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Is pop culture falling in love with con artists?

From "Inventing Anna" to "The Tinder Swindler," con artists increasingly populate our entertainment

Is pop culture falling in love with con artists? From Inventing Anna to The Tinder Swindler, con artists increasingly populate our entertainment
Anna Sorokin in court
American Hustle (David O. Russell, 2013)
Catch Me If You Can (Steven Spielberg, 2002)
Matchstick Men (Ridley Scott, 2003)
The Grifters (Stephen Frears, 1990)
The Talented Mr. Ripley (Anthony Minghella, 1999)
The Dropout (2022)
The Wolf of Wall Street (Martin Scorsese, 2013)
Anna Sorokin in court
Anna Sorokin in court
Anna Sorokin in court
Anna Sorokin in court

Thanks to the mainstream culture, it seems there is a way to monetize on frauds’ wrongdoings. Anna  Sorokin and Simon Leviev have already leveraged on Netflix series and its consequent fame. Glorifying  criminals and taking their real-life stories as a base to build up a plot that attracts readers, film directors,  or acts as a precedent to add to the current zeitgeist, appears in the end as a visual euphemism. Yet,  these storylines have been in the market for quite a long time. Some argue that paying lawbreakers to  stay afloat on the streaming’s top charts can perversely affect the viewers' perception of criminals. And  it might be the case with Anna Sorokin and Simon Leviev, who now exploit their fame. Anna Sorokin, more known as Anna Delvey, a Russian-German  faux heiress who made her way to the creme de la crème society, was convicted on eight counts and subsequently released on parole after four years for good behavior, she has become a scam queen/celebrity thanks to  Netflix, who adapted her story into a drama series Inventing Anna. As of now, she has several ambitious  projects: launching a book and podcast about her time in jail, working on a documentary project with  Bunim Murray Productions, and carrying out a joint project with Julia Fox. 

Anna Sorokin in court
Anna Sorokin in court
Anna Sorokin in court
Anna Sorokin in court
Anna Sorokin in court

Meanwhile, there is Shimon Yehuda Hayut, more recognized as Simon Leviev. He is a guy who  deceived young women via Tinder for a six-figure sum, allegedly presenting himself as a son of a wealthy  Russian Israeli diamond mogul, Lev Leviev. Simon would not spare luxury gifts and allure women with  private jet trips and upscale dining. Once they fell for his fake persona, Simon would persuade them to  take out bank loans and hand them to him. Simon Leviev, convicted to two years in prison in Finland  and 15 months in Israel for theft and forgery of documents, is still wanted in several countries for fraud.  Thus far, it did not stop Netflix from buying Raw TV’s rights to air The Tinder Swindler series based on  his story. After leveraging on this win-win situation, Simon pursues his career in the entertainment industry and provides services on the video-sharing website – Cameo. He charges fans $200 for personalized greetings and manages to offer $20K worth of service for club appearances.  

It is not the first time Netflix airs stories on scammers: The Puppet Master: Hunting the Ultimate Conman, Dirty  Money, Lord of Scam, and the list goes on. It seems like people enjoy stories on swindlers, but should  mainstream culture give sociopaths publicity and romanticize their crime? Perhaps, playing on an  individuals' trust seems less of a crime, as, imagine, homicide or sexual assault per se. The idea of lying to and robing the high echelons of society wearing Chanel sounds not so violent and, indeed, entertaining to viewers.  As a result, the conned victims appear unsympathetic to some as it is hard to imagine how one can trust six figures to a stranger. Inevitably, it plays on their reputation. Yet, this is what makes these stories captivate the audience aside from the glorious aesthetics – deceiving people through their dark  personality traits, namely narcissism, and manipulations.

What do Anna, Simon, and other con artists have in common? They did not miss any of the persuasion  classes back in high school. But to put it seriously, they excelled in the confidence game, boosting the  opponents' psyche to then “pull the trigger”. The credibility that makes things seem effortless for the  most part came from their meticulously chosen wardrobe, an imaginary network they possess, being  great talkers but getting the opponent to do the most talking. To put it in numbers, Anna Sorokin has  stolen $275,000 in total but has been paid $320,000 by Netflix for the rights to air her story. And Simon  Leviev was even back on Tinder until the series aired, and now he is earning money for the fame  (45,800,000 hours of views in a week) that Netflix has granted him. Meanwhile, their victims are still  waiting for that wire transfer. 

The Dropout (2022)
The Wolf of Wall Street (Martin Scorsese, 2013)
The Talented Mr. Ripley (Anthony Minghella, 1999)
The Grifters (Stephen Frears, 1990)
Matchstick Men (Ridley Scott, 2003)
American Hustle (David O. Russell, 2013)
Catch Me If You Can (Steven Spielberg, 2002)

The media-streaming platform – Netflix – with around 222 million worldwide subscribers, seems to  know what viewers want. So do many media platforms nowadays. Online frauds are becoming more  common as people rely on a simple ‘I promise’ and photoshopped wire transfer receipts. Plus, the real life story that builds around the mainstream spirit, fixating on scam diluted with a good wardrobe and  people 'sort of' getting away with it – is a no-brainer streaming hit, but it is a drop in the ocean. Take The Bling Ring back in 2013. Prugo (one of the members of the group of thieves) said, «It’s the lifestyle  that everybody kind of wants». As writers are fishing for stories to maneuver bestselling plots and proving once again that beautiful  crime sells, keep in mind that paying real financial scammers to present their story as a fascinating  million-dollar hustle may be a no-good deal. While Simon states that he «was just a single guy that wanted  to meet some girls on Tinder» while Anna, on her side, assures: «I’m not trying to encourage people to commit crimes. I’m  just trying to shed light on how I made the best out of my situation, without trying to glorify it. This is what I’m creating out of that story».