First came the scams. Then came the films and shows about the scams

From Elizabeth Holmes to Fyre Festival, the stories of grifters prove compelling

THERE ARE plenty of words in English for tricking people out of their money. You can scam, hustle, bilk, gyp, flimflam, swindle, swizzle, fleece and finagle. Those who do so are grifters, con artists, hucksters, charlatans, hustlers or fraudsters. Such figures are something of a staple in popular culture: think of the champagne-chicanery of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Jay Gatsby; Frank Abagnale, Leonardo DiCaprio’s charismatic con-man in “Catch Me if You Can”; or the glitzy characters in “American Hustle”. They are not ordinary villains, causing revulsion or fear. In being able to make a fortune using little more than their wits, they become attractive, almost awe-inspiring. In both fiction and real life, scammers sell.

What Hollywood Keeps Getting Wrong About Race

Wesley Morris joins us to talk about “Green Book”, the latest Oscar winner to focus on a white character’s moral journey in an interracial friendship.

Three decades ago, the highest honor at the Academy Awards was given to a movie about a white passenger learning to love her black chauffeur. Sunday night, the same award was given to a film about a white chauffeur learning to love his black passenger. We look at Hollywood’s obsession with fantasies of racial reconciliation.

.. “Green Book” focuses on a white driver, played by Viggo Mortensen, and a black musician, played by Mahershala Ali, in the 1962 South.

 

Jocks Rule, Nerds Drool

Elon Musk, didn’t improve nerds’ image when he tweeted that a diver who assisted in rescuing 12 boys trapped in a cave in Thailand was a pedophile. Mr. Musk later apologized, and said he had been angry with the diver for criticizing Mr. Musk’s design of a mini-submarine to rescue the boys.

.. The notion of nerds being kinder than other men fades faster every day. Part of that has to do with the way nerd culture has subsumed popular culture. Some of the most popular movies in America are based on comic books. If it was a little nerdy to spend too much time on the internet in the ’90s, well, everyone is now on the internet essentially all the time.

.. Nerds are the overdogs now. If they got into tech early, they’re obscenely wealthy, and all of America now likes the stuff they enjoyed as kids. But they’re not wielding that power in a way that is especially kind or thoughtful.

.. So what about their old schoolyard nemeses, those heartless bullies — the jocks?

Well, they suddenly seem pretty great by comparison.

Last week, another N.B.A. player, Stephen Curry, raised over $21,000 through a live-streamed event to help benefit the family of Nia Wilson, a young woman who was stabbed to death at a train station in Oakland, Calif.

In June, the former N.F.L. player-turned-actor Terry Crews gave Senate testimony in which he spoke about having been sexually assaulted and warned against the “cult of toxic masculinity” that led him to believe he was more important than women.

.. And of course there’s Colin Kaepernick, the former 49ers quarterback, who drew national attention to police brutality by kneeling during the national anthem.

.. None of these guys sound like the heartless, monosyllabic brutes pop culture made jocks out to be. They sound like the kind of men who would patiently listen to you and commiserate after a nerd sexually harasses you.

.. These jocks are deeply decent men standing up to bullies in power. Just like nerds in old movies used to do.

Pop Culture Gets Radical

“Sorry to Bother You” and “Dietland” offer something we need at this moment.

When the history of this terrible moment in American life is written, I suspect the surreal and deeply radical indie film “Sorry to Bother You” will be a major cultural marker, like “Easy Rider” in 1969 or “Slacker” in 1990. Watching it — agog that it ever got made in the first place — felt like getting a little glimpse into the future, and not just because its dystopian satire is half a step away from our reality.

.. “Sorry to Bother You,” a sleeper hit, may be the most overtly anticapitalist feature film made in America.

.. If you want to get a feel for the zeitgeist behind the growth of the Democratic Socialists of America, the wave of unionizing in digital media, the striking teachers in red states, and the general broad seething fury about inequality that’s particularly pronounced among people who came of age amid the Great Recession, it’s a good place to start.

.. It’s about an African-American man named Cassius Green — he goes by Cash — living with his girlfriend, an avant-garde artist, in the garage of his uncle’s house, which is facing foreclosure. Desperate for work, he becomes a telemarketer, where his uncanny ability to feign the voice of a confident white man makes him a star, lofting him into a rarefied realm of high-paid, grotesquely immoral salesmanship. The movie includes subplots about unionization, (literal) debt slavery, viral videos, brutal reality television and the cultural worship of sociopathic entrepreneurs. (As well as weird disturbing stuff I don’t want to give away.) I’ve never seen anything like it.

.. In another time, the fantasies of violent leftist resistance in “Sorry to Bother You” and “Dietland” might have caused more of a backlash. But the scary obliteration of limits on the right has also opened up new imaginative space on the left. Donald Trump is trying to destroy liberal democracy, a system that seemed inviolable, before our eyes. Watching it happen, it’s hard not to wonder: what other systems might be more fragile than they seem?
.. At least for the duration of “Sorry to Bother You,” capitalism feels evil but also tawdry and preposterous, and labor solidarity seems sexy and exuberant.
.. Americans in their 20s and 30s, after all, are as a cohort poorer and more indebted than their predecessors, while being surrounded by comic-book villain displays of wealth. (Just this week, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, whose family owns 10 yachtsproposed to make it harder for students defrauded by for-profit colleges to seek loan forgiveness.) They are the most diverse generation of adults in history at a time of vicious right-wing backlash from older white people.