Gaslighting, gatekeeping, girlbossing goes wrong in “The Dropout”

By Kaitlin Dunn
Lifestyle Editor

If you have been on social media at any point in the last year, it is likely that you have heard the name “Elizabeth Holmes.” The former CEO of Silicon Valley tech startup, Theranos, Holmes dropped out of Stanford University at the age of 19 to start Theranos, building its net worth to approximately $9 billion before its eventual downfall.

She styled herself as a female Steve Jobs, and at one point was the youngest self-made billionaire.

“Theranos’s business model was based around the idea that it could run blood tests, using proprietary technology that required only a finger pinprick and a small amount of blood. Holmes said the tests would be able to detect medical conditions like cancer and high cholesterol,” Business Insider writer Avery Hartmans said.

However, despite the promises of the technology, Holmes’ invention never actually worked, and in many instances, gave false diagnoses or misdiagnoses.

Holmes was found guilty on four counts of defrauding investors, including three counts of wire fraud, and one of conspiracy to commit wire fraud on Jan. 23, 2022.

 Hulu Series “The Dropout” recounts Holmes’ rise and fall from grace, with actress Amanda Seyfried playing the complex protagonist.

The show is comprised of eight one-hour episodes that chronicle the start and eventual fall of Theranos. However, the storyline ends on a cliffhanger, which makes sense, given that Holmes’ story is still not over.

According to GoodtoKnow writer Robyn Morris, “Elizabeth Holmes will be sentenced on 26 September 2022. She faces a maximum prison sentence of 20 years – based on what judges typically sentence defendants to in similar cases. However, legal experts believe she will likely be handed a far less severe punishment. Holmes denies her convictions and is expected to appeal.”

For Seyfried, capturing Holmes’ essence in her portrayal proved to be difficult. Despite all of the media attention covering Holmes’ in the last year, she is still a mysterious figure to the American public.

“I don’t know who she is at all,” Seyfried said in an interview with Deadline. “I’m still trying, will never stop trying to figure out what makes her tick. It was really hard to balance out how much humanizing we were going to do and also stick to the facts and make sure she’s that kind of enigma when we leave her.”

The series does a good job of capturing the enigma that is Elizabeth Holmes. From her wardrobe to her alleged fake baritone voice, in eight episodes you are presented with the story of a woman who managed to take the tech world by storm, becoming arguably even more notable in her fall from grace than she ever was as CEO.

“She’s a femme fatale who rose up in an industry of old stuffy men and beat them at their own game,” representatives of an Etsy shop called “We are Elizabeth Holmes” said in an interview with Insider, adding that the conviction “doesn’t change the way we feel about her.”

Holmes’ story is interesting in the way that her crimes made her more appealing to the masses, despite the harm that she and her company caused people. When looking at the story of Elizabeth Holmes, it also serves as a reminder of the disparities that exist in the American justice system –  despite her crimes, Holmes’ life has not been majorly disrupted. According to Today, “as she awaits her September sentencing, Holmes is free on a $500,000 bond. According to CNBC, the new mother is living on a nine-bedroom Silicon Valley estate, worth an estimated $135 million.”

“There’s an obvious way to structure a story about a figure like Elizabeth Holmes: she builds herself up, she’s on top of the world, and then she has a dramatic downfall. It’s your basic tragedy… The problem with that structure and this story is that in real life, the “downfall” of a rich white entrepreneur who gets caught being dishonest or misleading, who hurts employees or customers, who creates a poisonous environment … the real Elizabeth Holmes married a rich guy and is still rich. She was convicted of defrauding her investors, but it remains to be seen whether she’ll see jail for very long, or at all,” WFDD writer Linda Holmes said.

If you’re interested in unpacking and trying to understand Elizabeth Holmes, “The Dropout” is currently streaming on Hulu.

Photo Courtesy of Flickr

Featured Photo Caption: Being found out as a fraud did more for Elizabeth Holmes’ global recognition that her position as a CEO. Googling her name pulls up merch, thinkpieces, and more Holmes-related memorabilia pushed by her fans, called “Holmies.”

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