So, last night, I finally watched FYRE: The Greatest Party That Never Happened, the Netflix documentary about the infamous Fyre Festial.
As you may remember, the Fyre Festival was supposed to be the greatest party of 2017. Influencers played it up on Instagram. A commercial for it, one that featured the world’s top models on a beautiful island, was pretty much inescapable on Facebook. It was going to be the greatest musical festival of all time, with luxury villas and yachts and private chefs and …. Blink-182? Even before the entire festival was revealed to be a massive fraud, I have to admit that I was kind of like, “All this for Blink-182?”
Anyway, the festival did turn out to be a disaster. A lot of people paid a lot of money to end up on the beach, staying in rain-soaked FEMA tents and eating pre-packaged sandwiches. The bands cancelled so there wasn’t even any music. After the festival was officially canceled, several people found themselves stranded on the island. Those of us who weren’t there followed the drama on twitter. We joked about the Lord of the of Flies. One of my favorite tweets about the whole mess compared it to an episode of It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia. “The Gang Puts On A Music Festival.”
At the time, very few people had much sympathy for anyone involved in the Fyre Festival. Not only did the organizers seem to be a group of insufferable douchebags but so did the people who paid thousands for dollars for a FEMA tent, a cheese sandwich, and Blink-182. Having now watched the Netflix documentary …. well, I still don’t have much sympathy for the organizers or the participants.
I do have sympathy for the people who actually lived in the island. They were taken advantage of and most of them received no financial compensation for the work that they put into the festival. While we were all laughing on twitter, one poor restaurant owner lost a fortune feeding all of the people who were stranded in the Bahamas. While we were making jokes, the people who actually did all the work went unpaid.
The documentary starts with festival organizer Billy McFarland and celebrity co-sponsor Ja Rule annoying Bella Hadid, Emily Ratajowski, and Hailey Baldwin on an island that once belonged to drug lord Pablo Escobar and it ends with McFarland heading for federal prison. Billy McFarland emerges as a professional con man who built his success by exploiting people’s desire to be a part of an “exclusive” club. Before Fyre, McFarland ran a credit card company. Even after the disaster of the Fyre Festival, McFarland continued to use the Fyre e-mail list to try to sell VIP access that he couldn’t actually provide. Even when under indictment, McFarland allows himself to be filmed while he brags about “hustling.” He really can’t help himself.
Ultimately, this documentary works best as a portrait of the power of fame. From the start, it’s obvious that the festival is going to be a disaster. Everyone who is interviewed states that, at no point, did they think Fyre would be a success. (One person explains that it takes at least a year to set up a successful music festival. Fyre tried to do it in a matter of weeks.) But, because Billy McFarland paid Kendall Jenner and a bunch of other social media superstars to promote the festival, people who should have known better paid a lot of money for a tent and a stale sandwich. McFarland may not have known how to put on a music festival but he definitely knew how to exploit our celebrity-obsessed culture.
During the documentary, one of the festival’s organizers — Andy — tells a story about how he was prepared to give a customs official oral sex in order to get him to release a delivery of Evian water. Reportedly, due to the success of the documentary and the popularity of that anecdote, Andy will be getting his own reality show. That seems like a fitting coda for the whole thing.