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The Delusions of Grandeur


Netflix is telling the real-life story of a 25-year-old socialite who swindled NYC this week. But her entire generation is still At-Large.

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Inventing Anna

When Anna Sorokin — a 20-something Russian national masquerading as a German heiress and art curator in New York City in 2017 — successfully swindled the city’s banks, financial institutions, even her own acquaintances out of $275,000 she explained, “I’m a businesswoman.” When her trial for grand larceny and theft of services began two years later, Todd Spodek, her lawyer, laid her defense with these opening remarks, “Any Millennial will tell you it is not uncommon to have delusions of grandeur.”

The Lost Generation

The economic environment and aftermath of the Great Recession made it difficult for the first tier of Millennials to initially build wealth. They graduated into a dismal job market with few prospects, stagnated wages, rising living costs and heavy student-loan debt.

Then again, along with the final tier of Millennials, were hit with a second recession when the 2019 Coronavirus Pandemic shuttered their schools, shunted them into remote work, and consequently began transforming many of their industries into trends that stand to reshape work after the pandemic recedes.

For those Millennials fortunate enough to keep their jobs, the restlessness of working from home and subsequent booming job market spurred them to leave their employers in a mass exodus now dubbed “The Great Resignation.” This historic quitting spree, driven by their desire for higher wages and greater job flexibility, is affected in part by the baby boomers who remain both relevant and reticent in the Information Age.

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Julie Gardner in "Inventing Anna."

The Lady Doth Protest Too Much

Delusions of Grandeur occur in people suffering from a wide range of psychiatric diseases and are characterized by the belief that one is famous, wealthy, or powerful. They’re generally linked to the individual’s perceived association with a franchise, institution, or person.

It was true, she said, that she’d falsified some bank records, but only because she had a big dream. She’d conceived a $40 million private club, at 281 Park Avenue in Manhattan, but “the men of Wall Street were pushing me for cash before they’d put up their own capital.” Having presented herself as a German heiress worth 60 million euros with which to back the loan, she in reality she had zero wealth, business experience, or even a college degree. She wasn’t even German.

Criteria for grandiosity includes; exaggerated beliefs of self-worth, power, knowledge, identity and exceptional relationships. But are Millennials afflicted disproportionally? According to the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders the answer appears to be no. According to Psychology Today, “the Millennials are simply more visible.”

Spodek’s claim — that mass-scale grifting is an inevitable side effect of being young today — plays to a common stereotype of Millennials as entitled and narcissistic. Market and Research companies like Ipsos Mori describe Millennials as “tech-savvy, materialistic, and selfish. Masterful at adapting the technologies they grew up with.” In fact, the Millennials (born 1980 – 1995) were children and teenagers when the internet appeared in their homes in 1995 with advent of AOL, giving them a deft reference that subsequent generations would never possess: legitimate footing in the real and virtual worlds.

Overexposure

With roughly one billion active users, those 25-40 contribute the lion’s share of content known as Instagram’s stories. In fact, Manhattan Magazine who broke the story, the NYPD who investigated, and the New York City District Attorney’s office who eventually prosecuted the case all relied upon Instagram to track Anna Sorokin as she slithered through luxury hotels and upscale restaurants around the world.

The Millennial’s penchant for self-promotion leaves them vulnerable to overexposure, says Ipsos Mori, who explains “nearly all IG users edit and delete their own content at some point.” However, their presumption of cancel culture is erroneous due in part to the fact that social media companies, per their terms and conditions, delete nothing. They own and archive all of their Users data in perpetuity.

Social media is used as an investigative tool for surveillance and search warrants, too. The practice hasn’t been disputed in legal challenges because digital law has lagged behind technological progress. Presently, Law Enforcement Agencies can and routinely do surveil social media sites — including public, private and deleted profiles — with software programs such as X1 Social Discovery, MediaSonar, and Geofeedia.

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Julie Gardner via Netflix

The Art of the Con

Sorokin successfully engaged the Fortress Investment Group, evidence presented at her 2019 trial showed, for an executive with City National Bank to give her a line of credit for $100,000 with a promise to repay it with a wire transfer from her European account. Sorokin then used the money in a failed attempt to secure a $25 million loan from Fortress Investment Group.

Subsequently, she got clumsy providing details about the origin of her wealth. Claiming to be born in Germany with a Russian passport, investors got spooked and she took the money and fled, bouncing from hotel to hotel on the run. The Beekman Hotel lost $11,000. She was forced to leave the W Hotel after she failed to put a credit card on file, and the 11 Howard eventually locked her out of her room for failing to pay.

But it was inside the Le Parker Meridien in 2017, where Ms. Sorokin nibbled at lunch and sipped signature cocktails for nearly six hours one languid afternoon, where she darned a credit card for the last time. Her arrest that afternoon, failure to pay for a simple lunch, led to uncovering a two-year crime spree of successfully swindling hotels, acquaintances and financial institutions across New York City.

Fake It Til You Make It

Spodek continued to defend his client with millennial tropes to prove his client was a product of her surroundings. “Anna had to fake it until she could make it,” he told the courtroom. In fact, her story has been playing out in print, television, even the London stage ever since.

Netflix reportedly paid Sorokin $320,000 to adapt her life into a series whilst she remains in custody to this day. The Son of Sam Law, which prohibits those convicted of a crime from profiting from its publicity, has diverted those funds to pay for restitution and fines per the judgment.

An indefatigable line the sand, the runaway success of the Netflix series “Inventing Anna,” together with the confinement of its muse, fundamentally makes the point of the antihero. The distinction between faking it and making it is a slippery slope. In the end, what Anna Sorokin really proved was that self-promotion, insta-gratification and glory comes with a cost. No free lunch, our protagonist knows, and hopefully the Millennials do, too.

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