Over the weekend, prolific scammer and faux hotel heiress Anna Delvey celebrated her birthday exactly the way someone like her would: with an exclusive, invite-only “happy fucking birthday”-themed party that required guests to sign non-disclosure agreements and, ah, yes, provide their social security numbers. I’d expect no less of a gal convicted in 2019 of attempted grand larceny and theft of services—primarily from banks, hotels, restaurants, and overly-trusting rich people—in the hundreds of thousands.
The response to Delvey’s party has ranged from cynicism (“If you willingly hand over your social security number to anna delvey to get into a party, you deserve whatever happens next,” one person tweeted), to begrudging respect (“We are witnessing the revival of Anna Delvey I fear,” wrote another). But between the splash her birthday party made this week and the recent announcement that she’ll soon host an unscripted dinner party-talk show series from house arrest, there’s clearly something about Delvey that a lot of people can’t seem to get enough of.
Since Netflix’s Inventing Anna, which was based on Delvey’s well-documented scams preying on the ultra-rich, the 32-year-old has gained something of a cult following. Last year, at the height of the Netflix series’ popularity, Delvey revealed she’d received offers from numerous fans to marry or adopt her. (This is probably because Delvey has, at varying points, faced the threat of deportation; after serving three years in prison between 2018 and 2021, she was held in ICE facilities for over a year until October, as she’d overstayed her visa while in prison.) That a talk show hosted by Delvey was even greenlit, and that there are exclusive PageSix reports about her SSN-required birthday bash, prove there’s certainly a continued appetite for a ~character~ like Delvey in our culture, inevitably fed by constant media coverage (sorry!) of her every post-prison shenanigan.
Delvey’s popularity is understandable, but only to the extent that many of her victims aren’t exactly sympathetic; stealing from the rich is pretty popular right now, for obvious reasons. But Delvey clearly didn’t steal to redistribute wealth or advance any cause but her own brand. Her popularity is less rooted in a backlash against the dire crisis of capitalism than it is rooted in the enduring, if complicated, neoliberal love affair with the “girlboss.”
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As arguably the most “canceled” female scammer in the world, Delvey continues to profit off this identity. That—being canceled and exposed for wrongdoing and then leveraging notoriety and self-victimization for even more opportunities—has been the crux of the “canceled” man’s playbook for years now. Delvey has successfully capitalized on this strategy, and there’s inevitably something charming and empowering about that for people who understand feminism as merely a reversal of gender roles...rather than the dismantling of patriarchal, capitalistic oppression more broadly.
Forever seared into my memory are photos of women protesters outside the courthouse while Theranos founder and convicted fraudster Elizabeth Holmes stood trial for her varying white collar crimes, their signs and t-shirts unironically calling Holmes a “girlboss.” Many pointed out that men who commit fraud like Holmes will never serve a day in prison. But Holmes is worthy of neither veneration nor a whole lot of sympathy—her lies threatened countless people’s health and safety. Then, of course, there are her comments about how “pretty people like me” don’t go to jail, whilst prisons are disproportionately populated by low-income Black and brown people. Not great!
All of this is to say, however obvious, that women “reclaiming” patriarchal abuses isn’t inherently feminist or worthy of celebration. Delvey’s story is jarring and captivating, and the brazenness with which she continues to scam and scheme is truly a spectacle; but the existence of her fan base and the continued opportunities she’s given to further enrich herself and grow her brand don’t really subvert anything or help anyone but her. After all, many “girlbosses,” in practice, are effectively grifters too.