Does it feel like no one is talking about nepo babies these days?! Just kidding, my phone is still hot from texting about New York Magazine’s recent feature on famous people who were genetically predisposed to the limelight through their parent’s careers and connections. I’d wager the ink spilled discussing all the pieces that made up the package—with titles like “How is a Nepo Baby Born?” to “Where Should You Send Your Nepo Baby to High School?”—was a hundred times the amount of the pieces themselves.
But I didn’t log on to shit on NYMag’s piece, which was ultimately a great conversation starter. I just have one bone to pick with them: While having creative parents is a privilege, not every parental privilege is nepotism, and not every creative is wealthy—which is the real, cruel pipeline to nepotism.
One section of the extensively mapped out nepo baby universe was titled “Cultural Capital Babies: The hipper stepsibling of the industry baby” (the industry baby was described as one who “didn’t inherit a famous name, but did inherit connections and knowledge of the business.”) I appreciate NYMag acknowledging that this connection is much, much “lesser”—but frankly, I’m inclined to think they chose to sow chaos by suggesting Jaeden Martell’s dad being an L.A.-based chef is on par with Sigourney Weaver’s dad being the president of NBC. Cultural Capital Babies certainly have access to knowledge of an industry, as they describe, but I refuse to accept that that privilege is nepotism.
Having creative parents, like set designers or a chef, is a blessing (one that, yes, I’m very lucky to count!), but given the internet’s inclination to read things in bad faith or half-attentively, it feels careless comparing folks like Phoebe Bridgers, whose dad is a television set builder, to Maya Hawke, whose last name and face immediately inform you who her parents are. Sure, creative parents can show their kids different ways to be an adult that don’t follow traditional career paths—but their creativity alone doesn’t land you a job. What’s 1000 percent more likely to get you a job is if they’ve made a boatload of money from their creativity (something I plan to speak to my parents about over the holidays...)
Folks on Twitter have dubbed access of this ilk as “cool parent privilege,” and that feels a lot more apt than nepotism. Including cultural capital babies under their umbrella of nepotism overlooks what I think would be a lot more interesting and nuanced conversation about how parents in creative fields can’t always use their power to further their kids in life, but have mapped out a wider berth for their offspring to navigate through life’s challenges.
My mom is a printmaker and my dad is a sculptor, and while they aren’t famous (to my dismay), nor have they gotten me any jobs aside from babysitter for their friends’ kids (I’m ready to be canceled in the child caregiving industry), I can admit that the way they’ve chosen to live their lives has opened me up to a lot of possibilities. Another person featured in the NYMag piece who has a sculptor for a dad is Kate Berlant, whose mother who designed the miniature StoneHenge set in Spinal Tap. A wonderful touch to the film, but I’d be truly shocked if that opened up doors for her as a comedian. What it more likely did was show her that going to business school or getting a government job isn’t the only way to make a stable income.
My parents showed me that identifying as an artist doesn’t have to be tied to how the IRS categorizes you. I think when we hear of someone being a painter or writer, a lot of assumptions are made: that they live in a sprawling loft, don’t need a day job, etc. And again, those are true of some artists (read: rich) and tend to be the artists we’ve seen shown in large cultural institutions. But there are thousands more creatives who haven’t had a retrospective at the Whitney, so just pointing out that Leonardo DiCaprio’s dad is a comics artist isn’t some, “gotcha!” moment. (George DiCaprio, for what it’s worth, did help his son launch his career as a kid, but his underground comics weren’t what did that.) For most of my life, my parents taught their craft at the college level, but they’ve also worked in the government as a contractor and a handyman, to name a few of their many gigs. But never were they not artists. Similarly, I’ve worked as a nanny, restaurant host, tour guide, and administrative assistant all while remaining a writer. Again, the elephant in the room is money.
The film and TV industry is so big and includes so many workers, that saying someone’s (Kristen Stewart) mom was a script supervisor (for Flinstones: Viva Rock Vegas) is like....k? It’s a complete lack of understanding of the range and power structures within Hollywood. A lot of movie industry workers make decent money (thanks unions!), but they don’t have the influence NYMag is suggesting from just being on movie sets.
In a practical sense, my artist parents have taught me how to structure my after-work time and weekend time to be filled with the type of creative work that fuels me. I’ve learned how to file quarterly taxes, but they’ve never attached my name as a producer to their projects for the upstanding reason that their projects don’t have producers. I’ve learned how to build creative networks of people who inspire and challenge me, but the most they’ve ever “hooked me up” was giving my number to their friend who runs an arts events company where I got paid $100 to work coat check for the evening. My parents have given me an embarrassing number of helpful life skills by being creatives, unfortunately none of which have translated to power or influence.
And actually, the biggest gift my parents have given me is that I’ve never had to go home over the holidays and have them ask me when I’m applying to law school. Still not nepotism! But that’s certainly a privilege.