The Helicopter Fiasca
The Helicopter Fiasca

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The Helicopter Fiasca

Grounded for trying to charter a helicopter on dad’s credit card. We've all been there, amiright? Despite the fact that most of us haven't found ourselves in a similar predicament, filmmaker Sofia Coppola’s daughter Romy Mars captured the attention of millions – more people than tuned into the season finale of The Last of Us, in fact – with a 50-second ‘make dinner with me’ TikTok posted in direct contravention of her parents’ number one rule: no social media.

"the feeding frenzy has everything to do with the recent appetite for nepo babies"

As Mars explains in the video, ‘they don’t want me to be this nepotism kid but TikTok is not gonna make me famous so it doesn’t really matter’. This had all the makings of a classic sitcom episode (teen gets grounded, sneaks around some more, which leads to even more trouble and hilarity) only this funny car-crash was happening live in front of an internet just dying to christen their new number one favourite nepo baby.

Nepo 1

The 16-year-old Mars is winning in her candidness. Self-consciously unselfconscious, she shrugs off the whole trying-to-charter-a-helicopter thing (‘I wanted to have dinner my camp friend’) with a distinctly teenage peppiness. Already Over It, she has moved on to making pasta alla vodka. She looks pleased with herself for holding a knife and admits she had to google the difference between garlic and an onion, and this serves to add a level of suspense to proceedings: will she actually be able to make the dish? I’d be joining basically the whole of Twitter by comparing her filmmaking talents to those of her mother (and grandfather Francis Ford Coppola), but I would like to highlight the inclusion of ‘and yes we’re on’ in the edit, which adds a light, meta- sense of laissez faire, as she introduces Ari, her babysitter’s boyfriend.

Nepo 2

"the dream of perpetual progress has recently shattered"

Ari appears hunching over a golden retriever (has he been directed to do so?), while Mars asks him what thinks of ‘the helicopter fiasco?’ He’s the one who comes up with fiasca, the ‘feminine’ version that gives this piece its title. Not missing a beat, Mars quips ‘it’s women’s history month, so’.

Sally hackett  garlic swans  2020  garlic and acrylic  8 x 11 x 10 cm %28each%29

Sally Hackett, garlic swans, 2020, garlic and acrylic, 8 x 11 x 10 cm (each). Courtesy the artist.

So far, so charming, but the viewer didn’t really come round for dinner; rather the feeding frenzy has everything to do with the recent appetite for ‘nepo babies’. The term refers to children of celebrities who have succeeded in careers usually the same or adjacent to their famous parent, and the Coppola dynasty has a few: Composer Carmine Coppola was the father of director Francis Ford Coppola and actress Talia Shire, and he is the grandfather of actor Nicolas Cage. Roman Coppola is the filmmaker brother of Sofia, who is married to Thomas Mars of the band Phoenix. Meanwhile, Talia’s sons are musician Robert Schwartzman (Rooney) and actor Jason Schwartzman, who starred in his cousin Gia Coppola’s 2020 film Mainstream.

Titian   pope paul iii with his grandsons alessandro and ottavio farnese   wga22985

Portrait of Pope Paul III, Cardinal Alessandro Farnese and Duke Ottavio Farnese, 1546, Titian. Museo di Capodimonte, Naples.

"Rather than waiting on that wealth to one day 'trickle down', watching the Coppola waterfall gushing onwards in real time makes you feel alive"

Our obsession with the ‘nepo baby’ began in 2022 when a fan of Euphoria’s Maude Apatow discovered she is the daughter of director Judd Apatow and actress Leslie Mann and tweeted about it, but our fascination with ‘nepotism’ is probably as old as celebrity. The word originates in 17th century Italy: since some Catholic popes and bishops had taken vows of chastity, they had no legitimate offspring and would elevate nephews (Latin, nepos) to positions of preference in the cardinalate. It was a time of turbulence and transition in Italy, with the Counter Reformation bolstering the church’s power.

Now is a turbulent time, too: the dream of perpetual progress – the idea that each successive generation should be better off than the one before – has recently shattered. A think tank called the Resolution Foundation recently reported that the average UK household is £11,000 per year worse off than comparable economies. The trouble here in the UK seems to be a failure to invest and a lack of productivity. The US has experienced wage stagnation, albeit to a lesser degree, too.

Cristo en casa de marta y mari%cc%81a  by diego vela%cc%81zquez

Christ in the House of Martha and Mary, 1618. Diego Velázquez. The National Gallery

Last year’s fascination with nepo babies arrived hand in hand with ‘Quiet Quitting’, as gen z entered the workforce before taking their foot completely off the pedal, asking themselves, erm, what's the point? In such a hostile economic climate, then, nepo babies are both an irritant and a balm: on the one hand, they incense us with a privilege that neoliberalism has taught us to view as ‘unearned’. But at the same time, since faith in that neoliberalist promise that hard work gets you places wanes, someone like Mars being candid and demystifying the whole thing comes as a cathartic relief. Part of the impish excitement around nepo babies is clawing back at least some perverse humour in a world that feels increasingly unfair, especially for viewers in the plutocratic UK where the majority of her generation can't take the idea of being better off than their parents for granted. Rather than waiting on that wealth to one day 'trickle down', watching the Coppola waterfall gushing onwards in real time makes you feel alive, at least.

Our fascination with nepo babies is likely a product of years of wage stagnation and the growing feudal feeling in our society. In such a climate, Romy's video has provided a much-needed respite and a reminder that it is possible to talk about privilege without being defensive or overly serious. If other nepo kids were to follow Romy's lead and be frank about their privilege, we may be one step closer to balancing the scales. For the rest of us, at least we can take some solace in the fact we know the difference between garlic and onion.

By Sammi Gale


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