In late December 2022, New York Magazine’s January cover package went viral.
It was inarguably eye-catching. Famous faces met infant bodies to ensure we all understood the assignment: nepo babies were in the spotlight, and not in the way they’d become accustomed to.
The ‘absurdly detailed’ exploration of the nepo babies’ world in Hollywood became the subject of dinner parties, coffee dates and even a Christmas lunch or two the world over, as pop culture enthusiasts realised how much we actually care—or really don’t— about fame’s brand of ‘silver spoonism’.
As Nate Jones, the senior writer behind the piece put it, “Hollywood was run on an invisible network of family ties—and everybody was in on it!
“Everyone is someone’s kid, but it was as if everybody were somebody’s kid. Euphoria, the buzziest show on television, was created by the son of a major director and co-starred the daughter of another. Actress Maya Hawke was not only born to two famous parents but looked like them, too. Half of Brooklyn’s indie artists had dads with IMDb pages. Even Succession’s Cousin Greg turned out to be the son of one of the guys who designed the Rolling Stones’ lips logo.”
The Issue couldn’t be ignored. Even some real unlikely suspects—like my friends who don’t have social— were talking about it.
“So that girl from Stranger Things is actually a baby Uma Thurman?”
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While Jones referenced some famous nepo babies and how they experienced their own ‘challenges’ thanks to their famed names (Zoë Kravitz, for one, had talked about her ‘deep insecurity’ a la nepotism), many Hollywood hotshots joined the conversation after the fact.
“I have navigated 44 years with the advantages my associated and reflected fame brought me”
Some have owned their extra dose of privilege. Jaimie Lee Curtis shared her perspective as an OG nepo baby’:
“The current conversation about nepo babies is just designed to try to diminish and denigrate and hurt. For the record I have navigated 44 years with the advantages my associated and reflected fame brought me, I don’t pretend there aren’t any, that try to tell me that I have no value on my own,” she wrote.
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“If we’re talking about real world consequences and robbing people of opportunity”
Lily Allen tweeted:
The nepo babies y’all should be worrying about are the ones working for legal firms,the ones working for banks,and the ones working in politics, If we’re talking about real world consequences and robbing people of opportunity. BUT that’s none of my business.
— Lily A (@lilyallen) December 19, 2022
“Privilege is a ladder”
More ‘unpopular opinions’ came from people like model and CEO of Pose, Coco Rocha who spoke from the perspective of a non-nepo baby. She shares that privilege is a ladder, and to some extent, we’re all higher up than someone else on said climb, for different reasons rooted in different privileges.
@cocorocha I’m asked all the time, in the press and at @cocorochamodelcamp ♬ original sound – Coco Rocha
Hailey Bieber is the latest to make headlines regarding nepo baby discourse, after she was snapped wearing a simple white T with (you guessed it) ‘nepo baby’ written in neat font.
While some big names like Gwyneth Paltrow were huge fans of the Tee (her and Bieber have previously talked about their nepo baby strides before), others like Charli XCX dubbed it an attempt, but a respected one at that.
i respect the nepo baby tshirt attempt
— Charli (@charli_xcx) January 8, 2023
So, should nepo babies stop with any form of smoke and mirrors disguised as relatability and simply own it? Should they wear name tags or T-shirts with their entire family history sprawled on the back? Maybe a nepo baby tattoo?
The tired saying “It’s not about what you know, but who you know” is exhausted for a reason: it was true back in the Boomers’ days, and it holds weight now.
In fact, forget the Boomers. Go way back into history and you’ll realise that one’s family’s name was the beginning and end of any and all prospects.
Nepotism has always been a thing, and it’s everywhere
In the Middle Ages, Guild Law automatically saw sons (and rarely daughters) of master craftsmen accepted into the Guild.
In the Victorian Era, marriage was mainly a business transaction where powerful families could build up their resources like property and opportunity. Their children would then have better societal standing in many instances, furthering their privilege through the family name.
Lily Allen’s noting of other nepotistic acts that get swept under the radar were right on the money.
The idea of “the family business”—across many industries—hasn’t disappeared into oblivion simply because society has demanded fair opportunities since the freedom movements and feminist waves.
In politics, nepotism is often the beginning and ending of opportunities. Cast your mind back to the 2017 Save South Africa campaign that saw many locals sum up the Real State of the Nation Address as: “Nepotism“, “Courruption” and “state capture,” per Daily Maverick.
The main reason many people tend to have a problem when it comes to Hollywood’s brand of nepo babies is simple.
They’re plastered all over the places our public gaze is drawn to, idolized in a brighter spotlight and sold to us for simply being there by mass media.
The American Dream, betrayed
There’s something about the American Dream that’s been fed to everyone around the world that makes us feel betrayed when someone stands at the top of the ladder after taking a single step.
We love a come-up story, a “nobody knew them story”, and a “girl next door” protagonist who defies the odds as a self-made icon.
And since it’s big movie screens that have sold us that narrative, it’s natural that many would feel betrayed when we saw the true inner workings behind the scenes.
Can we blame the nepo babies?
If we’re being honest as a society in that raw, ‘I can check in on my hypocrisy’ way; few of us tend to deny opportunities when a family member or friend proposes one. In our own circles—which more often than not live void of public security— we’re usually happy to follow a potential job lead because a family member ‘knew a guy’. Or take an opportunity from a family friend because we quite literally won’t be able to pay rent without it.
Few of us would deny chances our family ties could get us just because someone else might be better at it, even if that means working as a cashier at your uncle’s Mom&Pop style shop. It’s partly because we aren’t public figures, so failing at something wouldn’t matter as deeply. It’s also partly because we have to make survival choices for our careers.
Sometimes it isn’t about survival at all, but ease.
Your brother could’ve sourced his own work opportunity with his qualifications, but he took your second cousin’s offer to manage that company because that was easier than the lengthy job process. We all know a story like this.
Maybe we judge the nepo babies because they often don’t need the job as badly, or the fame, or the recognition. So we shake our fists, not knowing what we would do in their red-bottomed shoes.
As a society, we don’t know what to do with them, because it means questioning what we would do.
So should they own it? In my opinion, yes. Especially if the internet will find out who you are sooner or later. Don’t pretend that you started in the same lane as everyone else if you didn’t. in the same breath, don’t diminish deserved victories either, because many of them are deserved.
No, the nepo baby shouldn’t be praised for existing, but their existence shouldn’t be the subject of another’s mission to troll or diminish either.
Feature Image: Rachpoot/Bauer-Griffin/ Getty