Menus Subscribe Search
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

July 29 • 4:00 PM

Are Children Seeking Refuge Turning More Americans Against Undocumented Immigrants?

A look at Pew Research Center survey data collected in February and July of this year.


July 29 • 2:00 PM

Under Water: The EPA’s Ongoing Struggle to Combat Pollution

Frustration and inaction color efforts to enforce the Clean Water Act.


July 29 • 12:40 PM

America’s Streams Are Awash With Pesticides Banned in Europe

You may have never heard of clothianidin, but it’s probably in your local river.


July 29 • 12:00 PM

Mining Your Genetic Data for Profit: The Dark Side of Biobanking

One woman’s personal story raises deep questions about the stark limits of current controls in a nascent industry at the very edge of the frontier of humans and technology.


July 29 • 11:23 AM

Where Should You Go to College?


July 29 • 10:29 AM

How Textbooks Have Changed the Face of War

War is more personal, less glorious, and more hellish in modern textbooks than in the past. But there’s still room for improvement.


July 29 • 10:00 AM

The Monolingual American: Why Are Those Outside of the U.S. Encouraging It?

If you are an American trying to learn German in a large German town or city, you will mostly hear English in return, even when you give sprechen your best shot.


July 29 • 8:00 AM

The Elusive Link Between Casinos and Crime

With a study of the impact of Philadelphia’s SugarHouse Casino, a heated debate gets fresh ammunition.


July 29 • 6:00 AM

What Are the Benefits of Locking Yourself in a Tank and Floating in Room-Temperature Saltwater?

After three sessions in an isolation tank, the answer’s still not quite clear.


July 29 • 4:00 AM

Harry Potter and the Battle Against Bigotry

Kids who identify with the hero of J.K. Rowling’s popular fantasy novels hold more open-minded attitudes toward immigrants and gays.


July 29 • 2:00 AM

Geographic Scale and Talent Migration: Washington, D.C.’s New Silver Line

Around the country, suburbs are fighting with the urban core over jobs and employees.


July 28 • 4:00 PM

Border Fences Make Unequal Neighbors and Enforce Social Inequality

What would it look like if you combined Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza, demographically speaking? What about the United States and Guatemala?


July 28 • 2:00 PM

Are Patient Privacy Laws Being Misused to Protect Medical Centers?

A 1996 law known as HIPAA has been cited to scold a mom taking a picture of her son in a hospital, to keep information away from police investigating a possible rape at a nursing home, and to threaten VA whistleblowers.


July 28 • 12:00 PM

Does Internet Addiction Excuse the Death of an Infant?

In Love Child, documentary filmmaker Valerie Veatch explores how virtual worlds encourage us to erase the boundary between digital and real, no matter the consequences.


July 28 • 11:11 AM

NASA Could Build Entire Spacecrafts in Space Using 3-D Printers

This year NASA will experiment with 3-D printing small objects in space. That could mark the beginning of a gravity-free manufacturing revolution.


July 28 • 10:00 AM

Hell Isn’t for Real

You may have seen pictures of the massive crater in Siberia. It unfortunately—or fortunately—does not lead to the netherworld.


July 28 • 8:00 AM

Why Isn’t Obama More Popular?

It takes a while for people to notice that things are going well, particularly when they’ve been bad for so long.


July 28 • 7:45 AM

The Most Popular Ways to Share Good and Bad Personal News

Researchers rank the popularity of all of the different methods we have for telling people about our lives, from Facebook to face-to-face.


July 28 • 6:00 AM

Hams Without Ends and Cats Tied to Trees: How We Create Traditions With Dubious Origins

Does it really matter if the reason for why you give money to newlyweds is based on a skewed version of a story your parents once told you?


July 28 • 4:00 AM

A Belief in ‘Oneness’ Is Equated With Pro-Environment Behavior

New research finds a link between concern for the environment and belief in the concept of universal interconnectedness.


July 25 • 4:00 PM

Flying Blind: The View From 30,000 Feet Puts Everything in Perspective

Next time you find yourself in an airplane, consider keeping your phone turned off and the window open.


July 25 • 2:00 PM

Trophy Scarves: Race, Gender, and the Woman-as-Prop Trope

Social inequality unapologetically laid bare.


July 25 • 1:51 PM

Confusing Population Change With Migration

A lot of population change is baked into a region from migration that happened decades ago.


July 25 • 1:37 PM

Do Not Tell Your Kids That Eating Vegetables Will Make Them Stronger

Instead, hand them over in silence. Or, market them as the most delicious snack known to mankind.



Follow us


Subscribe Now

America’s Streams Are Awash With Pesticides Banned in Europe

You may have never heard of clothianidin, but it's probably in your local river.

How Textbooks Have Changed the Face of War

War is more personal, less glorious, and more hellish in modern textbooks than in the past. But there’s still room for improvement.

NASA Could Build Entire Spacecrafts in Space Using 3-D Printers

This year NASA will experiment with 3-D printing small objects in space. That could mark the beginning of a gravity-free manufacturing revolution.

The Most Popular Ways to Share Good and Bad Personal News

Researchers rank the popularity of all of the different methods we have for telling people about our lives, from Facebook to face-to-face.

Do Not Tell Your Kids That Eating Vegetables Will Make Them Stronger

Instead, hand them over in silence. Or, market them as the most delicious snack known to mankind.

The Big One

One in two full-time American fast-food workers' families are enrolled in public assistance programs, at a cost of $7 billion per year. July/August 2014

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