Hulu’s WeWork documentary depicts the rise and fall of a cult

by Jeremy

I’ll be honest; I never paid much attention to WeWork during its insane rise and even madder implosion. Despite its founders swearing that it was a technology company, it was just another office-lease firm. Unlike the slow-motion car crash of Theranos, where I’d covered it enough to be on the receiving end of its jackbooted PR operation, I only knew.

The bullet points here. You know: The massive Softbank valuation, the Paltrow-adjacent yoga nonsense, and the — my lawyers have advised me to use the word “interesting” — interesting way its co-founder did business. However crazy I thought this story was, WeWork: Or, The Making and Breaking of a $47 Billion Unicorn shows, it was much, much worse.

The film tells the story of WeWork, a New York coworking company co-founded by Miguel McKelvey and Adam Neumann. They grew up in communal living spaces — a commune in Oregon for McKelvey and an Israeli kibbutz for Neumann. Their dream was outlined as a form of “capitalistic kibbutz.

Which took the form of building a series of expensive and beautiful office spaces in New York City. These facilities were little more than shared, open-plan offices with free food and drink, but Neumann sold it as a new way of living. He wasn’t renting desks for freelancers, entrepreneurs, dreamers, and startups; he was building “The We Community.” This wasn’t just Regus with better furniture. No, this would change the world.

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If you’ve seen documentaries like Going Clear, The Inventor, or Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened, then the beats of this movie will be familiar. A supposedly charismatic individual can convince people to buy into their vision, no matter how out of kilter it is. Then people are put into ever-escalating situations to justify that first decision, first as a triumph, then as farce. This may be the story of a business that reached a massively inflated valuation before reality struck, but it’s framed like a cult during a panel at this year’s virtual.

South by Southwest conference, producer Ross Dinerstein, who produced HBO’s 2020 Heaven’s Gate: The Cult of Cults, sees many similarities. “People want to be inspired, people want to be motivated,” he explained, “and be a part of something bigger than the whole.” He added that “what Adam preached” resonated with him until “he grew this messianic complex, and the money became silly, and they lost their focus.

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