No event in history will ever be easier to laugh at than Fyre Fest in the Bahamas. It’s one big schadenfreude dream: Social media influencers, festival kids, tech bros, Ja Rule… what else could you possibly ask for? No parody could do it justice; the truth is far stranger than any fiction. Each new trickle of information — from Ja Rule’s NOT MY FAULT tweet to the leaked pitch deck for the Fyre App and Fyre Squad — is just too freaking rich.
This is clearly the event that comedians will focus on in ten years when VH1 does “Remember 2017?”, and that’s saying a lot in 2017. But when we’re done laughing (and it sounds like no one was seriously hurt so… game on) it’s worth discussing what a shitshow festival on a tropical island says about where our culture is headed. Because the whole story is emblematic of the times we live in: An age when hype has the ability to overpower even the simplest logic.
Have a look at that Fyre Festival teaser. It’s like a movie trailer for The Fast And The Furious: You’ll Probably Bang Underwater. As such, it’s pretty damn effective. Paper lanterns! Girls in plunge-neck bathing suits! Light shows!
Can you blame anyone for wanting to go to this thing? Can you fault them for tracking the hashtags and buzzing about it with their friends? For saying, “Let’s do it! Let’s book it today!”? Of course not. That’s the one place where the Fyre Festival succeeded: It knew all the right buttons to push, preying on peoples’ shared desire to feel like celebrities and exploiting their willingness to self-glamorize. It allowed attendees to ignore their better judgements with bold promises that were far-fetched but sounded awesome.
Still… at some point, we gotta slow down and think about this stuff. Watch the video more closely and you’ll see a lot of yachts. People jumping off of yachts, people swimming away from yachts, people navigating yachts through Exuma’s notoriously tricky sandbars. Did literally no one stop to ask, “Where will I meet my yacht? How does this yacht thing work? Is there, like, a yacht voucher?”
The #YACHTLIFE-as-selling-tool is a microcosm for why tickets to Fyre sold out. It made use of imagery and buzzwords that have grown increasingly vague — “Luxury accommodation,” “gourmet food,” “VIP experience” — and by doing so revealed our own eagerness to forgo critical thinking. It was hawked by “culture curators” like Kendall Jenner, Bella Hadid, and Emily Ratajkowski to the sorts of people who want their culture curated by models. The sorts of people who won’t ask too many questions.
[The questions weren’t even particularly tricky, as the devil was in the complete lack of details. The website looked like some high schooler’s end-of-term project written in one mad dash — the type that’s sure to score high marks for creativity, but gets dramatically downgraded for “a lack of specificity.”]
The sword of critical thinking actually cut two ways with Fyre. It’s not just that people should have been asking, “Can the guy who thought Michael Jordan got $1 for every time the ‘crying Jordan’ meme was posted really pull this thing off?” They also should have also been wondering whether they were paying enough to make their dreams into a reality.
While $12,500 luxury VIP packages have been splashed across headlines all week (the price for that ticket included dinner with a G.O.O.D. music artist), the basic package for the weekend was around a $1,500 with day passes for $450. If you think you can get flown from Miami to Great Exuma, plus accommodation, food, and performances from Major Lazer and Pusha T for $1,500, you’re f*cking nuts. Even the $3,500 tented camp option isn’t feasible from a numbers standpoint — especially with the way Fyre sliced into their budget by hiring 400 influencers right out of the gate. You think Jenner, Hadid, and Ratajkowski do video shoots for free?
The point is: While the Fyre Festival obviously under-delivered for what people paid, in all likelihood they also undercharged for what they led people to expect. After all, they said themselves that they essentially had to “build a city” and you damn sure don’t build a city on the backs of $450 day passes.