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Inventing AnnaCourtesy of Netflix

Inventing Anna proves that money is fake and status is everything

We don’t want stable jobs, security and pensions – we want prestige, power and recognition

There’s something charming about Anna Delvey (née Sorokin). Originally from a Russian family who immigrated to a small town in western Germany when she was 16, Delvey moved to New York at 22, changed her name, and curried favour with art-world insiders and the NYC elite by pretending she was a German heiress. Behind the scenes, Delvey was forging bank statements to apply for major bank loans and overdraft allowances, which were used in turn to pay off existing debts and accumulate greater investments in the private member’s club she had planned to found. She was later arrested, charged, and served her time in prison.

While watching Inventing Anna, a nine-part Netflix drama charting her rise and fall, I realised that I admire her work ethic and her commitment to her con. Yes, her fortune was a fraud, and no, she did not treat people kindly. Delvey was cut-throat but convincing, and possessed a clear talent for working a room – she could have easily made a living as a sales representative, a high-powered publicist, or even a brand director for some kind of startup that Business Insider would eventually dub as “Uber for couture”. But what intrigues me is how even a six-figure salary wouldn’t have satisfied her: she needed her entrepreneurial endeavours to succeed because she wanted prestige, recognition, and something to call her own.

Maybe I should be less admiring of highfalutin hacks and the ways that people like Anna Delvey worked the system. But if I’m being honest, I seek out their stories. Silver-screen treatments of today’s greatest grifters are in no short supply. Inventing Anna is joined by The Tinder Swindler, Bad Blood, The Dropout, both Fyre Festival documentaries, and a wealth of podcasts in a growing canon of con-man content. Whether it’s raking in billions in funding for a blood-test system that never materialised, or charging a pretty penny for a festival in FEMA tents, these scammers worked impressively hard to avoid doing real work. They’d have so obviously found more long-term success in white-collar workplaces than in white-collar crime, as well as a healthier bank balance. But money isn’t everything, and to these scammers, it’s often just a formality. In fact, money has never felt faker than it does as Delvey picks up tabs amounting to more than my annual pay, and yet as she works her way into the lives of the rich and famous, her chequebook is an all-access pass. 

A common theme among these grand grifters is that they train their eyes on even grander horizons. Some searched for status and recognition. Others reached for power, influence or cultural cool. This is supported by a growing anti-work movement that asks us to rethink how and why so many of us work to make the rich richer. Some of us, like Anna, reject the system and strike out on our own. The rest of us trade our time for their money, then indulge a similar narcissism of small differences to justify our choices: this company has a full fridge stocked with freebies, while that one is a great name to add to your CV, and a third offers a meagre £200 more each month even though their annual revenue has more digits than a phone number. This is the myth of the cool job that still has a vice grip on many young people, especially in creative fields: we could prioritise stability, meaningful work, and a retirement fund, but instead we strive for cultural cool, for power, for recognition. It makes sense: we spend an outsized portion of our life at work as opposed to socialising or pursuing passions, which makes work the default site for building relationships and developing a sense of self. As a result, many of us prioritise careers that can be seen and admired: we could find job stability as plumbers and electricians, but where’s the glamour in that?

The stories of scammers like Anna Delvey and The Tinder Swindler’s Simon Leviev approach the sublime, and watching their victims recount exactly how much money they lost makes it all seem so much more fake (and absurd). Let’s be real: the phrase “$25-million loan” is as foreign to me and my bank account as “one gazillion British pounds”. And yet people like Leviev and Delvey wheedled their way into high society not by being born into it, or having a job, or working for someone else, but by flashing credit cards and cash tips. They confirmed what we all know to be true: that even amid changing attitudes about wealth, a growing interest in exploring alternatives to capitalism, and a rising distrust in the gilded elite, money still talks – regardless of whether or not it’s your own. 

That said, for how fake their own wealth was, the work that Leviev, Delvey and their peers do to maintain their mythologies is startlingly real. This is the long shadow of our contemporary culture of scams, grifts, and cons: for even the most bombastic contemporary con men, money seems more like a tool than a motive. While I might see a £10,000 cash deposit in my bank account as a life-changing sum, they see it as a minor proof point that they’re on the right track. Take Elizabeth Holmes: when she was named the first woman to achieve self-made billionaire status, the title of “self-made” mattered more to her than “billionaire”. She held such a deep admiration for Steve Jobs that she even adopted his signature black roll-neck. But with her court dates looming in late 2021,  she moved to more neutral power suits. These lent a safe, believable professionalism that matched her defence more closely than the image of a maverick wunderkind that she’d spent years cultivating. It’s perhaps the fastest fall from grace of a great grifter that I’ve ever seen, a depressing end to a legendary tale of cheating the system: Holmes’ turtlenecks made her look like she had a vision. In her power suits, she looked like she had a job.