When most people think of cults, they think white robes in desert compounds. They think Waco, they think religious extremists. But what if a cult was hiding in plain sight, among some of the most well-connected entrepreneurs in New York City? That’s exactly what happened with WeWork, the brainchild of Adam Neumann and Miguel McKelvey. Now, an Apple TV series titled WeCrashed dives into the spectacular rise, and spectacular fall, of the corporate cult that is WeWork. The series stars Anne Hathaway, and Jared Leto; Leto is the perfect cast for the role of Neumann, since he’s a bit of a cult leader himself.
The Story Behind WeWork
WeWork was the creation of Neumann and McKelvey, an attempt to create a new work culture. Or so they said. WeWork was basically an office leasing company. They would long-term lease office space, reinvent it for a millenial aesthetic, and invite business owners and startups to lease space in their offices and work collaboratively.
That’s what it was, in dry terms. But a brilliant and thorough documentary titled WeWork: or The Making and Breaking of a $47 Billion Unicorn details the vast gulf between what was promised and what was reality. What Neumann sold, in his charismatic and gregarious way, was an entire shift in the work culture. Neumann described WeWork as a co-working solution, where people came together to help each other succeed. It struck at the heart of millenial ideals, as this community concept embraced the progressive and almost socialist way of helping each other rise together. But the entire company was an elaborate system of smoke and mirrors; promises from Neumann that couldn’t pan out because they simply weren’t reality. The only people who rose to the top were Neumann, McKelvey, and Neumann’s wife, Rebekah Neumann, a guru-type who frequently interjected her new age spirituality into the business.
WeWork started as simply an office space community, but soon branched out into genuine cult territory. There was WeLive; a collaborative apartment living situation where people lived and worked with one another across several floors in a building. In the documentary WeWork, one former WeLive occupant describes how he alienated outside friends. When people would come visit him at the WeLive space, they left feeling like they had just stepped into a cult. There was a frantic party atmosphere around the WeWork culture, and those at the top were frequently lauded as the people to emulate. While Neumann promised equity in the company for all employees, very few reaped the benefits; mostly because there were not many benefits to reap.
There were summer camps that were mandatory, seminars and meetings. Neumann was obsessed with appealing to investors – mostly because the company wasn’t turning a profit, but kept reporting an increased valuation. Soon after being founded in 2008, the company was being valued in the billions of dollars. But that’s where the smoke and mirrors came in. When Neumann and his people made projections on the valuation of their company – $10 billion, $20 billion, $47 billion – they were using fuzzy math to do so; the company wasn’t actually profitable. Neumann seemed to really think he was godlike after an investment from one of the world’s most successful businessmen injected a cool $4 billion into WeWorks; but even that wasn’t enough to make the business turn a profit. And all the while, employees were being told to work longer, work harder, be more loyal, give everything to the company. It became all-consuming.
An IPO was crafted in 2019 in the hope of turning the corner for WeWork. It fizzled, and the company was forced to cut thousands of employees, cut expenses, and oust Neumann. The new CEO, Sandeep Mathrani, held the company together as pandemic lockdowns made the communal WeWork spaces impossible and now they may be turning a profit with a looming $9 billion merger with BowX Acquisition Corp. And a bailout from that same successful businessman investor helped limp the company through the pandemic. They may revisit the IPO option soon.
Apple TV recently announced WeCrashed, a series that will play out the company’s rise and fall in more personal terms. Helmed by Leto and Hathaway who will play the Neumanns, the show will take audiences through what it felt like to ride the meteor to the top and then fall through the yawning chasm that was left behind by lies.
Variety shares, “The series is titled ‘WeCrashed,’ based on the Wondery podcast of the same name. It is described as following the greed-filled rise and inevitable fall of WeWork, one of the world’s most valuable startups, and the narcissists whose chaotic love made it all possible.”
Jared’s Experience With Cult Life
Ironically, Jared Leto is a more appropriate casting than many realize. Leto is somewhat of a cult leader himself – although many people would remove the “somewhat” from that statement as a qualifier. Grunge reports, “In August, 2019, photos emerged from the Thirty Seconds to Mars Twitter account under #MarsIsland, featuring pictures of a white-robed, Jesus-looking Leto tending to flocks of similarly white-robed attendants. The headline read — as if in anticipation of what would be said — ‘Yes, this is a cult.’ This claim was backed up by Twitter accounts such as @altum68, who adopted #youwouldntunderstand as a slogan, and called Leto his guru. Since then, rumors and articles have run rampant trying to get to the bottom of this getaway, and discovered the groundwork for an honest-to-goodness pseudo-religion, complete with a three-day weekend at a private Croatian island, VIP packages up to $6499, matching tattoos for participants, archery, yoga, and performances by Thirty Seconds to Mars, dubbed ‘Church of Mars.'”
Leto has long “jokingly” referred to his fans as cult members, but it looks like he decided to make it official. Members of the cult known as the Echelon have hand gestures, and their own philosophy at life. Some speculate that the entire thing is a publicity stunt; after all, a cult leader making music is likely to keep people talking. But others suggest that it’s a reality.
Distractify describes it, perhaps quite appropriately, as Fyre Fest turned into a living situation. Per Distractify, “In a promotional video, we learn that the Echelon is: ‘Belief, Hope, Emotions, Understanding, Music, Support, World Unification, Love, Shouts, Communication, Freedom, Happiness Tears, Dreams; It Is The Family.’ The video shows devoted fans with actual Echelon tattoos.”
Whether it’s a reality or a publicity stunt, Leto is definitely the kind of guy who could light the fire of a cult. Gregarious, dignified, and ethereal, Leto has the same kind of leadership qualities that made Neumann easily hoodwink so many. Watching him bring Neumann to life on the small screen will certainly raise some more questions about the Cult of Leto – or whatever it is.