Anna Sorokin—the fake heiress on trial for swindling New York’s elite—is being propped up as a symbol for millennials as deluded, entitled, and narcissistic.
When Anna Delvey—the fake heiress accused of swindling hotels, banks, designers, private jet companies, and friends out of some $275,000—began her trial last month, her lawyer Todd Spodek attempted to justify her behavior by claiming, “Any millennial will tell you, it is not uncommon to have delusions of grandeur.”
Spodek’s claim—that mass-scale grifting is an inevitable side effect of being young today—plays into a tired story about millennials; we’re are deluded, entitled, and narcissistic. In 2017, the market research company Ipsos Mori revealed that millennials are the most “derided” generation ever. Every age demographic surveyed—including millennials themselves—described the cohort as tech-savvy, materialistic, and selfish. But aren’t these just same old pitfalls of youth? Demanding, idealistic, naïve and impatient, and better at adapting to the technologies they grew up with?
At Delvey’s trial, Spodek continued to dredge up millennial tropes to prove his client is nothing more than a product of her surroundings. “Anna had to fake it until she could make it,” he told the courtroom.
In fact, there is some truth to that. 70% of millennials feel like they’re constantly faking it. There could be plenty of reasons for this; imposter syndrome is mostly found in people who challenge themselves, and social media is feeding us a constant stream of unrealistic expectations. As one of Carrie Brownstein’s characters in Portlandia says when asked if people on the internet are having as great a time as we think they are, “I think it’s because people are just cropping out all the sadness.”
Millennials are being pulled in two directions; trying to live up to unrealistic expectations while constantly being told we’re not good enough. Older generations, who grew up when homeownership wasn’t just a pipedream, now face change they can’t keep up with, and have found an effective millennial boogeyman for their anxieties.
If you don’t examine the state of the world through the fuzzy lens of nostalgia, you’d see younger generations are actually getting better. Personality psychologist Brent Roberts says narcissism is on the decline among young people. Two years ago, he and a team of researchers at the University of Illinois looked at specific aspects of narcissism, such as leadership, vanity, and entitlement, and saw a similar downward trend in each of them between 1992 and 2015—directly contradicting the idea that all young people are entitled. “The kids are alright,” Roberts said. “There never was a narcissism epidemic, despite what has been claimed.”
Gaslighting an entire generation has proven surprisingly easily, at least more so than attempting to solve society’s complex underlying problems. Like all good scapegoats, millennials are the Schrödinger’s cat of social evils. They’re both post-capitalist poster kids who don’t take material matters seriously enough, and solely responsible for a rise in materialism (everyone seems to have forgotten the 80s) despite being unlikely to ever own properly. Ironically, in today’s world, scamming your way to success might be the best chance to ever find any, no delusion required.