Nepo babies are the tip of the iceberg of class inequality

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Some have already pointed out the hypocrisy of gleefully charting celebrity nepotism, tweeting: “This [article] it’s great. Now someone make one for the journalists. Direct parent-to-child nepotism plagues many industries, including this one (as New York magazine briefly mentioned). But the finer gradations of nepotism are worth investigating.

Sometimes hiring practices become nepotistic because they are efficient. In James Ledbetter’s 1995 report, “The Unbearable Whiteness of Publishing,” a former WW Norton book editor wrote of the ease of filling an editorial assistant position: “I lift my little finger and the most impressive resumes hit On my table. They come from a network of agents, writers and academics. … It’s not really an open process. It’s not consciously closed, but it doesn’t seem to have to open.” The benefactors of this closed system are not nepo babies – they are not famous, nor are their parents – but reap the rewards of a parallel kind of privilege. They know someone who knows someone. On the path of least resistance, they are served first.

Or accept inherited admission children, who get relaxed requirements to enter their parents’ alma mater. It is a category that certainly overlaps with nepo babies, as in the spectacular shipwreck of Olivia Jade, daughter of Full houseLori Loughlin and the face of the 2019 Varsity Blues scandal, in which rich and famous families were buying their children’s admission to elite universities. But the whole higher-education pipeline, where kids from expensive private schools are quickly routed to brand-name liberal arts colleges, to corporate jobs with six-figure salaries to discounts on their admission of children, it is its own closed system. It privileges the same family lines over and over again. The other side of that coin is the school-to-prison channel, in which under-resourced public schools discipline students through an ever-growing chain of zero-tolerance practices that begin with suspensions and expulsions and often lead to juvenile detention, which sets children up with an early criminal record that hampers their job and housing prospects when they become adults.

As for the impulse to trace baby nepo’s family trees, it basically begs us to present the case for reparations. As we giddily trace Dakota Johnson’s fame back to her grandmother, movie star Tippi Hedren, it becomes impossible not to ask: if privilege is so obviously hereditary, isn’t oppression too? What if her grandmother wasn’t a Golden Globe-winning actress and model from the 1960s, but a civil rights activist jailed for the time she spent protesting? What if incarceration is the legacy America wants to impose on you?

Baby nepo’s discourse obscures the very injustice it exemplifies why it seems silly to spend so much time thinking about it. Even New York Magazine calls its own detailed categorization “absurdly detailed” and “slightly deranged”. But beyond the comically blatant celebrity nepotism, there’s a larger and darker field of privilege, a fishnet we’re all caught in. If all we do with these nepotism revelations is talk about which ones we like and which we don’t, the nepo babies win again. We got stuck talking about their star power, their entitlement, their defensiveness, what they deserve and don’t deserve. We decided that they are the most important part of this story.

But nepo babies are the bright tip of the class critique iceberg. The spectrum of their privileges, meticulously mapped by New York magazine, is very small. If you keep expanding, charting the privileges bestowed on certain wealthy people because of who their parents know or what they do, you’ll stumble across a much larger conspiracy: there are no meritocracies, in Hollywood or anywhere else. All industries and institutions are plagued by the feedback loop of generational wealth. We can let this latest celebrity melee glamorize itself, or we can choose to push it, challenging ourselves to face the moment with a deeper appreciation of how power works everywhere. 🇧🇷