We’ve all heard about Fyre Festival by now, but just in case: once upon a time, two years ago, one Billy McFarland, in partnership with rapper Ja Rule, convinced a lot of mostly ordinary middle-class professionals to part with large amounts of money in exchange for the festival experience of a lifetime: a holiday on a Bahamian beach, gourmet food, luxury villas and charter flights provided, with major bands like Blink 182 headlining.
The whole thing was a massive disaster. McFarland had no experience of running a festival, and several hundred people turned up in Great Exuma to find disaster-relief tents, sad cheese sandwiches, no music and no immediate way of returning home. (The charter flights stopped coming when everyone realised the scale of the cock-up.) More seriously, the organisers decided to ply attendees with free alcohol to distract them from the realities of the situation, and there was nothing like enough water available for several hundred drunk people in Bahamian heat.
It’s compelling stuff, the kind of thing that’ll send you down an internet black hole if you let it, seeking out all the gory details. Hence Netflix’s documentary Fyre, which came out a couple of months ago. It splices together talking heads from various levels of the organising team with footage from the “event” itself to look at how Fyre Festival evolved from a fantasy into a flawed, then failed, project. There’s no interview with McFarland himself, or Ja Rule, which feels…appropriate, in a way. These men put a large number of people in real physical danger and relieved a much larger number of their money. Do we really need to hear their side of the story?
What Fyre does have, though, is a lot of executives frantically trying to make excuses for themselves. It seems that anyone with an ounce of decency and/or professionalism left the project early on, when it became clear that no-one up the chain was managing anything or listening to major concerns about things like, say, infrastructure on a remote island. So you have to wonder about the people who stayed – who are, in this documentary, engaged in some frantic backpedalling, busily blaming McFarland for the fiasco while apparently blithely unaware of the damage they themselves have done in enabling him to continue with the project as it spiralled out of control.
Which, nevertheless, makes this an amusingly meta piece. Who can tell what’s true and what’s just image protection? It’s a question Fyre Festival attendees might well have asked themselves, given the promises made in the extraordinarily effective social media promotion campaign for the event.
And Fyre, fun though it is, proves as unable to fulfil its potential as the eponymous festival. Like all schadenfreude, it scratches an itch but doesn’t satisfy; there’s always the urge for more gossip, more scandal, more of some platonic “truth” that is in actual fact inaccessible. It comes from the same unhealthy, aspirational, insubstantial culture of oversharing and overselling that made Fyre Festival in the first place.