Happy nepo week to all who celebrate. At a time when we could be knee-deep in egg nog and grinding to “Carol of the Bells,” we’re instead asking who parented our most famous folk. The walls of our assumed meritocracy are crumbling as we sniff out the conspiratorially rife nepotism in our midsts. ’Tis the season to ask: Did that model’s mum model too? Was the TikTok foodie’s father the inventor of Toaster Strudel? Wasn’t that actor’s uncle William Shakespeare? He sure kept that quiet.
The list of nepo babies is extensive and surprisingly female skewed (don’t think I haven’t noticed), including, but not exclusive to, Zoë Kravitz, Lourdes Leon, Maya Hawke, and Kaia Gerber. Maude Apatow’s in there, as are Gwyneth Paltrow and Lily Allen. Dakota Fanning got a mention. There’s a (Witherspoon-)Phillippe, a Spielberg, a little Björk. As you trawl wearily through nepos, the list seems longer than COVID lockdown felt.
I do understand the allure. A consumer society is built on acquiring new stuff, but we’re also keen on the heritage of our purchases. We love new things, and we love a backstory. Nepos offer both—a fresh face and a built-in myth, albeit parental. It’s intriguing to imagine being brought up by Lenny Kravitz or Victoria Beckham or Melanie Griffith. Journalists and designers and brands love a maternal reference or a paternal allusion—it’s just a way into the story, the moment before it unfolds.
Everyone I’ve named is talented in their own right, but the main rub, according to the mild internet uproar, is how this talent got noticed. It seems unfair that these kids are all just sitting about in relative opulence as opportunity knocks. The rest of us toil, desperate for a way into our chosen industry, and these guys have ins coming out their ears, their last names opening myriad doors, their social inheritance seeing them sail (more easily) through life. I don’t get the impression that nepo babies—as they transition into young adulthood and beyond—give two fucks about their way in. They play the hand they’re dealt. Hollywood’s door is ajar; who in their right mind doesn’t walk through it?
Not to sound like an old man looking back at his life at the end of a film, but fame has really morphed in our lifetimes, and known for being known is now a tangible career path. People used to have a trade—actors acted, sportsmen sported—and fame was a mere offshoot. But the internet has democratized our entertainment and metamorphosed the idea of a superstar or a sensation. Fame is available so much more broadly. We still have actors and sportspeople and musicians and models, but we also have nice-enough-looking strangers completely dominating social channels with a zillion followers. Where Hollywood used to dominate with its abusive charisma, we now also have underground hyper-fame. There are new spaces for non-famous offspring to flourish.
I find the current buzz around nepotism odd because it isn’t new. I feel like we’ve all been seeing genetically enhanced societal leg-ups roll out for decades, centuries even. (Have you heard of the royal family?) Though nepotism’s feeling very press-worthy—I appreciate the irony of it being column-worthy—I don’t think real-life people are up in arms about it. Her mum’s hot too, so what? We see who someone’s dad is, and we move on. And now I’m worried I’ve taken 600 words to say it’s not that deep. Eesh.
Finally, for anyone out there waiting for their moment, their in—for anyone worried they don’t have the ma-and-pa backstory—remember this: Plucked from obscurity is its own tale too. Somewhere in the future, the right door is standing open.