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Bad Vegan is the latest show to turn scams into "empty IP"

  • "There’s an obvious, undeniable draw to stories about such bold deception and chicanery; it’s a bonus when they involve gullible celebrities, a bit of wellness woo-woo and a stunning blond woman, like Bad Vegan does," says Meredith Blake.  Stories about individual scammers are a lot easier to digest, and to tell, than examinations of broader, systemic injustice. The downfall of people like (Anna) Sorokin, (Elizabeth) Holmes or (Adam) Neumann also allows us to believe that there is some accountability in late-stage capitalism (never mind that Neumann still has an estimated worth of a billion or so dollars, thanks to a generous exit package, and is back in the real estate game). The problem is that Hollywood has turned scam stories into another form of empty IP — fodder to help feed its seemingly insatiable demand for content. Ironically, the lust for scammer stories has fueled a kind of pyramid scheme of its own, one in which streaming services gobble up long-form articles and podcasts and turn them into documentaries and glossy limited series in hopes of attracting new subscribers, winning some awards and starting the process all over again. It’s probably no surprise that Netflix already has a scripted version of The Tinder Swindler in the works." Blake says that occasionally scam shows are successful, like Hulu's The Dropout. "But increasingly, these scammer shows are useless but expensive clutter, like so many unsold LuLaRoe leggings stuffed into boxes in a suburban garage," says Blake. "Too many fail to answer the essential question: Why spend four, six, even 10 hours watching the story on TV when you could just read the article on which it’s based in 30 minutes?"


    • Stop making TV shows about scams!: "Why are there so many all of a sudden? What have we done to deserve this miserable glut?" asks Stuart Heritage. "They might be simply a reflection of the times in which we live. Things are bad for everyone, and swiftly getting worse, so there’s something alluring about television shows in which we can watch brazen baddies indulging in the get-rich-quick schemes that most of us only dream about. We’re all chumping along, putting in joyless shifts for pennies, for companies that don’t care a jot about our welfare – but these people are on a rocket ship to the moon."
    • Bad Vegan's criminal antics almost feel too tame for TV: "It is, to be sure, a wild tale, but in the world of restaurants, wild tales are not rare," says Amy McCarthy. "In fact, there is a whole category of stories related to criminal activity in the restaurant world, ranging from wine-drenched Ponzi schemes to a restaurant fraudulently serving Popeyes chicken to alleged pistol-whippings. It’s not even totally unheard of for shady restaurant owners to go on the lam after they’ve been accused of crimes, either — in 2019, Attila Gyulai, the owner of Chicago Vietnamese restaurant Embaya, was arrested in Spain after 10 months of hiding from the authorities following his indictment on fraud charges a year prior."
    • Both Bad Vegan and The Tinder Swindler make a spectacle of gaslit women for the sake of denouncing a**hole men: "These women are the showpieces of the narrative, the voices who detail their own financial and emotional manipulation," says Alison Lanier. "They are frank and clear about their mistakes, doing their best to narrativize the process of gaslighting from their perspective. I find myself trying to analyze Sarma’s highly controlled and direct body language, poised precisely in her chair, framed like a target at center-screen. Throughout The Tinder Swindler, I watch Cecilie’s face glow with good feelings, with genuine excitement and goodwill, even in the aftermath of disaster. Another victim, Pernilla, is composed, sunny, poised, and utterly rational as she recounts a friendship she clearly treasured at the time and which ultimately buried her in devastating debt. But the very fact that the women are the living, breathing focal points for real-time analysis opens unsavory doors. I too fell into picking apart their expressions and body language, as if they were the ones whose deepest motives must be investigated. It’s the same vein of doubt and inquisition that invites online comments accusing them of gullibility, of stupidity, of being in on it. It’s an implicit and pernicious gateway to victim-blaming: to make the victims the showcase of the crime, to portray the crime through their admissions."

    TOPICS: Bad Vegan: Fame. Fraud. Fugitives., Netflix, The Dropout, The Tinder Swindler, Documentaries