The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
The term ‘Con Man’ comes from the term ‘Confidence Man’ which was first popularized in an 1849 New York Herald article about a man named William Thompson. A genteelly dressed man, who would go up to upper class people on the street, pretend that they knew each other and start a conversation. He would eventually ask them to lend him something valuable of theirs by asking something like, “Have you the confidence in me to lend me your watch until tomorrow?”. Most of the people, fazed by the whole thing, would give it to him and it is needless to say they never got it back. Since then the world has produced a number of Con Artists both fictional and real. And I understand the fascination them. They are, after all, as the name suggests ‘artists’.
2022 started with a glut of Scammer TV, with shows like The Dropout, about the rise and fall Thernos, the company that claimed to have revolutionised blood testing (but it turned out that the technology didn’t work) and its founder Elizabeth Holmes. Superpumped, about the founder of Uber, Travis Kalanick and the various unethical decisions made at the company and Inventing Anna, about Anna Delvey who posed as a European heiress and scammed New York’s elite. And this is excluding the documentaries like Netflix’s The Tinder Swindler. And they are still more yet to come with Adam Mckay’s Elizabeth Holmes biopic staring Jennifer Lawrence. The most well done of these shows is The Dropout staring Amanda Seyfried, which tries to get into the mind of the ingenue turned fraudster. And the least Inventing Anna with its relentless girlbossification of Delvey.
We’ve always found stories about con artists, whether it’s the twistedness of Tom Ripley or the swag of the Ocean’s series, fascinating. What is different about these shows is that they aren’t entirely made up.
There is a part of us that admires these people. These were people who were just persevering. We like indulging in stories about people who tricked the system that is already unfair. There is comfort in these shows too which is what makes them enticing. Most of them are based on real life stories and we know how they end with the scammer eventually getting caught in their own web of lies. And we like stories with moral clarity, where the bad guy eventually loses. But there is also an element of shadenfreude. The people Delvey swindled seemed to have more money than substance, who didn’t really know her and just looked at the class signals she gave. And who cares about a bunch of rich white venture capital guys losing money for trusting the first young, blonde woman they see to make themselves feel better. To believe they were doing something, somehow helping women, without putting in the effort. These people were stupid enough to fall for it. We wouldn’t fall for it.
But this is where the arc gets messy. Holmes founded a biotech company which promised to do blood tests with a very small amount of blood. The company’s board members included Henry Kissinger and George Schultz, both former US secretary of state. She was on the cover of every major business magazine. She ran her company, which was once valued at $10 billion dollars, for over a decade Anna Delvey was able to build a brand for herself using social media. This exposes the vulnerability with which we live now when one of the most the most important things to get ahead is how you package your personality and build a brand for yourself. What do you do when so much of the way we live now is people asking you ‘Have confidence in me to trust me with your watch until tomorrow?’