Nepo babies

I’ve just discovered a new term that’s been going around the past year, showing I was behind the pop culture curve. However it describes something I noticed quite some time ago so I guess I was ahead of the curve.

The term is “nepo baby.”

Nepo stands for nepotism. The first occurrence of the term I could find had it as “nepotism baby” which was inevitably shortened to “nepo.” I have no clue whether the ‘e’ is long or short.

Journalists covering the lives of celebrities have been shocked, shocked I tell you, to find a great many successful people in show business are (gasp!) the children of successful people in show business.

However it was no surprise to me. I discovered the Internet Movie Database (imdb.com) years ago and consult it frequently.

I mean when you’re having a sleepless night because it’s occurred to you that Grade B movie actor Richard Egan played both King Leonidas of Sparta in “The 300 Spartans” (1962) AND King Xerxes of Persia in “Esther and the King” (1960, under the Biblical name Ahasuerus) and you can’t sleep until you know which came first.

And lo and behold as I look it up to remind myself it turns out he had a daughter Maureen who is a scriptwriter and director.

It’s not news many famous actors are the children of other famous actors, directors, and producers. What you find on the IMDB is how many of them there are.

Since this seems to make a mockery of meritocracy it’s not surprising some second generation celebrities get defensive about it. Gwyneth Paltrow protested that family connections may get you a foot in the door but once in you have to work twice as hard to make up for the natural suspicion you inherited the job.

Sorry Gwen, not buying it.

But it’s not just show business. Ask anyone who graduated from an Ivy League college what a “legacy” is. Whether they answer defensively or not will tell you if they are one.

Political office is not supposed to be hereditary but political dynasties are not entirely unknown either.

There were of course the father-son pairings of John and John Quincy Adams, and more recently the George Bushes. Al Gore was the son of a senator and it was known Joe Biden expected his son Beau to follow in his footsteps before his untimely death.

Hunter is probably a bridge too far though.

Powerful businessmen often try to hand their companies over to their offspring (think Christie Hefner) but the market exerts a leveling influence if they’re not good enough to run them. (Remember Wang Computers?)

Any attempt to build a society that is democratic and meritocratic is going to run into the innate tendency of human beings to want to pass on advantages they have gained to their children.

We all do it, whether our resources are meager or ample. There’s even a name for it, “generational wealth.”

And though the talented are loathe to admit it, talent is not all that rare. There are always more talented people available than there are jobs for them. And since talent must be nurtured, the environment they grow up in matters.

Two time Nobel laureate Marie Curie had a daughter who also won a Nobel Prize, and that doesn’t happen because of connections.

Still we can’t help but worry about the effect on our society. We worry about elite professions becoming quasi-hereditary classes where admission becomes controlled by gatekeepers whose criteria for membership is all about fitting in rather than ability.

— Steve Browne is a longtime reporter and contributor to the Marshall Independent


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