One of the embarrassing truths our time is that wealthy and predominantly white people pay good money in order to experience conditions that poorer and predominately brown people have no choice but to undergo. When a college-educated millennial buys an overpriced ticket to a music festival, it’s a rite of passage. When a Bangladeshi village is washed into a tent encampment without running water, it’s a humanitarian catastrophe. Of course, choice is a factor. But once you’re hovering over a brimming chemical toilet and it hasn’t stopped raining for two days, the conditions are the same — a temporary reversion to Neolithic conditions, but with the population density of a modern city.
In 2017, several thousand credulous millennials chose to buy overpriced tickets to the Fyre Festival, a ‘luxury’ music festival on an island in the Bahamas. The online promotion included Instagram posts and videos featuring supermodels. The ticket buyers thought they were buying the ultimate First World party on Pablo Escobar’s old island, a paradise isle turned into one big VIP enclosure. But the little darlings had been fooled by their own reflection. The supermodels and influencers never turned up, and nor did the advertised acts, sushi chefs and private jets. The gilded millennials discovered that their ‘luxury villas’ were FEMA emergency tents, left over from Hurricane Matthew and pitched on a malarial beach without air conditioning. Worst of all, the site had only intermittent wifi and no takeout delivery.
Fyre’s ‘visionary’, Billy McFarland, is now in prison for wire fraud and various other supercool offenses. His collaborators face a class action suit. The accused include millenial media agency Jerry Media, who made the adverts, and were still putting out messages like ‘In four days you will be dancing on the beach’ when everyone in the Bahamas had known for months that the festival was going to be a disaster.
There are two sides to every story, but Hulu’s Fyre Fraud tells much the same story about Billy McFarland as Netflix’s Fyre: The Great Party That Never Happened. Both films agree that it was McFarland’s fault, but Hulu’s film suggests that, as in all sophisticated scams, McFarland wasn’t working alone. Hulu have paid McFarland to incriminate himself further on camera. This allows Hulu to catch McFarland’s lies, and to call him a ‘compulsive liar’ and ‘con artist’. Hulu also imply that collaborators like Ja Rule and Jerry Media, and the models and influencers too, bear some of the responsibility for the Fyre disaster. Hulu’s star witness isn’t McFarland, but Oren Aks, the Jerry Media employee who worked on the Fyre account and is, surprisingly, no longer a Jerry Media employee.
Netflix’s film happens to be co-produced by Jerry Media. In this telling, Jerry Media should be counted among McFarland’s victims, and the whole business is a Millennial remake of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off or Risky Business. It would have been a ‘great party’, and you can’t fault good intentions. But then the grown-ups spoilt it by asking to be paid for services rendered. Anyway, as a Jerry Media man says, it was difficult to keep in touch with what was happening in the Bahamas. This is curious, because in Fyre Fraud, Oren Aks says that from the beginning, the Jerry people figured that McFarland wouldn’t be able to make the festival work, but went along to see what they could get.
‘It was just the coolest party you’d ever seen advertised,’ says Gabrielle Bluestone of Vice magazine in The Greatest Party. Vice’s media division is the other co-producer of the Netflix film. Part of the coolness is the island’s association with murderous cocaine dealer Pablo Escobar. Edgy!
The plea of diminished responsibility in The Greatest Party reflects the stunted ethics of the millennial generation. It would take a heart of stone not to relish the humbling of these spoilt and arrogant babies, their pornified imaginations suckered into spending thousands by a blatantly false promise, caught in what turned into ‘a Lord of the Flies-type situation with Instagram’s top influencers’. Who would believe that the supermodels were just waiting on the beach, all depilated and ready to party to the mellifluous sounds of Blink-182?
A generation that expects all stuff to be free and has outsourced its conscience. A generation that believes that reality is what you create by paying influencers on Instagram. Give that, it’s hard not to see the Netflix film as a slyly manipulative attempt to get ahead of the bad publicity that the Hulu film and the class action suit will bring. Watch Fyre Fraud, and avoid Fyre: The Greatest Party.
‘You can’t polish a turd,’ they told me in my analog childhood. But that was before social media, the parallel world in which no turd goes unpolished. McFarland’s generation, who compulsively falsify their images on screen, wanted people like him, because everyone now wants the chance to go to the greatest parties. That’s their form of democracy, and they got it good and hard. As do we all, now that their generation has given us two social media presidents for the price of one democracy.
Dominic Green is Life & Arts Editor of Spectator USA.