Of Course We Made George Santos a Cameo Star

“I feel like online fame—especially for Americans—functions as if nothing’s real life,” Sarah Hagi, co-host of Scamfluencers, said of Santos' latest grift.

Politics
Of Course We Made George Santos a Cameo Star

Earlier this month, (now-former) Rep. George Santos (R-NY) shattered yet another glass ceiling: The compulsive liar and former drag performer had already made political history as the first member of Congress (that we know of) to lie about guest-starring on a beloved Disney Channel show, but he cemented his place in future textbooks when, on December 1st, he became the first LGBTQ Congress member to be expelled. Predictably enough, he’s been posting through it ever since. Between sassy swipes at former colleagues and a sit-down interview with Ziwe, Santos has been reveling in post-expulsion life. And everyone’s eating it up, despite how Santos’ politics are, to put it plainly, absolute trash.

For those who are blessedly offline or removed from the toxic sludge pool that is the Capitol Hill news cycle, the vote to expel Santos came after a Congressional investigation into his varying fraudulent activities, which include using campaign funds for Sephora purchases, Only Fans subscriptions, and botox. This followed earlier reporting that he’d used donor’s credit cards to steal their identities and buy stuff, as well as all his other lies and grifts that range from benign (lying that he appeared on Hannah Montana) to deeply fucked (using a homeless veteran’s dog who had cancer to raise money, then giving the veteran none of it).

“When Trump won, we were all like, ‘Do we want to reward an influencer through politics?’” Scaachi Koul, co-host of the Scamfluencers podcast, told Jezebel. “And now the question is, ‘Do you want to reward a fake politician with an influencer career?’”

Even Santos’ immediate reaction to being expelled felt like he was trying to become a meme: “Why would I want to stay here?” Now, he’s capitalizing on his newfound infamy and undeniably entertaining persona as a terminally online gay man. Ziwe posted a photo of them filming together on Monday and reports have surfaced that HBO Films is developing a “Gatsby-esque” movie about his life. He also launched a Cameo account, surcharging the rate from $75 to $200 within hours

I will not give him money, but I also can’t look away. In one Cameo, Santos congratulates a woman on transferring her late husband’s soul to a mannequin: “The whole gang at Cold Stone Creamery loves you, I love you.” In another, he congratulates a person on “coming out as a furry.” Even Democratic Sen. John Fetterman of Pennsylvania inexplicably comissioned one, and it reportedly cost his campaign approximately $343.20, according to Insider. They’ve been such a success that Santos picked up the tab while getting drinks with former colleagues Reps. Lauren Boebert (R-CO) and Byron Donalds (R-FL) in NYC over the weekend.

Through it all, liberal social media users have been having a blast with Santos’ theatrics—so much so that an unsuspecting onlooker probably wouldn’t guess he launched his political career speaking at a pro-Trump Stop the Steal rally the day before the Capitol riots.

“When Trump won, we were all like, ‘do we want to reward an influencer through politics?’ And now the question is, do you want to reward a fake politician with an influencer career?”

“The right is not going to be warm to him because he’s a Republican, and this is embarrassing for them. So, obviously, the left is going to be like, ‘This is the funniest thing I’ve ever seen,” Koul said. “It’s very clear that he is super self-aware.”

This pivot from short-lived freshman Congressman to niche internet celebrity within the span of a single weekend is only surprising if you haven’t been following his, err, work for some time. Santos grew up in Queens and in Brazil; worked in customer service in the early 2010s; began actively campaigning for former President Trump’s reelection in 2019; founded a shady company in 2021; and was elected to represent New York’s third district in Congress by November 2022. Within days of his election, murky details about Santos’ past quickly emerged. A former roommate accused Santos of stealing from him, while reporters disputed his claims about attending Baruch College and working at Goldman Sachs, as well as his claims of Jewish identity and employing people who were killed in the 2016 Pulse Night Club shooting.

Many would probably tell you their Santos fandom and Cameo purchases are ironic; indeed, the former Congressman’s trajectory—from “accidental politican to less accidental internet celeb”—pushes the very boundaries of irony on social media. It’s impossible to not find him funny, to not engage with the endless rash of memes about his life. “He is very charismatic—that’s why he was able to be a politician. He is very funny. He knows how to make a sound bite, how to become a meme,” Sarah Hagi, Koul’s co-host, said. “He’s very savvy in that way, which is why for everyone watching him now, it’s so easy to feed the beast.”

For all his scams, his Cameo is arguably his most legitimate business pursuit yet. Santos, Koul contends, knows what the internet enjoys about him, and he serves it up in abundance. But there’s a fine line between being entertained by Santos and rewarding a purveyor of fascist politics with money and clout. As Koul sees it, however endlessly fun his “whole character” may be, “money itself can’t be ironic.”

Those who buy Santos’ Cameos, whatever their political beliefs, are, after all, lining the pockets of a person who rose to right-wing prominence by denying the results of the 2020 election, who devoted his time in Congress to pushing an anti-abortion, anti-trans agenda. His last post from his Congressional account was a video declaring “there are two genders,” while his cover photo remains an “I stand with Israel” banner. A man whom Santos briefly hired earlier this year has accused him of sexual assault. “I feel like online fame—especially for Americans—functions as if nothing’s real life,” Hagi said. “It’s just like a news cycle, so many people ironically being into something that it ends up becoming real and profitable and even dangerous.” Of course, when have grifters ever been ethical people?

As Hagi and Koul uncover on Scamfluencers, many of Santos’ lies were for money or the pursuit of political power. But some of them—like his lie about playing for Baruch College’s volleyball team who “slayed” Harvard and Yale, despite Baruch denying that Santos even attended the school—were purely rooted in love for the game. The game of lying one’s ass off, that is. “It seems like, at first, he was just kind of throwing everything at the wall to get famous, not necessarily to become a politician,”Hagi said. “But that’s just what ended up happening, which is kind of funny.”

The former Congressman is, alas, just the latest “scamfluencer” to carve out a new lane of success after being exposed; he’s the product of an entire industrial complex for spunky, eccentric scammers to collect a check, not despite but because of past controversies in the digital age. Koul sees parallels between Santos and, say, Caroline Calloway, who handily converted accusations of grifting into a branding tool, as well as Santos and Anna Delvey, the grifting girlboss who conned unsuspecting one-percenters out of millions by posing as an heiress. Delvy has since launched a podcast.

“I’m sure there’s a million people in politics who scam, but [Santos’] story of how he just does whatever he wants, how he just kept going—there’s something very remarkable about that,” Hagi said. It’s all undeniably comical. But it also reflects “this more sinister part of politics, especially in America, where politicians become personalities who people stan, the theater of politics and the opportunities it affords anyone who’s very good at being a character.”

Koul and Hagi aren’t certain where Santos and his impassioned fandom will be in a few weeks; hist post-expulsion glow can’t last forever. But the HBO Gatsy movie??? and a Ziwe interview will inevitably help keep him relevant, at least for the moment. And relevance pays: Santos is on track to make more from his first days on Cameo than his entire $174,000 salary as a Congressman.

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