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.
Perhaps the most telling thing that Fyre evealed was the lack of intrepid spirit in its attendees. The Bahamas boasts the best conch fritters on earth, Great Exuma has some spectacular white sand beaches, nearby Harbor Island (“Briland”) is one of Uproxx’s favorite travel destinations. How come no one thought “Well, the refunds are going to be issued; I’ll just hang in one of these emergency relief tents for a few days and call it a free vacation!” Why didn’t the young, wild, and free start a bonfire, buy some hooch, and make a party of their own?
Yesterday, vlogger Austin Mills posted a 12 minute video account detailing all the ways Fyre went wrong. And, it’s pretty clear: This thing was a mess. But it was also a bunch of young, single, attractive people in the Caribbean. C’mon vloggers, you can’t turn those lemons into lemonade?
“So far heading to be the worst 24 hours of my life,” Mills says, without a trace of irony, as he and his friends rush to get back on a plane at 5 AM.
In the end, the “gypsy souls,” vagabonds, and adventurers that Fyre claimed to be seeking out shuffled back through customs like so many sheep. It was proof that the festival attracted the exact audience it chased: People who could be influenced by influencers. But that same crowd was quick to cut and run the second things didn’t work out, even if it meant hours in customs. As if a day in a tent on the beach would have sucked nearly as bad; as if the Bahamas magically lost of all its charm when the Insta-heroes bailed.
The issue worth exploring in all of this is the notion of “influence.” The Fyre Fest hoped people would be impressionable enough to buy tickets, thanks to vague social media shoutouts from pretty people, and they were absolutely right. But that level of impressionability is exactly the opposite of what makes a person (or a festival) seem cool.
Coachella didn’t need Jenner, Hadid, and Ratajkowski to endorse them. They built organically and the cool kids saw that something awesome was happening in the desert. The same goes for YourParadise Festival in Fiji — which also made a slick trailer with bold promises, but didn’t have to pay influencers to sell tickets.
Maybe the lesson in all this is to go your own way, to make the party yourself, to curate a unique life that you haven’t seen on a feed and turn it into such an art form that people want to follow you around the world. Anyone paying for Fyre’s “Retreat” option could have gone to Thailand for a month with the same money. There they would have been able to see the coveted paper lanterns that Ja Rule and Co. bought stock footage of; they could have partied all night on the beach at Ko Phangan.
The world that Fyre sold with its Entertainment 720-style pitch deck and Prestige Worldwide posturing is out there. It’s waiting for you. It’s still as ripe for exploring as ever. It just requires you to be a little more intrepid and a little less impressionable.