By Maren Mitchell.
We have an appetite for scammers. The events that led up to the sham Fyre Festival orchestrated by Billy McFarlane have been documented twice: in Hulu’s ‘Fyre Fraud’ and Netflix’s Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened. The fraudulent activities of fake ‘German heiress’ Anna Delvey (real name, Anna Sorokin) were revealed in 2017 in one of the New York Post’s most-read articles of the year and will be soon dramatized for Netflix. Furthermore, a hugelyawaited article for The CUT, written by Caroline Calloway’s “best friend and ex ghostwriter detailed the miserable life hidden behind the beautiful aesthetic of a highly curated Instagram feed and the scam behind her $165 “creativity” workshops.
For those of you unaware of the above (hello, where have you been?!), I’ll quickly summarise.
Fyre Festival: Billy McFarlane, CEO of Fyre Media Inc., organised a luxurious music festival on a prestigious, private island, promoted using $250,000-a-post A-list supermodels such as Kendall Jenner, Bella Hadid and Emily Ratajkowski. Those with tickets, costing up to £75,000, were promised luxury villas and “the best in food, art, music and adventure” but landed in the Bahamas to no musicians, wet mattresses in tents and cheese on sliced bread. Local residents who spent hours labouring for the festival were left unpaid. Billy McFarlane is now in prison.
Anna Delvey: Russian-born Anna Sorokin moved to New York and assumed a fake name and history, painting herself as a rich heiress waiting for her trust fund money to come through. She racked up tens of thousands of dollars in unpaid hotel bills and scammed millions from investors and banks in her ploy to create ‘The Anna Delvey Foundation’—an exclusive private club full of art and luxury. She convinced a friend to cover the costs of a trip to Morocco, for which she would supposedly pay back immediately upon their return, but instead scammed her out of $70,000: more than said friend’s annual salary. Anna Sorokin is now in prison.
Caroline Calloway: Instagram ‘influencer’ with an unpaid ‘caption’ ghostwriter who obtained thousands of followers and eventually received a $375,000 book deal—also written by the same unpaid ghost-writer. She began hosting $165 four-hour “creativity” workshops meant to include fresh salad lunches and a flower crown workshop. These amounted to a ‘no lunch provided’ brief meet and greet with a single flower placed in attendees’ hair upon arrival… Her Instagram portrayed an American girl experiencing the University of Cambridge. The reality was a very unwell, Adderall-addicted student unable to get up, shower or go to class. Of course, Caroline Calloway did not receive prison time, but culturally she has been definitively ‘cancelled’.
Why do these stories grip so many of us? Is it because we see a little of ourselves in them?
Instagram condenses our lives into a grid of small screen-sized images themed to portray an overriding depiction of ourselves. We’re all self-branding: either subconsciously or with total awareness. We contrive, we construct, we deceit: but we do so innocently. We take the 10% of our lives that may fall outside the mundane and we capture and post it. The essence of what we’re trying to portray is real—we were on that holiday; we were with those friends—but the total reality is not. However, with ‘scammers’, everything was a total fraud.
It is no coincidence that Instagram played a vital role for Fyre Festival, Anna Delvey and Caroline Calloway. Instagram is the fuel for these scams with ‘likes’ as the new currency, as we all strive for a chunk of the incredible lives being sold to us. I predict very few of the ticket holders for Fyre Festival had purchased the tickets for the music. They purchased tickets for the experience, but not without Instagram documentation. I guess the vast majority purchased with the sole purpose of chronicling the whole event on their feeds for their followers to jealously gawk at. Anna Delvey was notoriously not good company. She was dry, awkward and self-obsessed. But she made numerous friends and connections in New York. Surely, that had nothing to do with the events she would have got them invited to? Or the $400 an hour personal trainer she would have friends train with? Or the elaborate holidays to Morocco? Surely, inclusion into Anna Delvey’s extravagant life was not all they were after? Caroline Calloway only sold $165 flower crown workshops because there was a market for it.
Instagram is about making our lives seem as interesting as possible and this requires slight fabrication from all of us. Scammers take this to the most extreme, even criminal, extents. So, when they get caught, are we not relieved and almost a little grateful? It reminds us that the incredible lives of those we follow aren’t always that incredible at all. Do scammers being outed just remind us that, although on varying scales, we’re all just faking it a little bit?