In case you’ve been living under the internet’s equivalent to a rock, let me catch you up on the Anna Delvey story. Though actually, I should be calling her Anna Sorokin…
Anna Sorokin is a convicted fraudster and con artist. She spent years in New York pretending to be a wealthy heiress as ‘Anna Delvey’. She claimed her family back in Germany were extremely wealthy, and that at 26, a trust fund of millions would be unlocked for her use. Through the tall tales she wove, she managed to defraud banks, hotels, acquaintances and more. She even borrowed a private jet without paying.
Spoiler alert: she ended up serving four years in jail before being released in February 2021. She then somehow checked into a hotel in New York, and hired a German camera crew to follow and film her. But only six weeks later, she was taken back into custody by Immigration and Customs Enforcement for overstaying her visa.
But this is not an article about who Anna Delvery is or what she did, as there are plenty of great articles out there discussing this far better than I could. Instead, I’m writing this to try and understand the following question:
Why are we obsessed with Anna Delvey?
Or rather, why am I so obsessed with the Anna Delvey story?
It started when a friend recommended a book to me. ‘My Friend Anna’ by Rachel DeLoache Williams*, which tells the story from the perspective of Anna’s friend. This book fascinated me. I read it within two days and then immediately read it again.
So I was pretty pleased to discover that Netflix planned to release a show about the entire ordeal, though these rights were purchased from Anna, not Rachel.
Fast-forward a couple of months and ‘Inventing Anna’ has been gracing more laptop screens than any other Netflix show during its first week of release. I will say that I leaned more towards the book than the series, but it was still an entertaining watch. It only fuelled my interest in the matter, so I read every article I could find and listened to BBC Radio 4’s podcast on the subject - Fake Heiress.
Now I’ve read everything I could get my hands on about Anna, and yet I just don’t know why I care so much. I don’t live in the U.S., I don’t have any experience with fraud (thankfully) and I don’t usually concern myself with such matters.
But something about Anna’s story is connecting with a lot of people, perhaps not the way this fake heiress hoped. So let’s consider why people are so interested in the tale of Anna Delvey.
People are fascinated by tales such as this one, just look at the raging success of the Tinder Swindler documentary on Netflix. It’s also why shows such as Catfish are so popular and clips of which go viral on Tiktok and other mediums.
People love stories like this because they don’t believe it could ever be them. Perhaps it’s naivety or egoism, but we just don’t think we’d fall for it. I started Rachel’s book thinking the exact same.
How can your friend con you out of $62,000?
But when you read the book, or watch the show, it’s harder to cling to that belief. And if you do still manage to vehemently think that, then you might be slightly deluded.
Because it’s never that simple. If Anna could get banks to give her this money, organisations that are trained to look out for such things, then of course she could swindle one good-hearted friend.
We’re fascinated by this story because we think it’s so far removed from our realm of possibility, and so it exists merely as morbid curiosity and entertainment. And maybe it’s to make sure of that, to know how others failed so that we won’t. Because now as soon as someone says they’ll wire the money or mentions a German trust fund, I’m halfway out the door.
I also know I could never be Anna because the mere thought of all that money and lying has my anxiety raging to new levels. A simple bill or fine is enough to make me hyperventilate, let alone owing banks thousands and forging financial documents. How did she handle the stomach aches?
There is something intoxicating about money. We live in a capitalist society where money rules over everything. Money fascinates us, even from a young age, even before we really understand it. Just think of how little kids love to be the ones handing money over in a restaurant or shop. They just want to look like they’re paying, as even at that young age, they know that means something.
The Anna Delvey story is addictive because it involves so much money. She owed hundreds of thousands. She was forging documents to get loans of millions. She was handing out $100 bills like kleenex.
I have a terrible relationship with money. It terrifies me most of the time, and so I avoid thinking about it or budgeting, which only makes it so much worse. So when I see Anna rocking up a bill in the thousands without the bat of an eye, I cannot tear my eyes away from it. And I’m not the only one.
Maybe we’re sick of not having the money when other people have so much they’d barely notice if someone like Anna took from it. Maybe it’s a grudge against the billionaires that are so far out of reach, they may as well not be human. One journalist compared Anna to Jay Gatsby as the modern equivalent of the old classic.
But Anna wasn’t trying to stick it to big men of the world. She wasn’t trying to be a Robin Hood. Every penny she took was going back into her lifestyle, to the extent that she didn’t save any of it or put down a deposit on an apartment. She lived a life of luxury on someone else’s bill, and that isn’t anti-capitalism either. Her aim was to open a members-only club, which I doubt many of us would’ve been eligible for.
It’s like how watching Criminal Minds or CSI lets you know exactly how to be a murderer and get away with it. Or how I’ve seen so much Grey’s Anatomy that I convince myself I could perform a craniotomy - scalpel, please.
Watching Inventing Anna felt like taking notes on how to fraud the rich and famous of New York. I would never actually do it, as the anxiety of it would literally kill me, but I like knowing that I could.
People tune into these tales because they’re curious, they want to know how to do it even if they never plan to. They want to know that they could, that it isn’t about a special set of skills, it’s just having the audacity to go for it.
Audacity. That’s the only word for Anna Sorokin. She had the nerve to ask for loans she couldn’t pay back. She borrowed money without knowing where her next source of income would be. She planned to build and run a member’s only art club when her only experience was an internship for a French fashion magazine.
We’re fascinated by Anna but it isn’t for good reasons, and we shouldn’t let it slip into idolising. Don’t make the mistake of building her into a figure that she’s not or allowing her actions to be reworded into something pure. The tale of Anna Sorokin is intoxicating and addictive, it’s difficult to believe and terrifying to imagine, and it’s also a lesson to be learned.
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Welcome to Symptoms of Living! A place where I like to relieve myself of the barrage of thoughts and ideas filling my mind. Here I'll take a look at various topics, from books to BPD, series to self-harm, there's nothing that we can't, and shouldn't, talk about.
Having struggled with mental illness since the age of 15, one of the hardest parts was how alone I felt in it. While mental illness is beginning to be discussed more openly, and featured in the media, I still think there is room for improvement. So whether it is mental illness or merely mental health, a bad day or a bad year, let's make this a place to approach it and strip it back. Everyone has their own symptoms of living, and you certainly won't be the only one with it.
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