Trial By Fyre

Netflix’s Fyre Festival Documentary Marks the End of Influencer Culture

I watched the Netflix Fyre Festival Documentary. Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened, tells the true story of a New Jersey grifter named Billy McFarland who cheated thousands of vacant-eyed hipsters out of all their money by promising them a Blink-182 concert in the Bahamas where they’d get to hang out with supermodels. Apparently, Hulu also has a documentary about the Fyre Festival. While I’m happy to link to Fyre Fraud, I’ll admit to not having seen it. I can only take so many hours with McFarland’s smug liar’s face looking out at me. Netflix and Hulu are currently engaged in some sort of fracas over whose documentary is better. What could be more 2019 than the two biggest streaming services duking it out over competing hipster-culture documentaries? A pox upon them all.

Fyre won’t win any style awards. The directors haven’t crafted the emotional heir to Frederick Wiseman or Kartemquin Films here. But it does tell its story effectively, using a time-honored formula. Plenty of insider talking heads, who McFarland hired to plan the festival, air their substantial grievances. And the film provides more than enough footage of the failed festival, and the lead-up to it, to give the narrative some nail-chewing zip.

McFarland Conned Them All

McFarland teamed up with sleazy rapper Ja Rule to fool the world into buying into a fantasy. It mostly involved riding on jet skis with the hottest chicks in the universe. But he had no plan to implement the festival, no experience in event planning, and, most importantly, no money. He conned everyone, because he’s a sociopath.

Few people come off well in this piece. McFarland lies like the devil and Ja Rule is his celebrity enabler. Fyre’s employees, who get the most screen time, either appear like they’re trying to dry off their resumés or perform some sort of act of penance. In the film’s best-publicized revelation, McFarland’s middle-aged fixer admits that he nearly offered a Bahamian customs official a blowjob in exchange for an ease on import fees. This documentary gazes deep into the hipster abyss. With that story, it hits bottom.

Hipster Armageddon: the Twilight of the Influencers

But a con man can’t succeed without his marks. The people who attended the Fyre Festival, though very few of them get interviewed, look like total narcissistic morons. They gaze blankly into their phones, sticking out their tongues and shooting devil horns, batting their fake eyelashes while trying to be cool. And then they whine when the mattresses are wet and the food is bad.

Meanwhile, McFarland screws the good people of the Bahamas out of a promised fortune. Fyre offered them five years of glorious festival cash. Instead, he ended up leaving the island in the dead of night without paying their tab. Fyre attendees and contractors may have gotten ripped off, but most of them look like they could probably survive a one-time $4,000 hit. The working class paid the burden for McFarland’s tequila-and-cigar luxury rave scam.

The documentary throws everything we do for “fun” into sharp relief. While Fyre may have been a singular clusterfuck in the annals of festival planning, there but for the grace of God go Coachella, South By Southwest, The Met Gala, Formula One, and anywhere else the elite meet to eat sweets. It should all get thrown onto the Burning Man bonfire and torched into oblivion. Stay home. Stop trying to sell people dumb products they don’t need by doing yoga poses and wearing ugly glitter hats.

This documentary provides a public service. McFarland, who (see below) looks suspiciously like Seth MacFarlane’s even more evil twin, may have been King Grifter. But the law also served him a seven-year prison sentence for his crimes. Meanwhile, every day, in every way, influencers sell us crap we don’t need via methods blatant and subtle. If you think that the Fyre Festival was some sort of singular event in human history, give it another thought. The film’s effective coda shows that everything’s a con, and we’re all marks. The Fyre Festival just got caught.

This concludes my review of the Netflix Fyre Festival documentary.


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Neal Pollack

Book and Film Globe Editor in Chief Neal Pollack is the author of 12 semi-bestselling books of fiction and nonfiction, including the memoirs Alternadad and Stretch, the novels Repeat and Downward-Facing Death, and the cult classic The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature. A Rotten Tomatoes certified reviewer for both film and television, Neal has written articles and humor for every English-language publication except The New Yorker. Neal lives in Austin, Texas, and is a three-time Jeopardy! champion.

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