I hadn’t bothered watching any of the numerous Netflix documentaries on how Americans love a beautiful fraud until this weekend when I made an attempt to watch Inventing Anna. I can’t tell if I regret the decision. I’ve avoided any glamorizing of the various grifters that we love to hate.
I don’t love stories about hustles gone bad because I fundamentally believe the difference between success and failure is a lot thinner than than the average person knows. “Fake it to you make it” is part of the great Pentecostal American prosperity gospel. You can come from nothing and become someone in America. We worship the idea of social mobility even if we don’t always like how people gained their fortunes. It’s an entire aesthetic in America.
This is particularly true because sometimes we actually do let the fraudsters win. Especially if we admire their hustle. And let’s be frank it’s a lot harder to tell who is a fraud these days because decades of publicly being a fraud doesn’t stop you from sitting in the Oval Office anymore.
Is it any wonder we aren’t quite sure how to feel about wealth and privilege and the black magic required to obtain it? We act like fraud is a temporarily embarrassing discovery on the way to respectability. Because it often fucking is.
Being in startups has given me a front row seat to just how much talent and capability matter. Except when they absolutely don’t. It’s genuinely hard to reconcile how little effort and outcome can be correlated occasionally.
And this absolutely lends itself to people being willing to take shortcuts. Mistaking that some hard doesn’t pay will kill you if you aren’t able to stay one step ahead. If you get caught, well that is clearly bad but who is to say you couldn’t have kept it up? It’s not like Americans trust cops or prosecutors (except for the line blue line fetishists). Maybe you were just too much of a loud mouth.
I will say the Inventing Anna series has shown me Americans are genuinely confused on how the rich stay rich. In so far as I can tell it boils down to gambling on who might be the real deal and simply writing off the frauds.
Cost of doing business. It happens to everyone. And the worse your boundaries are, well, the worse off your percentages. If your bullshit radar is bad that’s how generational wealth disappears unless you can figure out a way to rig the system (which is always an option).