What Good Does It Do to Watch Spoiled People Get Conned? —Inventing Anna Does Nothing Inventive
I wish I hadn’t watched “Inventing Anna.” I feel diminished, like I supported the perpetuation of a world view that I not only don’t want to subscribe to, but that I think is at the root of many of our current challenges—excessive consumerism, hyper reverence for money, celebrity reification, to name a few.
The True Anna Sorokin Story
“Inventing Anna,” for those who have not succumbed to reading all the hype around it, is based on the true story of a woman, posing as a German heiress, who scams her way into the wealthiest circles of New York City; who freeloads off of pretty much every enterprise and everyone she comes into contact with, whether or not they can afford it; and who nearly succeeds in getting a loan for $25 million dollars from some major financial institutions, to found a social club for other ridiculously wealthy people. In a trial for financial fraud, she is exposed as a nobody of no means.*
An offering from Shondaland, the show is veiled in the pretense of a social critique of our gluttony for and over-admiration of celebrity and extreme wealth. People apparently lose their capacity for discernment when someone wears expensive clothes and talks about their trust fund. In reality, the show is a celebration and further glorification of those aspects of our current society. Throughout the show, there were opportunities to offer some perspective on the story, instead we were offered a patina of rigor.
The journalist character, Vivian Kent, played by Anna Chlumsky, frowns and scrunches up her face frequently to demonstrate her zeal for the truth. Yet, the very fact that this is the story she is chasing (and that we are now watching yet another iteration of) is not worthy of the wrinkles it is causing on Vivian’s face. The story worth pursuing is how the super-rich have bamboozled all of us into thinking they have more value than the rest of us and that how they act in the world has no impact. Thus, Jeff Bezos can be hallowed for his wealth and trips to space, when his warehouse employees work in grotesque conditions.
Some Questions the Show Might Have Posed
If I don’t care that these rich people are being conned (hey, they are the original grifters!), why do I care about the true story? Well, I might care about the story, if it asked some questions. Such as: How has our society become so twisted up inside its own worship of wealth that it seems like a good idea for financial institutions to invest in a club where their own kind can hang out, shielded from the unwashed masses? Don’t the ultra-wealthy have enough money to fund their own clubs, without implicating financial institutions, which in turn creates risk in the markets? We know who suffers when risks come home to roost. Hint. Not the ultra-wealthy.
On that note, twice Anna causes huge bills to be run up on others’ American Express cards and guess what? It turns out that Amex forgives the charges when you are caught up in wealthy people’s shenanigans. Thanks Amex, for passing along more financial risk to we lesser financial beings. I can assume that some of my card fees are being used to protect rich people from their own susceptibility to cons. Seems unlikely that a woman working two jobs just to cover the rent would be reimbursed if her abusive husband ran up her credit card bill while on a drunken spending spree. Yet, who needs more protection?
Here’s another question—is this how we want to use our precious, overworked court resources? The whole legal case is about savvy rich people getting conned by someone savvier than them. The only not-wealthy person who gets scammed is Rachel, who works a low-level job at Vanity Fair. She is not a character to inspire sympathy either, as we watch her puppy-dogging after her supposed friend, bedazzled by the glamor and sponging off fake-Anna’s unfunded generosity. Not to mention, then profiting handsomely off the rights to her story.
What or Who is This Story Good For?
I wanted to love this show. After all, it is chock-a-block with women in juicy roles. Yet, the only characters who are not seduced by Anna’s scamming are the three patient and long-suffering male characters. Yes, it’s fun to watch fabulously dressed women. No, I don’t need all women characters to be likable or even palatable (that would be falling into the prevailing societal trap, which judges and rewards women for niceness). And, I am greedy. I wanted the women to be smart and, at least a few of them, (for big bonus viewing pleasure) to be decent humans (Glow is a great example of this, as is Good Girls Revolt).
Neff, a character who works as a hotel concierge, and becomes close with Anna (to the extent anyone does), emphasizes often to whoever will listen that Anna is smart, that her idea for the social club is truly bankable. Yes, probably … and that does not make the smart idea worthwhile.
I long for a show where women use their brains and power well. I know. I know. Audiences love grift stories. The show is giving people what they want. As if, Shonda Rhimes just follows trends and has no agency in what her enterprise is going to offer to people. As if she has no desire to shape the social and cultural landscape. Because that is what happens with all this television we watch—what’s normalized and what we give our attention to, in turn shapes how we think about the world. More—it shapes how we are in the world. I would love more role models of how to be a woman in the world.
On its About page, Shondaland offers us its mission in the form of a prose poem. The first two lines read: “We tell stories. All day long./Dark or light, we use our stories for good.”
What or who is Anna’s story good for? What change for the better is provoked by this show?
*Extra tidbit—if you have watched the show and have not seen this SNL spoof of “Inventing Anna,” it is worth the four minutes. And even if you haven’t watched the show—the skit perfectly captures the whole show in a nutshell and then you’ll never need to watch it.