In the age of Shane Dawson docuseries, Instagram influencers and vlogging, small-scale disaster porn is never far away. Any public failure is a tweet away, allowing us to participate in (admittedly humorous) modern internet tragedies in the form of hashtags and memes. In the same vein, it was social media that lit the fuse of the infamous Fyre Festival. Marketed to be an exclusive party on a private island with Victoria’s Secret models scattered across the beach like shrapnel, and acts like Blink-182 slated to perform, all it took were famous faces posting a mysterious orange tile on their pages to lure upper-class youths in with their boatloads of cash, and desire to be at an event that was hailed “Instagram come to life.” Kendall Jenner was one of the many models paid to promote the event, earning over $200k for a single post. And if that’s not representative of the extremely ridiculous financial forces at play here, I don’t know what is.
Fyre was conceptualised and led by Billy McFarland, a seemingly creative and lucrative entrepreneur whose brand focused on exclusivity. He’s like one of the Upper East Siders from Gossip Girl, but not as sharply dressed. McFarland, now convicted on various charges, led a huge rotating team of social media marketers, contractors and unsuspecting island locals in his bid to host the party of the decade. Tickets were thousands of dollars and descriptions of what attendees would be getting for their money included things like sushi, yachts, and villas. But when they stepped off their flights on the day of the festival and found a soggy “tent city” with half-built stages and a lack of food or water, these duped twenty-somethings quickly became panicked, and calamity ensued. People were fighting over wet mattresses (dampened by rain from the night before), muddy carpets, and toilet paper. Some of the guests didn’t even have a place to sleep and were forced to share with strangers. With no way off the island until a plane could get there, they were in the midst of a full-blown travel nightmare.
The guests did what came naturally to them: they recorded the ordeal. Mobile phones were used to inform Twitter of the terrible accommodation and lack of management, video cameras propped on selfie sticks documented attendees walking through the mess, and soon Fyre was trending on Twitter. While it was surely a horrible experience, regular folks on Twitter found the entire event funny. The idea of hundreds of people who had built careers off the aesthetics of Instagram pictures being stuck on an island together, after paying thousands to be able to say they were at the most ridiculous festival ever held, was slightly ironic considering the fact Instagram was the very thing that led them there. But in reality, it would be a shame not to have some sympathy for the victims of the festival’s fraud. After all, did you see what kind of food they were served?
The Netflix documentary chronicles the production of the festival, from the parties at the beginning when ideas were being tossed around, to the very day of the event when shit utterly hit the fan. Members of press teams, friends of Billy, and other people hired for the event tell their tales of woe. A common thread is one of ignorance on Billy and Ja Rule’s (a hip hop artist who essentially co-directed the entire escapade) parts. They’re the type of men who don’t take no for an answer, and as they boss around confused models and ignore the advice of industry professionals they continue to dig deeper holes for themselves. This draws a parallel to a similar event that became a disorganised catastrophe – TanaCon. Apparently when rich people with little knowledge monetize the celebrities around them and convince young people to pay them a lot of money, it doesn’t always work out. The negligence of Billy and Ja Rule wasn’t just insane to watch, but genuinely disturbing. One of the social media team members describes the emails he got in response to real concerns he had sent to Billy; the trend seems to be that if you had a problem with any of the worrying proceedings, you were simply being negative. Which is exactly the type of mentality you’d expect from someone coming from a specific type of privilege.
Chris Smith’s documentary does little other than lay down the timeline and describe the influx of problems via talking heads, but is still quite fascinating to watch – mostly due to the nasty gremlin that lives inside us and wants to see failures be exposed in the most entertaining of ways. Whether you had heard of Fyre Festival or not, the film is a valid choice for anyone who wishes to know what it feels like to see a figurative tsunami approaching a beach full of men who refuse to admit they can see it in the distance.
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Hello, I am a Scottish filmmaker who enjoys writing about movies and reading comics! You can follow me on Twitter @_trudiegraham or on Instagram @tru.die