Friday, June 25, 2010

On nepotism

by Lauren

Trolling the internet for a blog topic, I stumbled across this Gawker piece by Richard Lawson on why one shouldn't hate Simon Rich just because nepotism probably accounts at least somewhat for his success (and recent book-to-film deal).  I'll admit that I had missed this deal announcement, but I probably would've at least scoffed had I first seen it out of this context.

Lawson sums up my (and perhaps the average person's) gut reaction to such things thusly:
But still, in a country where so many doors are closed to so many people, that a twentysomething born into a life of ease can just saunter in and get exactly what he wants on the first try seems to fly in the face of our noble belief in the meritocracy.*
But he also goes on to say that sometimes, we really ought to just suck it up and put all that aside.  As he points out, why bother to wish that other people struggle because we do?  Is it a belief in merit or just envy?  Sometimes geniuinely talented people get an easy in, not because it's the only way they can succeed, but because it's not sensible to reject the easy in on principle.

The piece is well argued, and I think a good reminder not to fall into the trap of begrudging someone success.  In publishing, I think it's especially easy to get caught up in looking for someone to blame.  There's celebrity memoirs; a publishing system full of gatekeepers; bottom line thinking; all the people taking the supposedly (but actually not at all) "easy" way out by writing something trendy or very commercial; and yes, too, the well connected.  But even if the system is imperfect and quality isn't always the deciding factor, where does bitterness get you? 

It's natural to be annoyed, but don't let that drive you.  Sometimes we can all use the reminder to breathe deep and worry not about everybody else, but instead about how to achieve our goals independent of whether anyone else achieves theirs. 

via The Awl

*I learned from the comments to that Gawker post that the term "meritocracy" was coined (satirically) by Toby Young's father, which seems delightfully a propos.


  1. I agree, we shouldn't wish failure on others. We should feed off of their successes...regardless of who they're related to or how they got there. Look at a certain vampire author...hers seems to be *the* definitive "easy road" story...should we all scoff and judge her as well? Find the positive in everything, that's what I always *try* to do!

  2. Anyone who has time and energy to be envious of another's success or happiness for any reason should be thanking their lucky stars that they have so few real problems.

  3. Well if I had those connections I'd sure use them too!

  4. There is no one person who’s success I begrudge.
    No sir-reee
    I begrudge everybody’s success

  5. /soapbox/ We shouldn't begrudge the success people enjoy unfairly due to the circumstances of birth? Then, by Jove, let's go back to Jim Crow and the men-only workplace!

    Nepotism and racism are the same sort of discrimination by pedigree, just at different scales. In fact, nepotism discriminates against more people, including everyone that racism would exclude plus the majority of the privileged family's own ethnicity. It's like racism on steroids, with a lame alibi.

    Nepotism is unjust and unjustified, even if the privileged do occasionally turn out to have talent. Complaining about it is not about being bitter, it's about standing up for what's right and in the best interest of the entire literary community. /soapbox/

  6. All it does is make me wonder whether it's worth trying to break in, having zero contacts in the business. Nepotism is great if you can take advantage of it, but at some point the odds get so slim for an outsider that playing the lottery looks like better odds.


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