Saturday, June 28, 2008


I just finished watching a few minutes of Luke Russert, the college-aged son of late TV host Tim Russert on Larry King. The passing of Russert the elder was very sad, as is every premature death. But the rush to make Luke Russert the "hair apparent," as Paulie Walnuts might say, is annoying. And not just because Luke Russert seems to be talentless, uncharismatic, and smug. Why the hell is he on TV as the voice of young America? By virtue of his class status and connections, he represents the perspective of a tiny minority of Americans. Hopefully, like Theresa Heinz Kerry's "allegedly" hunky son, trotted out on the 2004 campaign trail, who the MSM assumed the nation would collectively swoon for, my guess is that Luke Russert's stab at fame will be greeted with incredulity and annoyance.

As a Canadian, I am familiar with this process: the neoliberal crook Brian Mulroney has a son who rode his connections to fame as host of "Canadian Idol"; Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau's unctuous and punch-worthy sons tried to milk careers out of their last name (like Russert, the chiaorscuro photograph of whom holding his father's anchor chair is one of the tackiest mementos mori I have ever seen, one of Trudeau's kids used the immediate post-death phase to market his "brand," in a flamboyantly theatrical eulogy that still causes involuntary wincing); even Eugene Levy's son has a career in Canadian media, as a host of The Hills aftershow on MTV Canada. This is fitting, of course, because The Hills is itself a vehicle for raging nepotism. It stars Brody Jenner, idiot son of track star Bruce Jenner (now stepfather of another clan of nepotizzerz, the Kardashian daughters of one of OJ Simpson's lawyer), whose previous attempt to become famous was as part of evil idiot Spencer Pratt's reality show about stepfather David Foster. The Hills also features Laguna Beach veterans who would not have careers were it not for the accomplishments of their well-heeled parents. (Remember Lauren Conrad showing Stephen around her multitrillion dollar cliffside crib-in-progress, as if she had something to do with it?)

On E!, film critic Jeffrey Lyons's fucktard son Ben prances around as if he actually earned his way into show biz. Mike Wallace's son Chris holds court on Fox News, ranting against handout-hungry liberals. This year's big film Juno was directed by celebuspawn Jason Reitman (who claims to be a passionate libertarian--i.e. a fan of the free market and enemy of the social welfare state, which of course is a very principled and courageous position for one born rich, well-connected, and healthy. Douche.) Judd Apatow, Josh Schwartz, and Seth Rogen are also kids of industry types. They have used their edge to mainstream fag jokes and celebrate fratboy stoner machismo of a most unimaginative kind. Double douches. Not to mention the careers of Kate Hudson and Rumer Willis, Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie, Kimberly and Sean Stewart, Tori Spelling, Bill Kristol and George W. Bush. Douchosity to the power of douche.

Even on the left, nepotiz runs rampant. Witness the careers of Naomi Klein and Chesa Boudin. In my field, US History, many kids of the famous and well-connected rule the roost: David Brinkley's son Alan, for instance, and Alfred Kazin's son, Michael are two of the most prominent dudes in the discipline.

I know I should offer some deep analysis of nepotism and why I hate it so much. Lacking the patience or discipline to do so, all I can say is: it annoys me. I wish folks were more honest about it. I wish that young offspring of the famous and successful were less smug and complacent. And given the generally mediocre quality of their work and thinking, I wish we could see and hear instead from the folks they skipped ahead of. I bet they are less irritating.


Michael Kazin said...

yes, nepotism is a problem-- has always been, in fact, since the beginnings of political society probably, back about 6k years ago. But a general denunciation is easy; it's harder to get down to cases: for example, how did Alan Brinkley's father, who was not an academic, help him gain "prominence" in history? And how did my father, a literary critic, persuade reviewers to give my books positive reviews -- especially after his death a decade ago?- Michael Kazin

the sad billionaire said...

Points well taken... perhaps this is all the traumatic aftermath of having selected Julian Lennon's Valotte LP as my first record purchase at age 7.

And, of course, let me mention, at risk of obsequiousness, that I am a great admirer of your work, that of Brinkley, and that of your father. I certainly hope that I did not imply that anybody has used their connections in a shady way, or exerted undue influence.

Having grown up bourgeois in an intellectual family myself, any such allegation would be serious kettle-pot-black-calling, or some combination thereof. We are in agreement, I think, on the main point: nepotism is unsettling, deep rooted in our culture, and difficult to grasp as an object of critique.

And I concede that for small-d democrat progressive scholars and intellectuals, perhaps the issue of family connections is not such a big deal.

I will say, however, that I have noticed that among friends who are offspring of famous and successful academics and artists, a skewed view of how the world works is pretty common. I don't have sociological data, but anecdotally I feel pretty confident about the validity of this observation.

Most of the time, this skewed world-view doesn't get in the way of principled politics or rigorous scholarship. But it is palpable, and sometimes it manifests in not so great ways: for example, valorizing wonk-ery and number crunching as the pinnacle of political action, difficulty empathizing with the struggles of aggrieved communities, or the refusal to take seriously the limitations of liberalism vis-a-vis racism. Of course, many sons and daughters of the rich and famous are not guilty of these tendencies, and these tendencies are not limited to the sons and daughters of famous people.

But upon hearing, for example, one such person-- a good guy and a good scholar and not at all an evil free-rider-- confidently assure an audience at a recent symposium that the Republican Revolution and rise of Reagan had nothing to do with racism (in fact wonder aloud why Reagan didn't attract more black voters[!]), I must admit that my mind leaped to the conclusion that this was a warped perspective altogether too comfortable with its sense of reality.

On the other hand, For right-wingers, who believe in variations of elite theory/meritocracy/natural inequality, nepotism is especially odious to the degree that it becomes self-fulfilling prophecy.

Watching a clown like Fred Kagan on CSPAN, for example, conveys the distinct impression that he was raised from birth to believe that controlling the lives and deaths of subordinate others was his destiny.

Equally troubling is nepotism-by-marriage, which connects most of the news elite to activists, intellectuals, and politicians way on the right side of the spectrum. Should have mentioned that, too.

Thanks for stopping by!

j said...

It's not that they're always mediocre, either. No doubt Keifer Sutherland has some acting skill, but toss him, Jon Cusack, Drew Barrymore, Jennifer Aniston or any of the others whose faces grace the dvds on the new releases shelf into a pool of unconnected actors and would they rise to the prominence and success they currently enjoy?

Of course, then you could look at Brian Doyle Murray and Frank Stallone to see the worst examples of nepotism are sometimes fraternal.

It's not even that a famous or successful parent has to intervene on the child's behalf--the folks who cast, review, publish, exhibit will recognize the connection and at least pause to give the aspiring talent a decent look.