Sometimes a bullshit artist is just a bullshit artist.
Above is the teaser for one of two documentaries released within four days of each other this month. The subject in each is a failed “music festival” that arguably got more attention than it deserved when it embarrassed its originator and backers back in April 2017.
The Fyre Festival concept was the idea of 25-year-old Billy McFarland, who is described in one of the films as “an aspiring entrepreneur turned con artist.” His thought was to gather some really elite people for a luxy music festival on an island in the Bahamas. It didn’t come off so well; in fact it was a disaster that could have been predicted from the get-go. McFarland is now in federal prison.
The movie referenced above is the version Hulu bought. It was made by offbeat documentary director Chris Smith and goes on at some length about how gullible millennials were attracted by Fyre’s social media promotion campaign and who wanted to attend because of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out.) It includes portions of an eight-hour interview with McFarland, for which he was paid an unspecified amount of cash and in which he says nothing of interest.
In addition to limning the FOMO concept, “Fyre Fraud” interweaves footage from cartoons and vintage black-and-white film snippets, plus an interview with a psychologist who explains that McFarland is a “con man” and describes helpfully the characteristics of con men. Well, duh.
The whole thing runs for 96 minutes, but it feels longer.
The other documentary appears to have been launched after the announcement of the first one and was snapped up by Netflix. It tells the same story and uses much of the same social media footage.
It has more interviews with people who worked on the Fyre festival — the promotion team, a “music festival consultant,” the Fyre “producer” who looks old enough to know better but shares a vulgar anecdote anyway and the employees who seemed to know all along that things weren’t going well but who just kept hoping that a great big rabbit would jump out of a hat before the disappointed customers arrived.
It’s one minute longer than the other production, and it too goes on longer than it should.
Fyre is not the first failed music festival. It is remarkable for its promotional excesses — like paying “influencer” Kendall Jenner $250,000 for a single Instagram post — and its abject failure to grapple with the basic issues of staging a large event in an offshore location that required lodging, food, water, toilets and electricity.
The documentaries offer the rest of us a chance to enjoy a little schadenfreude as hoity-toity types suffer a very bad weekend. All fine and good.
What they do not do is put the essential question to the many people involved in the effort: What the heck were you thinking? A Manhattan socialite, the wife of hedge fundie, raised $4 million for the project and declined to be interviewed. So did McFarland’s partner, Ja Rule, the rapper who talked a big game until the whole Fyre thing blew up and then faced no criminal consequences. (There is appropriate sympathy for Bahamian workers who didn’t get paid, and apparently a crowd-funding effort has reimbursed a heroic small restaurateur who fed legions of hungry people without reimbursement.)
Even the attendees should be asked the question. By the time McFarland came up with his Fyre inspiration, his earlier enterprise — an exclusive metal Magnises credit card thingie for millennial influencers — was in deep trouble and had earned an “F” rating from the Better Business Bureau.
Really. What WERE all those people thinking?