Shows like NETFLIX’s ‘Inventing Anna’ explore our obsession with con-artist stories

Cassandra Dryburgh, Staff Writer

Power. Ambition. Scandal.

These are all elements of some of the best stories, and they all present in famed show-runner Shonda Rimes’ Netflix smash hit “Inventing Anna.”

The entertainment value in this series definitely shows itself in the numbers- it pulled in 273 million hours of watch time in its first nine days after release. Audiences were captivated by this story of a fraudulent heiress socialite — played by Julia Garner — who scammed her way into New York City’s upper class.

The show has a little something in it for everyone, and, the thing is, it’s based on a true story.Well, except for the parts that are totally made up, as the message that pops up at the beginning of each episode states playfully.

Obviously, some things had to be fictionalized to create a story that made narrative sense, as life so often does not do so on its own. Even so, the real story behind the show is entertainment gold as it truly happened.

The show follows a woman called Anna Sorokin. She was born in a town outside of Moscow, Russia, and left home at 19 with no real educational or work experience. From there, she traveled to Paris and then to New York City, where she basically became a new person: Anna Delvey.

This new identity she crafted for herself was a German heiress with millions of dollars to her family name. Of course she never actually had any of that money, but that didn’t matter. Everyone believed her for nearly five years. She immersed herself into the upper class by simply pretending that she belonged there.

The influence she gained allowed her to trick others into paying for her luxurious lifestyle, always claiming that she had plenty of money and would pay them back as soon as she could. She spent years dodging banks, hotels, and angry friends asking her where her money was, all while attempting to create her own exclusive art club.

Anna was eventually arrested, but she had managed to con people out of $250,000, and had been on her way to getting a $22 million loan in order to start up her business – all before turning 30.

“Inventing Anna” isn’t the only show of its kind and is a great example of a recent trend in media: scam stories. From the “Tinder Swindler” (a Netflix documentary about an extremely successful catfish) to “The Dropout,” the demand for content about con artists has skyrocketed.

But what makes us so fascinated with them and their stories?

First off, the very nature of the crime makes a fantastic story. Scams are elaborate lies that take a lot of skill, confidence, and luck to pull off, and it is entertaining to see all of this play out in story format. People are curious, so of course audiences will want to see just how a con artist tricked people in order to get to the top.

From a writing standpoint, it is easy to keep the story engaging; there is always suspense building as the con artist takes more and more risks. Often, we go into these shows knowing they will get caught, but not how. The dramatic irony of the whole situation is enough to keep people hooked.

Also, charisma is an essential quality in any successful con artist, so of course they make entertaining main characters. There has to be something compelling about them, or else the scam would never have worked out in real life. If they are written well, audiences will be able to see this in the character, and it will draw them into the story.

Delvey’s story, specifically, can show us a lot about what is appealing in the overall genre. Her situation is a real-life manifestation of the well-worn adage “fake it till you make it.” Audiences can get a little bit of inspiration from her story. Maybe not to literally fake their identity and background, but if Delvey can do what she did with absolutely no qualifications, then surely we can take on our challenges.

These types of stories not only amaze us, but they can correct our imposter syndrome a little bit.
Also, the popularity of content like “Inventing Anna” is a continuation of a trend that we have seen a lot of over the last few years: true crime. This genre has exploded, to the point where everyone either is or knows someone who is obsessed with it.

Scams are crimes too, after all, so it’s no wonder that the true crime genre has progressed to covering this type of story. There are many unique qualities about them, but they still retain the core aspects that make people interested in other types of true crime content. The fact that these stories that audiences see in books and on TV are based in reality heightens their shock and amazement.

If you are a fan of true crime, soap operas, or even just good stories, I recommend checking out “Inventing Anna” on Netflix. It’s a fun look at a real story and can reveal plenty of reasons behind its genre’s popularity when it comes to TV, movies, and books.