“Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened,” one of Netflix’s latest documentaries, takes aim at the miserable failure that was the Fyre Festival. Set to take place in the Bahamas in spring 2017, Fyre was organized by entrepreneur Billy McFarland and promoted by hundreds of online influencers and musicians, including Bella Hadid, Kendall Jenner and artists within Kanye West’s GOOD Music collective.
The festival was canceled hours after starting due to a number of epic failures on the part of its organizational team.
There were no safe living conditions for the festival attendees. The small outdoor tents for the guests, which were marketed as luxury eco-domes, were actually FEMA tents. The tents and mattresses were also soaked from a rainstorm the night prior to guests arriving. Attendees’ luggage was delivered completely unorganized in two large trucks and then scattered on the ground for people to search through in the night without lights. There was not an adequate food supply for all of the guests: each person received a “sandwich” consisting of two pieces of bread and a barely-melted slice of cheese. On top of all of this, air traffic to the island was shut down shortly after the festival started, trapping many in the Bahamas with nowhere to stay and nothing to eat or drink.
My biggest gripe with the documentary was the way in which it frames the whole fiasco as a logistical disaster that scammed thousands of people. The documentary treats the festival as a series of tragic missteps which unfortunately resulted in financial and legal implosion. McFarland is painted as an insane marketing genius with weak morals – whose party for rich kids just didn’t work out.
But don’t get it twisted: McFarland’s actions were evil, and the actions of select members of his business team were evil as well. McFarland was sentenced to prison for six years and it should have been much longer. McFarland’s manipulation of social media to promote Fyre Festival was a calculated, destructive and abhorrent campaign full of fraud. He supposedly booked artists but never actually confirmed or followed through with them, leading people to believe that they were paying to see artists who, in reality, were never going to appear. The various ticket packages offered to attendees included false information, such as upscale oceanside villas which didn’t exist or couldn’t be rented for the festival. Most notably, pictures of the island where the festival was taking place were doctored to make the island seem more remote and mysterious than it really was. The space for the festival was really only a rented-out portion of a larger, more commercial island.
McFarland’s decisions resulted in financial hardship faced by hundreds of employees and laborers who worked on coordinating the failed festival. In the film, Maryann Rolle, a restaurant owner from the Bahamas hired by McFarland to oversee food operations for the festival, speaks of using her entire savings of $50,000 to pay workers that were never compensated by Fyre Festival organizers. A GoFundMe campaign has been started for Rolle in the wake of the documentary and at the time of print has raised $202,000 for her restaurant.
Ultimately, “Fyre” serves as a lesson for the youth of the social media age. Wisen up and don’t believe everything marketed toward you on social media just because it comes packaged with sleek branding and celebrity endorsements.
More importantly, practice good social media morals. Since you have the ability to reach the entire world online, and if you are lucky enough to garner a large following, don’t use your influence to tell lies and steal from people… unless you want to end up a global disgrace like Billy McFarland.
The documentary “Fyre” should have cast a stronger light on the people involved with the infamous festival like investor Carola Jain, co-founder of the festival and rapper Ja Rule as well as other members of McFarland’s team. However, “Fyre” is impressive in that it is a rare example of a company being held accountable so that issues involving social media promotion and online image can be confronted.