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In (Partial) Defense of Nepotism

February 27, 2013
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Before we even start, just take the title, read it out loud, yell at your screen for a few minutes and then go get a piece of chocolate. Let’s get the anger out of our systems early on here, this is a place for a frank discussion….Okay, do you feel a little better? Is that dark, creamy, sweetness helping us through our differences? Onward ho! (Not to be confused with “onward, ho”, which I’d never say to you because I respect you.)

Nepotism is defined (thanks, Merriam-Webster) as “favoritism (as in appointment to a job) based on kinship”.

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about this thing that we all loathe and bash our heads against the wall about until it happens to us. That’s the reality of nepotism, it sucks until you get to benefit from it. Is that fair? Of course not, but more often than not, these beneficiaries of nepotism are not without merit, unlike what Wikipedia has to say about it (“Nepotism is favoritism granted to relatives regardless of merit.”).

Here’s the thing, connections can only get you so far, and then you have to earn your stay. This doesn’t apply to every instance, but most. Think about it, if you get a job because your uncle, cousin, mom, dad, sister, brother, whatever, is in a position of power or asks for a favor for you, you still must prove that you are qualified and capable of carrying out said job. Otherwise what happens? They either replace you, don’t hire you again, fire you, give you the title but not any of the work, or murder you. Probably not murder you, though. Let’s take a look at some examples for both sides of the argument (all these examples are entertainment industry examples because I’m not going to spend six months researching nepotism in the business world for a blog post…even though I probably should):

Zooey Deschanel: Our loved/hated doe-eyed, plucky, forehead hiding Zooey’s dad is a cinematographer, which means he knew people who could help her get an in to meet other people who could put her in movies. Young blue eyes landed a few small parts on TV and in movies before 2000’s Almost Famous, which led to Elf, etc etc up to today’s New GIrl. If Zooey had bombed in Almost Famous and not been a poster-child for rebellious teenagers of yesteryear, whatever help Daddy might’ve given her would have evaporated, because you don’t get that many chances to prove yourself. Just to add here, Kate Hudson, (you know, Goldie Hawn’s daughter),you’ll remember, also got her breakout role in Almost Famous and impressed people so much that she was nominated for an Oscar. Since then she’s been underwhelming audiences steadily, but we still like her because she’s cute and we yearn for the Penny Lane days to, one of these days, return.

Tori Spelling: We know how this goes. Tori’s Dad, the late Aaron Spelling, TV executive extraordinaire and multi-gazillionaire, got her a part on 90210, we all know that. People liked her on the show…or at least they didn’t hate her enough to kill her off…or they respected/feared her Dad too much. After the show was over, instead of moving on to an illustrious film career, or even continuing in popular television, Tori was demoted to the world of crappy TV movies. Why? Because she was not very good (understatement). Now she does crappy reality TV. So, maybe Daddy can get you a role in seven seasons of one of the most popular shows of all time, but he can’t save your reputation if you suck after the show ends.

Sofia Coppola: We all know this one, right? Winona Ryder drops out of The Godfather 3, Papa Ford Coppola casts his waifish daughter Sofia, everyone hates her in it, she stops acting and goes on to direct beautiful, long, sometimes tediously boring films.

Lena Dunham/Everyone on GIRLS: Okay, so this one is obviously popular to discuss right now. Lena Dunham gets an incredible amount of press about the fact that her success is due to her famous artist parents. Let me just say this…if Lena Dunham was a terrible writer and a boring person we wouldn’t be having this “conversation”. In my opinion (like everything else here), she works really hard. Writing, producing, starring in (and occasionally directing) a TV show isn’t exactly easy. While many argue the show’s flaws, it is critically lauded. As for the cast of the show, let me first and foremost say that Zosia Mamet is gosh darn excellent. She’s fantastic. She deserves this part, she is Shoshanna, and honestly, who in their right mind would be surprised that the daughter of genius playwright David Mamet was talented? Jemima Kirke, daughter of the drummer of Bad Company, is also good. More than that, though, she grew up with Lena Dunham, the girls are friends, and if you could cast your friend in your show and knew she’d be good, wouldn’t you choose her over Chloe Sevigny (I just made that up). I get the argument that these girls grew up together in a world of privilege where rich children of semi-famous parents hang out together, but yeah, they do, and the children of creative people (SURPRISE!) tend to be creative people. As for Allison Williams…welp, I’m not a fan. I think she’s pretty awful, in fact, and I don’t care that she went to Yale or whatever and is *hot* or whatever, because I don’t like her. So…boo nepotism in this case. Sorry, Brian Williams, I still like you.

Jakob Dylan: Remember when The Wallflowers came out with that “One Headlight” song back in the 90s? Remember being like, “Oh man! Bob Dylan’s son has really pretty eyes and he’s pretty talented!” Remember when you hadn’t thought about him in years and years because while his band is still together they’re relatively irrelevant? (Say that 5x fast) Helpful for Bob Dylan to be your Dad, but not going to ensure that people care about buying your music forever.

As a (relatively) young person pursuing a career in the entertainment industry I have my own, personal relationship to nepotism. See, my father has had a 28 year career in the film industry and thus, has the ability to help me out. In addition to helping me out, he has helped out various cousins, uncles, friends, and a myriad of other distant-to-immediate family members. Some of these people still have careers in the industry and many of them do not. The ones that do, do because they’ve enjoyed their jobs, worked hard, and impressed everyone around them. The ones that don’t either didn’t enjoy the work, were lazy, went on to pursue other careers, or, bluntly, were disappointing or ungrateful.

I have several friends also pursuing acting careers with similar family connections and, let me tell you right now, it isn’t easy for any of us. Don’t get me wrong, I am incredibly, incredibly grateful for the opportunities that I’ve been able to take advantage of because of my connections, but I’m not making a living off of my acting career yet. And neither are my friends. I work my ass off for this. Literally and figuratively. When I didn’t have representation I lost some weight and started performing stand up comedy. When I wasn’t getting any auditions I changed my hair color and spent a ton of money on new pictures. When I wasn’t getting any parts I started writing a script for myself. It’s not easy, just because you have an “in”, it’s hugely helpful, but everyone needs a way in the door and just about everyone who goes on to be successful (with the exception of the far and few between who are discovered waiting tables by Steven Spielberg) got there because someone gave them an “in” and they worked their ass off to prove that they were worth the favor.

So here’s to hard work paying off, with a little help from your friends when you need it.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. March 20, 2013 11:52 AM

    YEAH! To hard work.

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