Nepo baby rage is… well, all the rage! These days, it seems like the only thing more common than nepotism babies, is people hating nepotism babies. Some children of the rich and famous have had a good sense of humor about the whole thing, but many have bristled at the diminishment of their accomplishments. In today’s “online outrage culture” – the ingredients for a rage trend are simple: A compelling image, a larger, more nebulous problem, and a desire to break something. And while these pile-ons can be dangerous, they can also reveal real problems that need real solutions – and inspire people to take action.
These days, it seems like the only thing more common than nepotism babies, is people hating nepotism babies.
While The Take has been tracking the backlash for some time now, things took off again when Vulture dedicated an entire issue to the problem. Since then, nepo babies seem to be facing a reckoning – with demands to answer for the blue links on their Wikipedia page. Some children of the rich and famous have had a good sense of humor about the whole thing, but many have bristled at the diminishment of their accomplishments. And resistance to the term has only stoked the fires online and in the media – building it into the biggest rage trend of the season.
In today’s “online outrage culture” – the ingredients for a rage trend are simple: A compelling image, a larger, more nebulous problem, and a desire to break something. Rage trends are nothing new, but social media algorithms prioritize content with strong negative feelings, turbocharging our desire to destroy the symbols of a problem instead of addressing the underlying issue. And while these pile-ons can be dangerous, they can also reveal real problems that need real solutions – and inspire people to take action.
Here’s our take on the nepo baby backlash – why it’s the hottest new rage trend, and how the nepotism plaguing Hollywood is a symptom of a much larger issue.
Sara Haines: It’s important to recognize there are swaths of people in this country that don’t have someone making a phone call for them. -The View
To properly understand what makes something a “rage trend,” let’s look at one of the most popular examples of the last decade: plastic straws. Plastic straws represent only .025% of all plastic waste. But when a video of a sea turtle with a plastic straw in its nose went viral, straws became the ultimate symbol of everything wrong with the world. And while plastic waste is a huge, global problem – the straws were just one small part of a very complex issue – which perfectly encapsulates these rage trends.
So, are nepo babies the new plastic straws? They’re highly visible – crowding our TV and movie screens, plastered all over our social media feeds. And while their existence might seem like a petty thing to focus on, they are indicative of a real problem that needs solving. They’re a symbol for the fundamental lie of the American Dream. We live in a world where opportunities to make a living in the arts are slim and the fact that people with so much privilege take so many roles prevents new people from breaking in.
Emily DiDonato: Like when people are like nepo babies work as hard as other models, like that’s not true. -Hannah Berner/YouTube
But more importantly than that – having so many people in front of and behind the camera coming from one, very privileged tax bracket means less class diversity within Hollywood, shaping what stories get made. And since the children of famous people are, by definition, a continuation of old Hollywood, their prominence can perpetuate past biases. It’s not a coincidence that, despite a few high-profile exceptions, the vast majority of these nepo babies are white.
The fact that nepo babies get pushed to the top over other candidates in nearly every facet of the entertainment industry undoubtedly goes hand-in-hand with its well-documented diversity problem. After model slash actress, Lily-Rose Depp, downplayed the fact that she has very influential parents, several other models spoke out about this very issue. Nyagua Ruea noted that she and her fellow Black models don’t just have to worry about nepo babies taking their spots – but also potentially being passed over for the color of their skin.
Anok Yai: I knew that if I walked into a room, the only way I’d be remembered is by being one of, if not the most talented or interesting person. - anokyai/Instagram
And while nepotism kids in the entertainment industry are a problem, they’re just the tip of the iceberg.
As the internet collectively freaks out about the rise of the nepo baby – the arguably more dangerous benefactors of nepotism are happy to stay in the shadows – amassing unimaginable wealth and power that can be wielded to have real-world effects far beyond our screens.
The Vulture article included Prince Harry – reminding us of the original nepo babies – the royals. For centuries wealth and power has been passed down to the children of kings and queens simply because they hit the genetic lottery. And while there aren’t many true monarchies left in the world, we’ve seen how these figureheads can still have serious, negative effects on the lives of their subjects and their enemies. In the wake of Queen Elizabeth II’s death – the legitimacy and necessity of the British monarchy has come into question…a different kind of nepotism backlash…but part of the conversation all the same.
Back here in America, we have our own version of the royals – the uber-wealthy. Across business and politics, rich and connected parents pull plenty of strings. Warren Buffet has said that his son will take over Berkshire Hathaway when he dies. Meanwhile, companies like Koch Industries and Walmart pass down power from generation to generation, with each new set of kids gaining the ability and potential to reshape the world.
Even the tech industry – the supposed land of “self-made billionaires” is not immune. Bill Gates got his big break because his mom was friends with the Chairman of IBM. Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg and the founders of Dell computers all got early cash injections from their parents.
Andrew Paxton: I’m not rich. My parents are rich.
Margaret Tate: OK, you know what? That’s something only rich people say. - The Proposal
And politics has been a family business since the revolution. It only took five presidents before America managed to elect the son of a former president. The nepo baby has remained a major force with political dynasties like the Kennedys and the Bushes – and the children of Senators are over eight thousand times more likely to become Senators than the average person.
And fresh in all of our minds – the Trump family. Despite anti-nepotism laws and public outcry – former President Donald Trump found loopholes in the system and was able to hire his daughter, Ivanka, and son-in-law Jared Kushner, to senior advisory positions within the White House. The American people got to see in real-time how dangerous nepotism hires can be when Jared took a role in the administration’s coronavirus response team – a role he was unqualified for – while human lives were at stake.
Barack Obama: This pandemic fully, finally torn back the curtain on the idea that so many of the folks in charge know what they’re doing. - CBS This Morning
When we look to the world of media – which can literally frame how stories are shaped and how news is told – the Murdoch family immediately comes to mind. Rupert Murdoch, the tycoon behind the Fox News media empire, has passed the torch onto his son Lachlan. He now sits as the executive chairman of News Corp – and it’s widely speculated that their media dynasty was the inspiration for the ultimate nepo baby show, Succession. Ironically enough, the CEO of the company that owns New York Magazine – and thus Vulture – the publication that brought this conversation to a head – is Pamela Wasserstein; a hard charging executive who happens to be the daughter of the man who bought New York Magazine in 2004. So media nepotism hires are even in control of the nepo baby backlash.
And it’s not just at the very top – the issue of nepotism plagues our entire workforce. Studies have shown that nepotism in the workplace can decrease morale by making people feel demotivated and alienated and that it can hinder competition and innovation. So, maybe it’s a good thing that this recent rage trend is finally bringing these unfair power dynamics into focus.
While the simple satisfaction of a rage trend can distract from the larger systems shaping our world, they can also inspire passion that extends far beyond the original issue. Take the Keystone pipeline. The pipeline itself was a relatively minor feature in the larger global climate debate – but it was the perfect symbol to get people to care about the larger issues. It was highly visible and presented a physical manifestation of a variety of important but abstract ecological fights such as limiting greenhouse gas emissions and the impacts of environmental racism on indigenous people. This “rage trend” not only successfully defeated the pipeline, it inspired a new wave of activism that helped pressure the Obama Administration into making real change.
Barack Obama: Our work here and now is to get future generations cleaner air and cleaner water. And a more sustainable planet. - The Obama White House/YouTube
The Keystone Pipeline protests provide a useful roadmap to how to turn a rage trend – like nepo babies – into a social movement that can achieve real change. While rage trends catch fire because they’re symptoms of larger problems, it’s easy to miss the forest for the trees. If we can refocus the nepo baby backlash back on the larger system failures in America, we can make change in our lives as well as on our screens.
Rage trends often focus on overly simplistic solutions, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t real steps that can make things better. Banning familiar faces won’t make Hollywood a meritocracy, but systems like pay-to-play auditions, the skyrocketing cost of acting training, and a lack of support for young filmmakers block the pipeline for young talent. And outside of the entertainment industry – where rich families keep getting richer and it’s actually more expensive to be poor – changing our tax code or reforming the education system could help level the playing field.
There are few feelings more satisfying than delivering a devastating tiktok takedown, but while social media fires spread hot and fast, they tend to burn off just as quickly. Getting involved with local organizations and building networks with long term goals – like economic justice groups working to combat income inequality – will always achieve far more than even the most exquisitely worded tweet.
It’s no surprise that nepo babies inspire so much online rage. They’re like sprinters running the hundred-yard dash who start at the 90-yard line, then have the audacity to pose like Usain Bolt. But like Robert Pitman of ScreenRant notes, “Nepotism in Hollywood is a problem, but it’s the systems that perpetuate it that are the problem, not the nepo babies.”
AJ Krakovsky: I am begging Lily-Rose Depp and all nepo babies to just shut up and stop being delusional about nepotism playing a role in their careers. - Mizfit/TikTok
Complaining about nepotism may feel good – but it will feel even better if we can harness that rage towards making real change – like leveling the playing field with more diversity and inclusion initiatives. Variety’s Darrell D. Miller suggests that change needs to happen not just from the outside and within, saying, “Ultimately, major studios, networks and streaming services should be forced by the consumer from the bottom-up and senior management from top-down to produce films, television and digital content with storylines that feature more women, minorities, LGBTQ and disabled characters.”
And if the public can build on the anger they have towards Hollywood nepo babies to take on the rest of the inequities we face in every industry – we can build a more just world for everyone.