Scams of Recent History & The Art of the Con

So, we’re sure, by this point, that you’re already aware of the MASSIVE clusterfuck that was Fyre Festival

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What we have been reliably informed is live footage from Fyre Festival’s site in the Exumas.

But, because of timing, we Your Dames did not get to weigh in on it. And We Your Dames found that state of affairs entirely unacceptable, because every bit of information about the Fyre Festival was our favorite. Therefore we are sharing with you a roundup of all our favorite stories, with a major tip of the hat to #Damespal, Black Hottie, and Fyre Festival Scholar Christina, who first shared with us many of these links.


Let’s Do It and Be Legends: A Fyre Link Roundup

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Live footage from Frye Festival’s last investor meeting

Despite the fact that this whole story broke last week, we feel confident that some of you might have missed at least one of these many truly essential stories about just how aluxury music festival hosted on “a private island once owned by Pablo Escovar”transformed into acollection of partially assembled disaster relief tents on a homely strip of beach just downwind of a Sandals beach resortwith no musicians, no models, no influencers, and next to no food. Come, take a deep and luxurious dive into this clear Bahamas ocean with us:

  • First, you’ll want to read the inimitable Jia Tolentino’s interview with actual Fyre Festival attendee Maude Etkin, (“a twenty-three-year-old interior designer who lives in Manhattan”) to get a sense of just how badly the festival delivered on its elaborate promises.

  • Then, to get a better sense of said elaborate promises, why not take a gander at the pitch deck Fyre Festival used to persuade investors to give them millions and millions of dollars to squander!

  • Next, let’s pull back the curtain with Chloe Gordon, who was hired as a talent recruiter for the festival but never asked to sign a non-disclosure agreement, despite the fact that by the time she joined the process in early March the festival’s likely failure was clear to... just about everyone involved. 

  • Possibly because, as the festival’s co-founder Billy MacFarlane admitted, he and rapper Ja Rule were “a little naive” to think they had the wherewithal to execute an enormous and logistically challenging festival in the SEVEN MONTHS between the day when the festival was supposed to begin and the day Billy and Ja “discovered” the Exumas in the middle of a PRIVATE FLYING LESSON because their planes RAN OUT OF GAS.

  • Despite this auspicious beginning, and the fact that his own employees warned all the festival's VIPs to stay away, Ja still professed himself unable to understand “how everything went so far left.”

  • Arguably, though, it was due to the festival’s organizers spending all their money in the first three months on Instagram models, planes, and yachts!

  • And do you want to guess who WASN’T surprised that everything “went so far left”? You’re right, it’s the residents of the Bahamas, who informed festival organizers in no uncertain terms that they were idiots for attempting to throw the festival on the same week at the Exuma’s beloved George Town Regetta. To quote: “Like many a doomed ship, these foreign organisers took the ill- advised decision to ignore the dire warnings from many Bahamians and instead set sail on a course which would invariably place themselves on a collision course with the Exuma Regatta and the Bahamian populace...the ensuing fiasco shows what happens when you waltz into a sovereign nation - demanding that your wishes be catered to - simply because you believe you have a few dollars in your pocket or a trust fund.” Savage!!!!!

  • So, it’s hardly a surprise that the organizers were banned from ever throwing a festival in the Bahamas again and have since been hit with not one, not two, but THREE lawsuits, the filings of which reveal a multitude of incredible details. Our favorite? The fact that ticket buyers were offered a choice between “letting it ride” i.e. trading in their 2017 ticket for TWO 2018 tickets and saying “No, I’m not down for the adventure” and getting their money back.  

In a week we spent wracked anxiety about the future of our country’s healthcare systems, watching these nitwit scammers get their comeuppance has brought us some small measure of relief. It also reminded us of a few Scams of Yore ripe for revisiting, such as:

  • Juicero, the cold-press juice startup which attempted to charge its customers $400 for a “juice machine” that did nothing but press open plastic packets which could easily be torn open by hand.

  • The Mast Brothers, who convinced people to shell out $10 a bar for truly mediocre chocolate by wrapping said bars in beautiful paper and themselves in Artisanal, Handcrafted Brooklyn beards.

  • And Elizabeth Holmes, who tricked nearly all of Silicon Valley into investing in her scientifically impossible blood testing company chiefly by mixing her pretty blondeness with a judicious measure of Steve Jobsian black turtleneck fashion to great (if temporary) success.


Forget These Failures: How About Some Real (Fictional) Con Men?

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One of the most sneakily romantic lines in all of cinema history from one of its most indelible con artists: The Lady Eve's Jean Harrington. 


Now, let’s leave this tawdry tableaux of unsuccessful grifters and spend a little time with the REAL heroes: fictional and historical con men! Con men have always been a particular weakness of Dame Margaret’s-- whether that’s thanks to early exposure toBugs BunnyorHarry “The Hat” Gittes, it’s hard to say. But there is just something gently fatal about a good con man-- or woman. Maybe it’s the listening and the insight-- how can you manipulate someone without first paying attention and learning just what it is they want? Maybe it’s the way stories about con artists so frequently put the sly trickster up against the brute force of either someone else’s wealth, someone else’s violence, or both, coding their crooked triumphs as both a blow for the underdog and a victory for wit. Maybe it's the way con artists,especially female ones, so frequently use other people's assumptions about their weakness to ultimately show themselves to be strong. Or maybe it’s merely because, as “Pop” Hayden says inthis episode of the podcast Criminal on the history of con artists: “They're crooks but they’re not, you know, terrible crooks.” You get to experience the thrill of wrongdoing, but because it’s mitigated by such observable skill on the part of the perpetrator and such gullibility on the part of the mark, you do not have to feel the sympathy for the victims you usually would-- after all, a dollar scammed is practically a dollar earned. In that spirit, Dame Sophie and I thought we’d put together a list of our very favorite con artists, in history and in fiction, hopefully to the delight of you all.​

  • Dame Sophie’s grandmother had a wonderful friend named Nat, the grandfatherly type who was forever making quarters materialize out of your ear and then letting you keep them all. This must be where her lifelong love of sleight of hand springs from, leading us to a pair of essential New Yorker profiles you’ll want to save for some lazy morning when you want to marvel at things your fellow humans can pull off through some alchemy of coordination and misdirection. You’ve definitely seen Ricky Jay somewhere - maybe in a David Mamet film, or on Deadwood, or one of his many late-night talk show appearances over the years - he’s the greatest living sleight of hand artist, and has played innumerable scamming ne’er-do-wells over the years. Anyone trying to run a game in a modern movie or tv show owes him a debt. A perfect companion piece is this profile of Apollo Robbins, pickpocket extraordinaire.

  • Is any con artist more famous than the dashing Robin Hood, whether he be an animated fox or a pencil-mustached Errol Flynn?

  • Well, maybe Danny Ocean of Ocean’s 11, Robin Hood’s sharp-suited descendent. Who can resist George Clooney in any guise?

  • Or who can resist Ryan O’Neill for that matter? Even if his marks in Paper Moon are mostly simple townspeople trying to get by during the Great Depression, when he and his daughter start working their scams, you get so enthralled by the emotional machinery of it all that you almost forget it’s even wrong.

  • And speaking of scamming simple townspeople, could any list of memorable con artists be complete without Professor Harold Hill, the greatest con artist of them all? The Music Man is basically a paean to the con, arguing-- pretty persuasively-- that the criminal’s trick of selling their mark on an impossible scheme is, after all, one way to teach a town that’s short on imagination the power of dreaming.

  • Even if you’ve grown weary of watching men flim and flam, it’s surprising how refreshing it can be to watch a woman do it. One of the best examples of this is Jean Harrington, the heroine of Preston Sturges’s classic screwball comedy The Lady Eve, a cool-headed card sharp who accidentally falls in love with her mark.

  • Or maybe spend some time with the delightful lady art forgers, either of the cinematic persuasion in How to Steal a Million (featuring Audrey Hepburn in some of her most deliciously mod looks) or the literary type in Jennifer Crusie’s Faking It.

  • If one romance novel featuring a con artist isn’t enough for you, or if you like your love stories to come with corsets, then you could not do better than Rose Lerner’s True Pretenses, where a Jewish con man finally meets his match in the political doyenne of a small English village.

  • And finally, how could this list be complete without a mention of Joanne the Scammer, Branden Miller’s incredible character who teaches us all about the joys of rich caucasian life.

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Dame Sophie’s Linky-Loos

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On The Tough Guy Style, I’m Not Too Keen
Try to Change The World, Imma Plot & Scheme

What can we do to ensure the development of more men in the world like the late, great Adam Yauch, gone five years this week? Maybe we should start by letting boys know that experiencing & expressing a full range of healthy emotions is definitely part of being a man! Alana Massey writes really beautifully about what men can learn from boy bands (yes, of course, specifically from One Direction), neatly landing a perfectly-aimed arrow at the intersection of so many of my interests. Hers is a perfect companion piece to this essay by Samantha Hunt, about how whether or not 1D are good is not the point (though they are), the point is that they are good for her, as a human being, and specifically as a woman:

The reason I love 1D isn’t because they are so good; it’s because they are so good for me. They are a code sequenced specifically for my DNA, made to produce emotions I really want to feel, thoughts I really want to think. The boys and their fans are a reminder that the intellect does not alone belong to suffering and seriousness but populates girly things just as fully. One Direction reminds me that love, joy, giddiness, even hysteria are crucibles of intelligence.

Say, Dame Sophie, might we continue in this vein of gender yelling, with a side order of bodily autonomy howling? SURE THING, cherubs! First, in the You Reap What You Sow category, if you have small (or even tall) boys in your life, would you do us all a solid and teach them how to apologize when they make mistakes or hurt someone’s feelings? Making a decent apology -- born of the realization that we are all fallible and messy creatures -- is a really important & valuable social tool, and it turns out that as a whole, we are doing a garbage job of teaching our boys to do it, with predictably terrible consequences in the workplace (and other places where acting from a place of empathy and reflecting on one’s responsibility to others, such as -- just to pull an example out of thin air, mind you! -- the U.S. House of Representatives). Next, a very sobering look at the decades - a full 20 years! - of careful, failure-free planning it takes for people of color living beneath the poverty line to claw their way into the middle class. If, as a society, we were willing to do sensible things like expand access to early education, desegregate schools, and undertake prison reform, we could do it! Let’s talk! Rounding it all out, a fascinating interview with Susan Yanow, manager of Women Help Women, a website that offers guidance on conducting an at-home abortion. As someone whose primary exposure to extra-clinical abortion and its potential dangers is via Penny’s plotline in Dirty Dancing and a couple of episodes of Call The Midwife, I worry irrationally about how safe this would be, while also acknowledging that if ever it was important to preserve and share this knowledge, that time is now.

This week in further 1D News For Young Olds, by some miracle, I managed to snag tickets to see Harry’s tour when it stops in Philadelphia. I haven’t experienced a ticket-buying situation this intense since the time I stood in line for 3 hours for Paul McCartney tickets in 1991. I really thought I was going to miss out and would just have to rely on concert videos and this very excellent playlist I created for Harry to select covers from, but no. My own incredibly good luck made me giggle until I was crying, and then I laughed again and yelled about it with my friends. If that’s not an hour of personal leave well spent, I don’t know what is.

In other news, both Harry & Niall released new songs this week, and both are delightful explorations and expressions of their current musical interests - White Album-era Beatles, Laurel Canyon singer-songwriters, and Fleet Foxes for Harry/the Eagles & Marvin Gaye for Niall, whom Anne Donohue has correctly dubbed the Keyser Soze of pop, canonizing Our DamesPal Alicia’s longstanding suspicion. Carry on, fellows!

So what had happened was, we thought Niall was this guy, when in fact!

He was this guy. Mallory explains it all here.

Finally, rounding everything out with several instances of pure delight:

  • Via our beloved #Damespal Maureen, two great tastes that go perfectly together: Frog and Toad Meet Wodehouse! It's exactly as perfect and charming as you’d imagine (if not more so)!

  • A pop culture podcast that’s really snuck its way into my heart lately is MTV’s North Mollywood, hosted by Molly Lambert, Alex Pappademas & Andrew Ti. I loved Molly & Alex on various Grantland podcasts (of blessed memory) and Andrew is great on his own show, Yo, Is this Racist? This week, Molly’s brother Ben joins the trio for a conversation that may as well have been grown in a lab just for me. They tackle Fyre Festival (as required by the Law of Hot Takes), dubbing it INSTAMONT, then moving on to talking about early solo Don Henley as he relates to the ubiquity of noted midcentury building material glass block (niche Instagrams for fellow obsessives: glassbrickforeverglassblocksoflosangelesglassblocksofphillyglassblocksofinsta). Sighhhh, classic rock jokes and historic preservation, is there anything better in this garbage world?

  • We celebrated one of our greatest secular holidays this week with the return of the iconic Justin Timberlake It’s Gonna Be May meme. The smarties over at Atlas Obscura delved deep into this vocal phenomenon, finding that “Shockingly, linguists have not really studied the linguistics of early 2000s pop singers.” They also figure out what’s really going on with some help from a canny vocal coach, that’s just my favorite line in the piece. Read it!

  • Jessica Chastain goaded Michael Fassbender into doing The Worm in a 3-piece suit on Graham Norton’s chat show and whoooosh that breeze I just felt was a whole bunch of you rushing to click that link, enjoyyyyyyy!