Pieter van Lint’s “Virgin and Child” remixed for 2023 (edit Valentina Di Liscia/Hyperallergic)

As 2022 comes to a close, the slang term “nepo baby” — short for “nepotism baby” — has emerged as one of the year’s most useful descriptors (alongside “goblin mode,” which earned the distinction of Oxford’s “word of the year”).

This week, New York Magazine published an extensive chart tracking entertainment industry family connections in an article titled “How a Nepo Baby is Born” that made the Internet go wild. Some of the exposed networks were obvious, some were surprising, and some were a bit of stretch. All in all, the story illustrated how the children of the rich and famous dominate the film and television industries, dispelling any lingering myth of Hollywood meritocracy.

But for those of us who don’t consider it news that most rich and famous people are somehow connected to other rich and famous people, the most enlightening thing to come out of the “nepo baby” craze has been a slew of incredible memes.

Using a video excerpt from the HBO series White Lotus, Twitter user @sirfreeriq likened the article’s author to one of the show’s protagonists, actress Jennifer Coolidge’s character Tanya McQuoid, who picks up a gun and guns down almost everyone on a yacht in the season finale. Others pointed to how obvious the exposé really was.

Other Twitter users drew nepo-baby maps of their own, naming the Teletubbies character Poe a child of poet Edgar Allan Poe, Remy the rat from the Ratatouille movie a relative of the rodent that began the bubonic plague, and actor Andrew Garfield the descendant of Garfield the cartoon cat.

While nepotism in the entertainment industry is easy to trace, other industries are plagued with the same problem. On social media, users exposed preferential treatment and wealthy parents across professions, from journalism and academia to the world of politics and art.

Perhaps one of the most insightful observations came not in the form of a meme, but as a tweet by user @juwugoslavija, who suggested that the nepo baby discussion is “obfuscating the story that there’s a record low number of artists from working class backgrounds.” Indeed, a recent study found that only 8% of British creatives come from working-class backgrounds, adding to findings that Americans are more likely to go into an artistic profession when they are wealthy. Nepotism might be easy to map, but it’s certainly just one of many factors contributing to a culture of privilege.

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Elaine Velie

Elaine Velie is a writer from New Hampshire living in Brooklyn. She studied Art History and Russian at Middlebury College and is interested in art's role in history, culture, and politics.

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