Arnout van de Rijt, an assistant professor at SBU, is researching the lasting effects of fame. (PHOTO CREDIT: STONY BROOK UNIVERSITY)
Arnout van de Rijt, an assistant professor at SBU, is researching the lasting effects of fame. (PHOTO CREDIT: STONY BROOK UNIVERSITY)

“Fame isn’t fleeting,” according to the press release about the research team led by Arnout van de Rijt, an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology at Stony Brook University.

The research project, called “Only 15 Minutes? The Social Stratification of Fame in Printed Media,” found that people who become famous within a year—be it in politics, sports, or entertainment—remain famous for decades to come.

“The wealth of new data from the internet, social networks, and cell phone records allow social scientists to study phenomena they couldn’t study as easily as in the past,” van de Rijt said. “One such phenomenon is fame.”

Through the use of Lydia, a research project in natural language processing, the research team scoured through about 2,200 American daily, weekly and periodical newspapers dated over several decades.


Van de Rijt collaborated with Steven Skiena and Charles Ward from the computer science department for this research.

In the examination of various entertainment sections of these newspapers, 10 names out of a sample of 100,000 between the years 2004-2009 popped out the most.

Actors and actresses like Jamie Fox, Bill Murray, Natalie Portman and Naomi Watts, just to name a few, are among those 10 and these celebrities are still famous and well-known in 2013.

“The time series of all these mentions of person names gave us a bird’s-eye view of the evolution of fame,” van de Rijt said, “including the rise and fall of public attention to famous politicians, athletes, and entertainers.”


According to the study, the belief in fleeting fame or 15 minutes of fame is non-existent in this day and age.

This applies to many celebrities in the entertainment world, even the likes of the Kardashians and Paris Hilton.

Many stars may be famous for a good reason, but some stars, according to van de Rijt, have no underlying talent or reason for fame.

“The public may thus celebrate a naked emperor,” he said.

The study also found that 96 percent of the names mentioned more than 100 times in newspapers within a given year have already been mentioned in those papers at least three years before.


Talent, resources or chance often contribute to an individual’s time in the spotlight, the researchers noted. And once someone becomes famous, they remain famous. A temporary celebrity status is rare.

“In contrast to the popular notion of ‘fleeting fame’ as well as to past sociological scholarship which has suggested that modern fame doesn’t typically last long,” he said, “our study shows that virtually all major celebrities stay famous for many years.”

As to why society is attracted to celebrities and their status, van de Rijt offers this explanation: “Celebrities are of interest because everyone agrees they are of interest.”

Media and audiences are trapped in an equilibrium in which they must continue to devote attention to a select group of stars because everyone expects them to.”

Although the team only studied newspapers, in the case of television and internet stars on popular sites like Youtube, it suspects the outcome is the same for these mediums as well.

But, van de Rijt said “future research must confirm that.”


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