“This whole story is completely true. Except for all the parts that are totally made up.“
Is it American Culture to sympathize with shitty people? I’m thinking yes.
The story of Anna Sorokin is fascinating, she conned all those people, spent all that money, jet set around the world, it’s amazing to behold. We all dream of not having to worry about money, of the easy life, but also of spending someone else’s cash so we can keep our own. But let’s think about what stories like this do when Hollywood has its way with them.
As a culture Americans tend to have a very black and white understanding of “good” and “evil.” Mainly characters like this are used to demonstrate that people make choices and have histories, it’s way too easy to take away the complexities behind someone’s choices by labeling them “evil” or “bad.” There is no reason for evil, evil just is. In “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” Samuel Taylor Coleridge struggles with the true origins of violence and evil by asking “why?” why did the mariner kill the Albatross? How can someone be both “good” and “evil” and why do seemingly reasonable people do bad things for no reason?… Literally, why did Anna do any of that stuff?
In reality people can love their mothers, do community work, and still keep heads in the freezer at the same time. Today, Hollywood likes to use this trope to make use sympathize with shitty people just because they are interesting. Anti hero tropes go back to Don Quixote, they shows us morally ambiguous characters that are still likable but present a moral quandary for the reader that challenges black and white thinking. We also have the added layer of capitalism, which tells us “business is business— it’s nothing personal” but how is it not? Capitalism teaches us to value scammers. People who faked it and essentially lied, cheated, and stole to get where they are. Sounds like colonization if you ask me. And it would make sense that this society values the building blocks of exploitation. To be fair, Anna actually isn’t the worst of them. We also have the story of Elizabeth Holmes and another HULU special about someone who also scammed hella people. My real issue is how shows and films about people like that make them more famous and allow them to profit off their wrong doings all over again.
And it makes me wonder, why tell their story at all? What function does it serve? We need to drop the mindset that things are “just entertainment” everything is rhetoric, everything is trying to convince us of something.
If we humanize and sympathize with people who are the actual villains what does that say about us? We have real life villains like Mark Z, Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk who everyone creams themselves over. And why? They do a good thing then they do 5 bad things. Bezos provides affordable products then treat workers and the environment like a trash can. Does one invalidate the other? Elon creates more pollution than Europe to go to space for funzies, but is an “innovator” in clean energy? Make it make sense.
At the end of the day no one is pure good and no one is inherently evil— humans live in the middle, we have choice but also when given the opportunity some people will only care about themselves and it’s not something we should applaud. Two things can be true at the same time, but if we have a moral compass based on the greater good, on community, on humanity and healing— where do those values lie when we pick our heroes?
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