If “everyone will be famous for 15 minutes,” as pop artist Andy Warhol once said, why won’t Kim Kardashian or Paris Hilton just go away? It’s a question we’ve all asked ourselves, and now a research team from Stony Brook and McGill Universities has an answer. Brace yourself. According to their research just published in the April American Sociological Review, a D-lister might enjoy fleeting fame, but for the so-called upper tiers, fame “persists around a fixed level and rank for decades.”
McGill University sociologist Eran Shor, one of the authors of the study, told Canadian media, “The large, large, large majority of people who get famous stay famous. For a long time. How long, it depends on how famous they got. But years — not 15 minutes, not 15 hours, not 15 days, not 15 months even.”
The three researchers did a large-scale random sampling of the entertainment section of over 2,000 newspapers between 2004 and 2009. The top 10 names that popped up were, “Jamie Foxx, Bill Murray, Natalie Portman, Tommy Lee Jones, Naomi Watts, Howard Hughes, Phil Spector, John Malkovich, Adrien Brody, and Steve Buscemi.” The names were chosen randomly to see if “regular” famous people, as well as top A-listers who might be expected to live forever, would really remain famous.
Notice anything? None of the randomly selected names has been forgotten in the intervening years since 2009. Heck, even the dead guy, Howard Hughes, is still famous.
And Hughes passed away in 1976.
In sociology-speak, the researchers wrote: “We conclude that once a person’s name is decoupled from the initial event that lent it momentary attention, self-reinforcing processes, career structures, and commemorative practices perpetuate fame.”
What that means in everyday English is that once someone gets famous — even if we don’t remember or can’t figure out what for (Kim Kardashian, anyone?) — then they have a huge leg-up on remaining famous. On a slow news day, nobody’s going to report on how much Joe Average’s birthday party sucked, but the world sat up and took note of poor Justin Bieber’s misery.
Apparently, we the people can tell attention-grabbing celebs, “Your 15 minutes of fame is soooo over” until we’re blue in the face. They’re not going anywhere.
[Warhol museum photo courtesy P.matel via Wikipedia Commons]