Elizabeth Holmes is not a good person. Like, historically not good. Like, stole $9 billion and played Russian roulette with millions of innocent lives levels of not good. Last month, a federal grand jury indicted her on nine counts of wire fraud; in March, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission sued her and formally banned her from serving in a leadership position at any public company for the next ten years. Her evil scheme has been meticulously documented in the New York Times bestseller Bad Blood; Jennifer Lawrence is slated to star in the forthcoming film adaptation. Imagine, if you will, fucking up so badly that Jennifer Lawrence wins an Oscar for dramatizing your downfall.
In short, Elizabeth Holmes is a criminal. No, more than that: Elizabeth Holmes is a goddamned Batman villain. Elizabeth Holmes is everything wrong with late capitalism condensed in a single human being.
And I fucking love her.
Last month, Jia Tolentino wrote an overview of The Fiends and Folk Heroes of Grifter Season, exploring the internet’s obsession with the Anna Delveys of the world. Elizabeth Holmes, Tolentino theorized, “has not been the subject of much ironic idolatry,” because:
…Pleasure played no evident role in her extended scheming: she didn’t go on vacation, she ate like a robot, she overengineered her voice and comportment in service of the exceedingly dry goal of resembling Steve Jobs… But it’s also, I suspect, because her downfall exposes a nauseating level of vulnerability and stupidity in our current way of living: Holmes ran Theranos on bluster and deception for more than a decade, and had Walgreens, Safeway, James Mattis, Rupert Murdoch, Betsy DeVos, David Boies, and a nine-billion-dollar valuation on her side. We want the failure of our scammers to seem inevitable, but Holmes reminds us of how many are likely still out there—raising money, talking a big game at conferences, perhaps reading about Anna Delvey on a private jet.
But I do ironically idolize Elizabeth Holmes, because every single detail of the above paragraph is scream-inducingly hilarious to me. The world-destroying scope of her wickedness, the depth of her commitment to the grift, and the oceanic deluge of karmic retribution currently raining down upon her — like, what’s not to love? And the latest development in her saga is the funniest yet: in 2015, Forbes named her the world’s youngest self-made female billionaire; this morning, Forbes revealed that she’d been usurped for the title by Kylie fucking Jenner.
Imagine devoting over a decade of your life to the long con, doing ethical gymnastics to scam everyone from Henry Kissinger to Rupert Murdoch into investing billions in your fake company. All that hard work, all those nasty kale smoothies, all those dour Steve Jobs turtlenecks, only to be indicted for wire fraud and forced to watch as Kylie Jenner plops her ass down on the throne you once occupied! Oh, the humanity!
Did Kylie Jenner ever attempt to trick the U.S. military into ordering thousands of non-functional glue manufacturing machines to serve as medical devices in Afghanistan? Did Kylie Jenner ever forge an intimate personal friendship with Rupert Murdoch solely to ask him if he could please, pretty-please, kill a negative story before it ran in the Wall Street Journal? Did Kylie Jenner ever stage a laboratory visit with Joe Biden — like, literally line up a bunch of fake machines, force a bunch of unqualified employees to bustle around in lab coats, and stroll through the room with the very impressed Vice President of the United Fucking States? Did Kylie Jenner ever claim to have invented a machine that could diagnose hundreds of diseases from a single drop of blood, when in fact her laboratory ran on normal blood-testing machines purchased wholesale, and every time they received a drop of blood for analysis they’d just water it down until it was nearly clear, and then they’d send the wildly erroneous test results back to the patients with reports that were like, “Congrats! Your test results reveal that you have seven types of cancer, and your potassium levels are so high they could only belong to a dead person?” No. Kylie Jenner did none of these things. Kylie Jenner could make $900 million selling mediocre lipstick, but she could never scam on this level. No one could.
And that’s the thing: the scam Elizabeth Holmes pulled off was way more impressive than anything she ever lied about doing. Like, okay, you figured out how to run blood tests using less blood? Cool, I guess. Whatever. But you lied about having figured out how to run blood tests with less blood? And you kept lying for fifteen years? And people not only believed you, but they gave you $9 billion and invited you to the White House and put your glossy black-and-white portrait on the cover of Forbes? Bow, quite frankly, the fuck down.
Look, she wasn’t all bad. She sullied the reputation of notable war criminal Henry Kissinger. She made James Mattis look like a huge dumbass. And she stole a hundred million dollars from Betsy “Satan Incarnate” DeVos. (Which is only, like, 1.9% of the DeVos family’s net worth, but still. Every little bit helps.) And she triggered a come-to-Jesus moment in the tech press, who realized it had been, perhaps, a catastrophic failure of journalistic integrity to acclaim her as THE NEXT STEVE JOBS when there were, literally, no peer-reviewed studies of her medical devices in existence. The spectacular implosion of Elizabeth Holmes has ensured that there will never be another Elizabeth Holmes, and for that, we must thank Elizabeth Holmes.
Part of Elizabeth Holmes’ whole shtick was pushing the #GirlPower angle, positioning herself as an icon for young women who wanted to go into STEM. When the Wall Street Journal published its first exposé, and her house of cards began tumbling down, she wasted no time in accusing investigative reporters of sexism:
“Until what happened in the last four weeks, I didn’t understand what it means to be a woman in this space,” she says, shaking her head. “Every article starting with, ‘A young woman.’ Right? Someone came up to me the other day, and they were like, ‘I have never read an article about Mark Zuckerberg that starts with ‘A young man.’ ”
She does have a point: much like Holmes, Zuckerberg is a liar, a scammer, and a messy bitch who lives for drama. Unlike Holmes, he’s successfully managed to avoid indictment, even though he irreparably broke American democracy and then lied about it while perching on a booster seat in Congress. The forces of justice that came for Elizabeth Holmes have yet to come for Mark Zuckerberg, for Elon Musk, for Jeff Bezos, for any of the billionaire white men shitting up countless innocent lives from the comfort of Silicon Valley. Sexism is, at least partially, to blame.
But for a brief, shining moment, Elizabeth Holmes proved that a woman could grift, lie, and cheat with the best of ’em. Better than the best of ’em, in fact. Say what you will about Zuckerberg, Musk, and Bezos, but they all, at the very least, created functional products. Elizabeth Holmes didn’t even do that much. She held up a pill capsule full of fake Halloween blood on the cover of Forbes and the entire world was just like, “Whoa. Fucked up if true. Here’s all my money.” That takes talent. That takes moxie. That takes once-in-a-lifetime sociopathy.
In Ocean’s Eight, right before the climactic heist, Sandra Bullock looks into a mirror and levels her own gaze at herself. “Somewhere out there,” she whispers, through gritted teeth, “there is an eight-year-old girl, lying in bed, dreaming of becoming a criminal. You’re doing this for her.” Elizabeth Holmes is the Debbie Ocean of Silicon Valley. She walked so every grifty little girl could fly. Shine on, scam queen. Preferably behind bars, in an orange jumpsuit, for the rest of your life.