Warhol Was Wrong: Once You Get Famous, You Stay Famous (Mostly)


Ah, fame! That cruel and fleeting mistress! Offering up a life full of opulence and possibility, only to snatch it away at your first misstep. Or at least that’s how it looks to you, probable non-famous person. You — a pleb — wouldn’t understand because once you are famous, the truth is that you’re probably famous for life.

We all have that list of celebrities that we wish would just go away — Justin Bieber, the terrier from the Target commercials, Wayne Knight — and while they may one day stop working (or stop getting work), don’t get too excited because their name recognition is far less likely to fade. A new study out of Stony Brook University — published in the American Sociological Review — looked into Andy Warhol’s oft quoted theory that “In the future everybody will be world famous for fifteen minutes” and found that most famous people get a whole lot more time than that.

According to the study, while some certain types of fame “at the bottom of the public-attention hierarchy”can be fleeting (think of viral celebrities like “Golden Voice” Ted Williams), for the most part, once you achieve fame, that isn’t something that goes away. Stony Brook University sociologist and the study’s lead researcher Arnout van de Rij says, “Fame exhibits strong continuity even in entertainment, on television, and on blogs, where it has been thought to be most ephemeral.”

From the Pacific Standard:

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.”

Those whose names did disappear were, for the most part, the people who experienced attention that was “passive and limited to the respective event.” (Again, the best example is viral and local news celebrities.) For people who achieve widespread public attention beyond a singular event, fame “is long-lasting and is not constrained by a limited public attention span. 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,” write the researchers.

In other words, once you’ve made it, kid, you’ve made it! That said, only 0.15% of the population make it. Also, I’m sorry about what I said about the Target dog. He seems really great.

Fame May Not Last Only 15 Minutes After All [The Pacific Standard]

Image via Getty.

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