When The Cut’s Anna Delvey piece came out in May 2018, it felt like my birthday. “How Anna Delvey Tricked New York's Party People” chronicled the meteoric rise of scammer Anna Sorokin, whose exploits in the moneyed New York scene belied her total lack of funds. This piece, and the immediate online reaction, ushered in an onslaught of think pieces, dream–casts for movies (the rights were optioned shortly after), and more than a few references to a Penn alum quoted in The Cut’s story.
Enter “Scam Season.”
The ongoing scandal about Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos is now back in the conversation thanks to a just–dropped HBO documentary. Her signature femme Steve Jobs look, her husky, affected voice, her insistence that her dog Balto, is, in fact, a wolf — I can’t look away.
And now, potentially, the scam to end all scams — this college admissions scandal — is front-page news, in the DP and elsewhere. Dalton, Street’s managing editor, and I sat in the office last week for hours, pouring through all 200+ pages of the affidavit, laughing at funny tweets about Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin. I even watched part of an Olivia Jade video. Details — Felicity Huffman’s use of “ruh ro,” photoshopped pictures of “student athletes,” an applicant’s handwriting sample — lodged themselves in my mind.
Why am I — are we — so transfixed by these scammers? Is it schadenfreude? Is it the fascination with true crime? Is it a sense that these are “victimless” crimes, even though they often are not?
I’m not sure. And my letter from the editor is by no means the definitive take. For me, at least, it seems like my predilection for drama, for narrative features, and for a deliciously messy scandal plays into the fixation. And I doubt it’s a coincidence that so many of these scammers who’ve captured public attention are female. Women move through the world observed and judged, and when they weaponize perceptions, it’s interesting and subversive. It’s mesmerizing.
But now I’m trying to make sure I critically examine my fascination with these crimes, that I remember that Olivia Jade and others got into elite colleges at the literal expense of students without the same affluence and privilege. And I have to remember that, as fascinating as these scammers are, they’re often women weaponizing an unfair and unearned privilege to build their own personal brand or wealth. It’s an important reminder that my Twitter feed often doesn’t reflect.
But I’ll still be watching the Elizabeth Holmes doc when I get home tonight.