If there’s one thing this recent college admissions scandal has enforced, —
it’s we’re experiencing mad amounts of status anxiety in a scam economy
Scammers and cheats are the paradigmatic figures of our age, and not just because a con man is president of the United States. Again and again in recent years, people who’ve scaled the cultural heights have been revealed as audacious frauds. The systems and institutions that confer status in our society keep being exposed as Ponzi schemes. Grift is turning into our central national narrative.
There are cons in every period — in the 2000s we had Enron, Bernie Madoff, and James Frey’s pseudo-memoir “A Million Little Pieces.” But there’s something distinct and era-defining about the current crop of high-profile scams. They hinge on the buying, selling and stealing of cultural capital, taking advantage of preconceived ideas of what success looks like. They’re made possible by the ephemerality of an economy where, to quote Ivanka Trump, heiress to a scamming dynasty, “If someone perceives something to be true, it is more important than if it is in fact true.”