Anne Hathaway is not silly.
Even just a few seconds into an interview for WeCrashed, she is aware of what we’re pondering. It’s the similar factor everybody’s pondering: The miniseries about Adam (Jared Leto) and Rebekah (Hathaway) Neumann’s $47-billion US firm WeWork and its precipitous fall is eerily just like all of the different miniseries popping out about what is actually the very same factor.
Inventing Anna, Netflix’s tackle a phoney German heiress and tried founding father of the so-called Anna Delvey Foundation, was launched in early February. Super Pumped, about the embattled CEO of Uber, premiered solely a few weeks later. The Dropout, which advised the true story of Elizabeth Holmes’s pretend blood testing firm, arrived on Disney+ on March 3.
And Hathaway’s, one other sequence about a madcap entrepreneur ranting about their capability to alter the world, adopted of their footsteps on Friday.
“You’re crushing my soul,” she stated when it is identified. “But thank you.”
With so many main studios betting big on these tales, it’s a hard trend to miss. Something about the charismatic manipulator candy speaking their manner into — and unsuspecting dupes out of — unimaginable wealth, earlier than crashing spectacularly right down to Earth, has us hooked.
And whereas the thought is not precisely new, it is price asking: Why are we just about drowning in these tales now? What about them makes creators (and, arguably, viewers) so obsessed? And are they even getting any of it proper?
Entrepreneurs make nice TV
In phrases of getting it proper, in some ways they’re fairly shut. The thought of a multibillion-dollar firm constructed virtually solely round the persona of a single particular person earlier than — and even as an alternative of — an thought relies in actuality.
Penelope Trunk — businesswoman, creator of quite a few books on entrepreneurship and a five-time startup founder — stated the factor buyers normally look for in a founder is the similar factor that makes nice TV: somebody so preoccupied with a purpose that they are not solely prepared to however pressured to deal with the success of their thought in opposition to principally the rest of their life.
Trunk defined all of that on the telephone whereas yelling at somebody close by who was apparently yelling proper again at her.
“You hear my life? This is my life,” she stated. “I can’t do life. All I can do is startups.
“But that is what buyers spend money on. They do not spend money on that I can perform for one minute in my life, as a result of I can not. They do not go collectively. Like, in fact, if you happen to can perform in your life, you would not destroy your life to do a startup.”
That makes for inherently good TV and fascinating characters for actors to brush up their reels. With method acting on the ropes and portrayals of actual individuals a seemingly surefire way to success on the awards circuit, echoing the neurotic actions and apparently necessarily outlandish accents of any of these characters is an appetizing opportunity.
And the fact that it’s all somewhat true is just a bonus.
The generally weird behaviour of the characters is well established as well. Adam Neumann did often go barefoot; Bad Blood author John Carreyrou argued Elizabeth Holmes “completely has sociopathic tendencies” in a Vanity Fair interview; and Anna Delvey truly did refuse to appear at her trial (multiple times, in fact) because her wardrobe didn’t suit her preferences.
Trunk said oddities and self-destructive tendencies among this group is common in real life as well. Trunk, who herself has autism, said neurodivergence is overrepresented among entrepreneurs. And though none of the mentioned founders have been diagnosed (or shared their diagnoses) with similar disorders, similar associations have been observed — and even Tesla-founder Elon Musk recently shared he is on the spectrum.
Trunk said that’s because traits like ADHD and autism draw in single-minded, particularly driven individuals who struggle to fit into traditional workplaces.
“When individuals have a look at all the founders who fail,” she said, “these founders have been failing at all the pieces besides big concepts and [have been] super-focused their complete life.”
TV shows often ‘amplify the extremes’
Then there’s the other side. Where these series show entrepreneurs building something from nothing, they’re doing so at the expense of duped investors.
Andre Charoo, a Canadian venture capitalist (VC) and founding partner with Maple VC, said aside from the fact that writers and creators clearly picked extreme cases for their shows, the events themselves are emphasized in specific ways, for a specific effect.
While investors often start out investing in ideas and a business can fly by the seat of its pants, things quickly even out as VCs demand more oversight. As businesses naturally grow, they quickly move from the ideas and salesmanship phase, and rooted directly in the manic but effective personality of the founder, it quickly becomes more about the business than what the leader can sell.
While audiences get a thrill from seeing oblivious fatcats talked out of their money by a rags-to-riches type, Charoo said these shows often elide these highs and lows, “amplify the extremes of each spectrums” and make the whole journey look like a deck of cards ready to topple at any moment rather than just the beginning stages.
For example, Charoo was one of the first 25 employees at Uber and helped to eventually bring the company to Canada. While he saw the order of events in Super Pumped was clearly manipulated, what stood out to him the most was Uber’s office.
In the beginning, he said, nothing looked as clean or professional as it’s depicted in the show — an image of efficiency that pitches CEO Travis Kalanick as a Steve Jobs-esque hero of the tech movement before they’d even gotten started.
“There was a lot written about the story and the journey and each highs and lows,” Charoo said. “And so these highs and lows are being packaged in a narrative made for tv that places the timeline out of whack, the characters out of whack. Like, it isn’t a full illustration.”
An old archetype
That framing is nothing new. While Charoo said we’ll likely get more such stories because business “unicorns” (private companies valued at more than $1 billion) are more common in the digital age — while the companies that do reach these enormous prices are also more a part of our daily lives for the same reason — the archetype is already well established.
When The Wolf of Wall Street first premiered (as critic Esther Zuckerman wrote at the time), the more Leonardo DiCaprio played up the debauched acts of his fraudster lead, the more audiences seemed to root for him. And while he was beloved in Catch Me If You Can for portraying the real-life Frank Abagnale Jr., ingeniously eluding the FBI for years, a recent investigative book argued that almost all of Abagnale’s claims were inflated to earn fame and adulation.
So why do we love the startup story?
Dr. Michael Freeman is an entrepreneur, author and clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of California San Francisco School of Medicine who conducts research on the mental health of entrepreneurs. He said that while their mindset is often “systematically totally different” from job-holders, that’s not the reason we’re drawn to the startup story.
We’re drawn because the way it’s shown isn’t true to life.
“What’s true about entrepreneurship is that it does are usually an emotional roller-coaster,” Freeman said. “These reveals are actually about characters who’re far more spectacular … messianic or sociopathic or one thing like that, which isn’t true of most entrepreneurs.”
Instead, the startup shows are just riding a wave of high-profile stories available to adapt — and our unique, but strange, tendency to root for a hustler as long as they’re confident, no matter what number of lives they destroy.
As to why we like that? That’s for higher minds to think about.
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