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The fraud of Fyre and our addiction to it

| Friday, February 8, 2019

Diane Park | The Observer

As viewers of either of the two documentaries that dive into the mystery and twisted failure of April 2017’s Fyre Festival — either Hulu’s “Fyre Fraud” or Netflix’s “Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened” — know, the event was billed by its co-creators as the cultural experience of the decade. But, in a more accurate view, the same creators said they were “selling a pipe dream to your average loser.”

The premise of this controversy is relatively simple. Fyre Media, a group led by CEO Billy McFarland, created a music festival that he claimed to be like Coachella in the Bahamas. To make a long story — specifically two 90-minute documentaries — short, many of America’s most popular models (think Chanel Iman, Kendall Jenner, Bella Hadid) uploaded and posted a promotional video featuring them having what appeared to be an amazing time, prompting hundreds of people to spend anywhere from $4,000 to $50,000 on tickets for the experience.

But when the weekend arrived, nothing was as expected. People interviewed compared the experience to being refugees. They slept in wet tents on air mattresses in the dark, with no way off the island. It was compared to the Hunger Games. The music acts backed out, the food served was closer to cafeteria food and the well-off influencers and people attending ended up wasting their money.

These two documentaries, released days apart from each other in January, attempt to explore what exactly happened. However, the end result of this controversy is just a Google search away — Billy McFarland is currently serving six years in prison for a handful of fraud-based claims. The more interesting aspects are the “why” of this situation, and what it says about our society today.

If you’re deciding which documentary to watch, give them both a chance. Together, they take two messy halves of something intrinsically broken and attempt to piece together what happened. Although it is worth watching both, take each documentary’s view with a grain of salt.

Hulu’s version features an interview with McFarland, for which he was paid $250,000. There has been uproar over this, considering he is thought of as the mastermind con artist behind scamming thousands of people. Netflix’s version is produced by Jerry Media, who did a majority of the marketing work for the failed festival. Some say Netflix’s partnering with the group that specifically went through and deleted negative comments questioning the logistics of the festival before it even occurred, is problematic. However, the perspective we can get on our current society and intense FOMO (fear of missing out) is worth it.

Fyre Festival and the failure of it perfectly exemplify the idea of FOMO. As soon as the promotional video hit, higher-class millennials started forking over their money to a cause that essentially did not exist. After word hit that the festival was a total failure, memes about the poor rich kids flooded social media. People could not help but find these upper class people’s pain to be funny.

For the higher-paying customers, the “villas” they were promised were most often just the white tents that were actually left over from Hurricane Matthew. Many aspects made this a failure, but essentially, it boils down to the fact that what they described — a luxurious vacation, swimming with pigs, gourmet food, high-quality musicians — just did not exist.

It’s difficult to decide who to blame for what happened. There is McFarland — who ignored dissenting voices and claimed it could happen — and rapper Ja Rule — who now claims he was tricked just like everyone else. There is also society — that takes the social media craze and want to be “seen” to another level. The Instagram influencers bought into this, and people with the means bought the tickets.

But also, the people on the outside of this disaster laughed at their downfall and the failure of the festival. Maybe it’s because we want to see rich people have problems, or that we love the drama. These documentaries are popular for a reason, after all. All of these thoughts occurred to me while watching.

Investigations and lawsuits are ongoing, but it’s hard not to think about the Bahamians who worked 18-hour days for this festival and will continue to go unpaid. It’s upsetting that people of color from the island have also become victims of these schemes.

Individuals aside, the only thing left to do is tame the insatiable jealousy and FOMO that haunts our society. For now, let’s enjoy these documentaries and try to learn a valuable lesson — just because Kendall Jenner and company do something, it does not mean the rest of us should too.

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About Mariah Rush

Mariah is a senior majoring in American Studies and minoring in Journalism, Ethics and Democracy. She is from the great city of South Bend, and was the Managing Editor of The Observer for the 2020-2021 school year. You can find her always on Twitter at @mariahfrush.

Contact Mariah