There's a peculiar satisfaction to watching a scam crash and burn.
Producer extraordinaire Shonda Rhimes has just finalized the main cast for a new show about Soho scammer Anna Delvey, and fans are already obsessed.
The show will follow the years-long scam led by Russian-born Anna Sorokin, a woman who told everyone her name was Anna Delvey and ingratiated herself into the New York social elite by pretending she had access to a fake trust fund. She convinced people to lend her indefinite loans and spent exorbitant amounts of money that she gained through a series of intricate lies. Of course, like the best scams, it fell to pieces; in May 2019, she was convicted to four years in prison.
Delvey will be played by Emmy-winning Julia Garner, who starred as the fiery Ruth on Ozark. Judging by her performance on that show, she'll be able to perfectly embody Delvey's trickster mentality and charm.
Veep's Anna Chlumsky will star as a journalist determined to capture Delvey's story. Her character will probably be based on Jessica Pressler, the journalist who wrote the definitive New York Magazine story about Delvey's endeavors. Laverne Cox plays a celebrity trainer who gets sucked into Delvey's world. The show will also feature Alexis Floyd as a hotel concierge whom Anna tricks with her charm and Katie Lowes as a woman whose relationship with Anna becomes an obsession.
Another Day, Another Scammer
"It started with money, as it so often does in New York," Pressler's essay begins. In the era of Donald Trump, the Kardashians, and Fyre Festival, it seems like we collectively can't get enough of scammers. We love to learn about people who force their way into the spotlight through non-traditional mechanisms and webs of lies.
But why does Anna Delvey need a TV show that gives her even more fame and attention, one that promises to glorify her high-flying lifestyle even as it portrays its inevitable combustion? Perhaps it's because Delvey is living a new sort of American Dream (or maybe she's living what the American Dream always was—a scam).
Regardless, Delvey's story is very much of the moment, very indicative of what it's like to live under late capitalism in a world where money and confidence are keys to success. "The way Anna spent money, it was like she couldn't get rid of it fast enough," reads the article. "Her room was overflowing with shopping bags from Acne and Supreme, and in between meetings, she'd invite Neff to foot massages, cryotherapy, manicures." This could be excerpt out of a postmodern novel, as could the whole story, full of unnecessary products that no one really needs. It's going to look beautiful on TV.
Just like we can't get enough of products, it seems we can't get enough of scammers and their stories. "Anna looked at the soul of New York and recognized that if you distract people with shiny objects, with large wads of cash, with the indicia of wealth, if you show them the money, they will be virtually unable to see anything else," the seminal article finishes. Apparently the same goes for us, and TV: Distract us with an intoxicating scam, make us think we're outsmarting the capitalist system we're actually buying into, and you have a hit, or possibly a president. I, for one, will inevitably be tuning in.
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Instagram influencer Lisa Li's apartment was caught on video, and it wasn't pretty.
We all know, somewhere in our minds, that the images social media influencers present to us have very little to do with their actual lives.
That's the nature of social media in the era of photo editing and paid partnerships. Still, it's shocking to actually be confronted with this truth, to see the dark realities and monetary incentives hidden behind our favorite content.
This disparity was brought into garish relief this week when Lisa Li's landlord posted a video of her real apartment online. Li, who lives in Xi'an, China, is an online celebrity on the Sina Weibo microblog. Her profile is full of images that suggest a glamorous lifestyle, the kind corresponding to a pristine flat full of succulents and copper dishes.
In actuality, Li seems to have been living in squalor. The camera pans to reveal floors covered in dog sh*t, mold, overturned furniture, and general disarray. According to the landlord, Li owed over 3,000 yuan in unpaid utility bills, and even professional cleaners had refused to tackle the apartment.
After the video went public, Li apologized, took responsibility for the mess, and began posting videos of herself cleaning the apartment. As of now, more than 60,000 people have commented on her Weibo page, many enraged at her "fakeness" and the illusory life she created.
This experience must have been traumatic for Li, who probably did not deserve this kind of negative press. Having dedicated much of her life to curating a perfect image, the public exposure of her destitute living conditions would have majorly disrupted her life (albeit, perhaps for her own good).
Glitches in the Simulation: Should We Blame Influencers for Faking It?
While Li's scenario is unusually extreme, she's certainly not the first social media influencer whose real life has shattered a carefully crafted illusion. In July, a Chinese vlogger was exposed as a middle-aged woman who used face-editing filters to present herself as a young girl. Fans discovered that she had been lying because of a glitch during a broadcast that momentarily removed her filter, giving a whole new meaning to the phrase "glitch in the simulation."
When the levee breaks, and we see that our favorite influencer is nothing more than a sham hiding a broken life behind a smiling mask, our first impulse is typically to brand these people as corrupt liars worthy of ridicule. But can we really blame someone for broadcasting a fake life if they're unhappy with their real one?
The Influencer Economy: When Profit Becomes A Personality
In a world where social media is some people's sole source of income, one's online existence can become just as real as one's physical reality. If people who could never garner invites to exclusive parties or make important connections by other means have the chance to do so via a free social networking platform, is that really such a problem? How real do we need our favorite social media maestros to actually be? How separate from profit? Should we, instead of demonizing the con artists, consider criticizing people who sell dangerous diet ads and actually live the exorbitant lifestyles they broadcast to profit off others' envy?
Not all of our admiration for influencers is due to envy, of course. The wealthy have always paraded around their assets; social media is just an extension of this tradition, integral to the existence of capitalism. But never before have people been able to create the illusion of a double life so successfully—and never with so much of a profit incentive to do so.
Much has been written about the thriving influencer economy in China, which is both competitive and curtailed by strict rules about what people can and cannot post online. It's also incredibly lucrative. One of China's leading influencers, Dayi Zhang, sold more than a billion yuan (or $145 million) through her online store, and the nation's social media business model is perhaps the most efficient in the world, generating over 37.4 billion yuan last year in total.
China's media is restricted by censorship laws, and for the most part, Chinese influencers are advised to be "positive role models" online. Their influencer model has been so successful that it will probably continue to grow more stark, intelligent, and pervasive all over the world. Like the best advertisements, it will mutate to adjust to its audience's desires as well as national regulations.
In a world where clicks translate to cash, it's important to remember that almost every post you see is shaped to sell you something—an image, an opinion, or a concealer. It feels safe to say that most of what you see online is made to grab your attention and hopefully persuade you to share whatever product or story (and attached advertisements) are being sold.
But most of us don't want to know that. We want to believe in artistic integrity and genuine human connection, both of which can exist on the Internet. The problem is that influencers and marketers understand this, and the lines between genuine emotional honesty and the marketing potential of chic social justice awareness fads frequently get tangled.
Lucrative Honesty: The Artifice of Online Confessionals
Here in America, mental health confessions are en vogue. Every week, another social media star or celebrity seems to confess just how depressed they've been. "I've really been struggling," they write, via screenshot of an iPhone note. These posts are rarely accompanied by the messy details that usually accompany real mental health issues, and the conclusion is almost always, "I'm better now." Usually, these stars return to their regularly scheduled programming soon after, having confidently bridged the gap between their opaque, robotic personas and their depressed fanbases. This model works for real robots, too. Just check out Lil Miquela, the literal robot who's built an Instagram following off candid, stream-of-consciousness confessions as well as ads for Prada.
All this calls to mind another riches-to-rags influencer narrative: That of Caroline Calloway, the Instascammer who hosted a series of expensive "creativity workshops" last year that were widely criticized as scams. More recently, Calloway was the subject of an essay by her ex-best friend, which paints her as an emotionally abusive Adderall addict who bought her way to social media fame. According to the essay, while Calloway was crafting an image of herself as an American girl having glamorous trysts in England, she was living in squalor in her dorm room—much like Li had been letting her apartment rot while projecting images of a blemishless life.
In a new Buzzfeed profile, Calloway addressed the amount of hate she's gotten this year, proposing that the source of this hatred is "the feeling you get when you scroll through your feed." While a lot of what Calloway writes and says is manufactured to play with readers' emotions, that statement contains a coal of objective truth. What we forget, too often, is that behind the glamour shots, glittery Weibo feeds, and effortless Tik Tok lip syncs, the poster could be lying in bed with a bunch of cockroaches. We forget that as we stare into the voids of our cellphones, the glossy, pouty-lipped stars we idolize may very well be staring right back.
Lisa Li's apartment NDTV.com
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The newly passed "BTS Law" allows K-pop stars to defer mandatory military service.
This week South Korea's National Assembly passed a law that is sure to have BTS ARMY cheering them on.
Generally speaking, all South Korean men are required to spend at least 18 months enlisted in the military, with the final cut-off for entry at age 28. But the new legislation — informally referred to as "The BTS Law" — will allow K-pop stars who meet certain requirements to defer until the age of 30.
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"I want to share with you that I am trans, my pronouns are he/they and my name is Elliot."
Academy Award-nominated actor Elliot Page has come out as transgender.
Page, known for his roles in films like Juno, Whip It, and Inception, announced his coming out in a social media post today. "Hi friends, I want to share with you that I am trans, my pronouns are he/they and my name is Elliot," he wrote. "I feel lucky to be writing this. To be here. To have arrived at this place in my life."
Every year, Spotify listeners win out over devotees to other streaming platforms when they unveil their Spotify Wrapped playlists — a data driven analysis of what the year sounded like.
And while this year's personal Spotify Wrapped summaries are still loading, Spotify just released their data for their most streamed global music and podcasts of the year.
Announced the week following the Grammy nominations, Spotify Wrapped feels like vindication for artists who were snubbed by the awards committee, like The Weeknd and Halsey.
The summary also analyzed trends of when and how people were listening to content, noting increased popularity in nostalgia-themed playlists and work-from-home-themed playlists. Spotify users were understandably playing music from home more, which even caused an uptick in streaming music from gaming consoles. Listeners also tuned obsessively into wellness podcasts like never before.
After months of on and off again speculation, Rihanna and A$AP Rocky seem to be dating.
Obviously, this is good news if it's true. Can you imagine? For the coordinating outfits alone, I need it.