My new favorite slogan for life comes from a deep binge of Netflix’ Inventing Anna. I watched the seven-hour dive into the world of New York City glamour, crime, and con-artistry back in March, when it topped so many must-view lists. One solitary line of moral virtue percolates within me ever since.
For the maybe six people in this country unfamiliar with this infectious Shonda Rhimes creation, a brief overview. Inventing Anna is the story of a self-designated German heiress with the fictious name Anna Delvey who, in actual fact, lived an extravagant life in New York City at other people’s expense for way too long, while she came ‘this close’ to pulling in $40 million in venture capital to create an illusory palace of the arts. Her only collateral was hutzpah, coupled with a teeter-totter of bitchiness and charm. The series is based on an article by journalist Jessica Pressler.
Inventing Anna is fabulous television, whiplashing between known fact, perceived fact, and blatant lie. Everyone is cruel and manipulative; everyone behaves as if they’re rich or would instantly kill to be so; everyone is out for number one. In short, Inventing Anna holds a precise mirror to the world we inhabit. Even as we love to hate Anna Delvey, we know that if only we could be more like her, we’d be further along in life.
So where, one must ask, within this tale of glittery deceit, is there a slogan for living for a crumpled Cambridge curmudgeon?
Enter my favorite character: Kacy Duke, physical trainer to the rich, portrayed by actor Laverne Cox. I spent the first few episodes trying to decide whether Kacy was a biological female, a trans, a drag queen, or simply such a formidable force of nature she could be whatever she chose, whenever she chose. Kacy is trainer to Anna and Anna’s adoring entourage. At one point, stressing and straining to a blaring beat within the skyline views of Kacy’s penthouse studio, one of the wealthy whiners complains to the point of belittlement, the hoi-polloi stuck to the pavement below. With the same sharp tongue used to sergeant skinny white girls into more and faster reps, Kacy commands, “When life gives you the opportunity to choose how to be: be kind.”
A mere moment of gentle wisdom tucked seven hours of grueling self-centeredness. But what a keeper! The simple motto: “Be kind” is all over the place these days. But to acknowledge whatever privilege you have, claim your agency, and then choose to be kind. That is a dagger in any narcissist’s chest. That is humanity in full.
In the end, the mirror that Inventing Anna shines on our culture, cracks. Anna Sorokin (her real name) goes to jail. The plot turn reminds me of Martha Stewart: able to get ahead on feminine wiles for a good long time, though in the end, the boys in the club get away with the big stuff while women who aim too high go to the clink for lesser crimes. For even as Martha—and today, Anna—serve their time, the vast majority of power liars, con artists, and shyster goons are still loose, making our world a morally corrupt and vulgar place.
Anna whatever-last-name-she-chose-to-use is a criminal. She embezzled. She cheated. A few people she took in were seriously harmed. But most of the chumps she took advantage of wagged eagerly at her get-rich Ponzi. Anna exemplifies so many values admired by our culture, until her scam ran dry. That’s where our empathy tanks. Damn she who gets caught.
Still, I feel sorry for Anna. And since life has given me the opportunity to choose how to be: in regards to Anna Sorokin, I choose to be kind.