Study shows 15 minutes of fame isn’t the case; once someone is famous, they tend to stay famous

A new study in the American Sociological Review contradicts folk wisdom regarding people having 15 minutes of fame:

Researchers led by Eran Shor from McGill University’s department of Sociology and Arnout van de Rijt of Stony Brook University studied all the names mentioned in over 2,000 English-language newspapers from the US, Canada and the UK over a period of several decades…

Temporary celebrity is highly unusual and is to be found primarily in the bottom tiers of the fame hierarchy, such as when people like whistle blowers become famous for a limited time for participating in particular events.

This is even true of entertainment, where it might appear that fame is likely to be most ephemeral.

For example, in a random sample of 100,000 names appearing in the entertainment sections of newspapers during the period 2004-2009, the ten names that appeared most frequently were Jamie Foxx, Bill Murray, Natalie Portman, Tommy Lee Jones, Naomi Watts, Howard Hughes, Phil Spector, John Malkovich, Adrien Brody, and Steve Buscemi…

Indeed, the annual turnover in the group of famous names is very low. Ninety-six per cent of those whose names were mentioned over 100 times in the newspapers in a given year were already in the news at least three years before.

The key here seems to be the status hierarchy. There is a lot of turnover at the bottom of celebrity circles, people who pop into the news for things like winning the lottery or being involved with a particular court case. But, once you get to the top of the status hierarchy, you tend to stay there. So perhaps it is true that most people can only have 15 minutes of fame while a certain number of people each year can break through to the top levels.

Another key appears to be the media scrum regarding fame and celebrity. Aren’t they generally the ones telling Americans who is famous and who they should pay attention to? How does one break into this media world of fame? In other words, there is a whole industry built around famous people and it pays off to have recognizable celebrities as well as the occasional new people who change things up a bit.

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