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The Latest Proof of Privilege Is Parents With Blue Names on Wikipedia

The internet continues to erode the myth of meritocracy

The internet is teeming with inconvenient truths. But if you don’t have a guide — or the occasional signpost — you might not find the good stuff. That’s why I’m glad to see the return of a meme template that leads the viewer to unearth a secret history. Thanks to the post below, for example, I learned that actor Jon Hamm transferred from one college to another as a student in the mid-1990s, and the rather disturbing reason he had to leave the first. The more you know!   

The “Never Ask” format can point to any skeleton in a closet or past embarrassing behavior. There’s one for the beloved cinema auteurs who signed a petition against the extradition of Roman Polanski on U.S. sex crime charges dating to the 1970s. Another for the British Museum, regarding their “acquisition” of rare artifacts from around the globe. And if you don’t know why NASA had so many German engineers after World War II, it’s time to start Googling. 

Of all these callouts, however, I’m especially tickled by the variant that draws attention to the celebrity-industrial complex. How many of your favorite artists, musicians and actors got where they are by having famous parents? Start clicking around Wikipedia and you’ll soon find out.

To belabor the joke somewhat: If a name in a Wikipedia article is blue, that means it’s a hyperlink, which means the person is notable enough to have their own page in the online encyclopedia. That people born into dynasties of wealth, fame, prestige and connections have a greater opportunity to pursue stardom for themselves is something we intuitively understand — yet individual cases may still come as a shock. Just ask this Twitter user who recently discovered that an actress on Euphoria is a “nepotism baby,” her parents being actress Leslie Mann and director/producer Judd Apatow. The revelation of blue parent names contributes to our sense that the business of entertainment is rigged in favor of families that have already made themselves fixtures of it, and that any dream of breaking in from the outside is unrealistic.

Of course, many people reach the top of their field despite modest beginnings, and not everybody with well-known parents is wholly bereft of talent. Sometimes a good actor raises another good actor. What’s undeniable is how Wikipedia, and the rest of the web, have diagrammed the networks of influence that shape our culture. It’s not just a matter of lineage but where you grew up, the schools you attended and whom you met at what kind of events. To pull back the curtain and see the advantages that numerous stars have enjoyed their entire lives makes a big abstraction like “Hollywood” seem far smaller, and bitterly exclusive. You can’t help wondering how you would’ve played the hand they were dealt. How high you may have soared. Or, to consider it from a different angle, how you might have blundered your way to the top.  

Those looking to avoid or boycott the presumed beneficiaries of nepotism, however, are in for disappointment: There are simply too many of them, across every medium and career space. All we can do is try to compete, and become blue names on Wikipedia ourselves — without the assistance of blue-named parents. Yeah, life’s unfair and the meritocracy is mostly fake, but what can you do about it? Only your best. And when you’re feeling inadequate, you can always breathe a sigh of relief that you aren’t riding the coattails of a famous mom or dad. 

Honestly, though, I can’t be mad at anyone who is. Go get the green light for a film project! Sell that book proposal! Sign a record contract! The rest of us are too busy researching your background.