometimes break the law. The difference? They don’t have much to fear. A professor of race and social movements reflects on her teenage years and faces some uncomfortable realities.



December 16 • 4:00 PM

How Fear of Occupy Wall Street Undermined the Red Cross’ Sandy Relief Effort

Red Cross responders say there was a ban on working with the widely praised Occupy Sandy relief group because it was seen as politically unpalatable.


Follow us


Don’t Text and Drive—Especially If You’re Old

A new study shows that texting while driving becomes even more dangerous with age.

Apparently You Can Bring Your Religion to Work

New research says offices that encourage talk of religion actually make for happier workplaces.

Canadian Kids Have a Serious Smoking Problem

Bootleg cigarette sales could be leading Canadian teens to more serious drugs, a recent study finds.

The Hidden Psychology of the Home Ref

That old myth of home field bias isn’t a myth at all; it’s a statistical fact.

The Big One

One in two United States senators and two in five House members who left office between 1998 and 2004 became lobbyists. November/December 2014

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.