Maya Hawke! Dakota Johnson! Maude Apatow! The nepotism babies are everywhere: slaying demogorgons in 1980s shopping malls, giving Architectural Digest tours of enviably green kitchens and penning plays to perform in front of their entire high schools.
The term “nepo baby” has spread widely throughout TikTok, where creators have begun unpacking whether meritocracy can ever exist in the privilege-saturated chasms of Hollywood.
We obsessively scroll through these videos, and I’m trying to figure out why. It’s a celebrity version of the same theme that pervades any layer of socioeconomic reality, namely that people with a leg up do not exert as much effort as others when facing hurdles. Is it because we want to be more aware of a reality we’re already acutely cognizant of?
Our viral disdain is better articulated by Nate Jones of Vulture: “A nepo baby is physical proof that meritocracy is a lie. We love them, we hate them, we disrespect them, we’re obsessed with them.” If I’m strictly speculating, I’d argue that this mixed bag of emotions is what makes the trend so captivating. We’re all enraptured by trends we can’t form a coherent opinion of.
At the same time, however, I’m bored of the captivation. In it, we give celebrities a reason to disavow their past adolescence of red carpets.
Hear me out: It’s time to fully disengage with the nepo baby discourse.
The first surprising fact of the nepo baby controversy is that people seem so enamored by the mirage of meritocracy when it has never been a surprise that success, in any variation of the term, is heavily contingent upon luck — particularly genetic luck.
Engaging with the nepo baby uproar, whether through Twitter, TikTok or any of the other social media platforms, gives the celebrity in question the opportunity to either embrace their privileged upbringing or shun it altogether — as if acknowledging it is equivalent to shedding oneself of talent.
Jamie Lee Curtis wrote a lengthy Instagram post arguing that the “current conversation about nepo babies is just designed to try to diminish and denigrate and hurt.”
Gwyneth Paltrow and Hailey Bieber candidly discussed the topic together. “People are ready to pull you down and say, ‘You don’t belong there,’” Paltrow said.
Countless other celebrity kids, such as Lily-Rose Depp, Zoë Kravitz and Apatow have similarly expressed discontent with the label.
These celebrities have the pitiful defense wherein they conflate an acknowledgment of their privilege with an undermining of their talent, as mentioned earlier.
It’s exasperating to see such an out-of-touch reaction to what should be simple, placid agreement with an objective fact: you had the door held open for you when others had to fight just to get their foot in. I can’t deal with their disavowals, and because of this, I’m advocating that we just stop talking about them.
I have to laugh at this implication that one’s own privilege is somehow stultifying. Honestly, when I see any nepo baby act as though an acknowledgment of their blatant privilege inherently undermines their abilities, it’s comical.
Talent and privilege are not mutually exclusive. It’s presumptuous to assume that the label of nepo baby implies this. In my opinion, for the random TikToker and the celebrity alike to associate these two aspects is an ignorant conflation and an insecure reflection.
I’m not trying to just rag on the nepo babies. Rather, I’m saying we need to put a stop to this derivative pattern of discourse.
Just like the word cheugy, for example, viral words are often attributed to certain phenomena with particular subjects. This inevitably leads to a pointed nature of the words and their hashtagged usage. The subjects of the word’s target become offended at being the bullseye of social media’s dartboard. The subjects defensively recoil, then flail around in an attempt to fight back.
The reason why the nepo baby discourse is particularly frustrating to me is exactly because of its two-way street. We create these viral trends of obsession with a pointed angle, and the targeted group attempts to defend themselves, embodying the boring, age-old recursive loop of offense and defense.
Engaging in the discourse ultimately gives the celebrity two options, neither of which I’m thrilled about. The first option is for them to view the label as an affront to their talent or genuine work, as I’ve mentioned earlier (re: Curtis.) The second option is for them to embrace their privileged upbringing, which unfortunately doesn’t satisfy me either.
I recognize that this could sound like I’m the grinch of nepo babies. But my annoyance is justified. Should we really be praising celebrities for the bare minimum of recognizing their spoon was silver and the majority of everyone else’s wasn’t?
I don’t believe that talking about nepo babies will ever really put a stop to what is so deeply ingrained in the world of preordained connections and genetic lotteries.
Let’s stop the hashtags, stop the conspiracies and stop the scrolling. If we do our part in stopping the loop of offense and defense, they can’t continue. Curtis can’t defend herself with the flimsy scapegoat of “current conversation” anymore. Aren’t we done being entranced by nepo babies’ pitiful displays of vapid self-defense?