In the spring of 2017 social media ignited when images and stories started to trickle out about an exclusive music festival known as Fyre. What was promised as a "transformative" experience on a private island, with airfare and hotel packages going for up to $12,000, ended up being an ill-prepared and underfunded disaster. Tweets regularly poked fun at the poor people stranded on the Bahamian island of Great Exuma; their catered meals little more than a slice of meat on bread with several being locked into the local airport, unable to get home.
For people online, the Fyre Festival was an example of hubris, and proved the stupidity of young kids raised on YouTube, desperate to live a life of luxury that was all a facade. As Chris Smith documents in his new Netflix documentary, Fyre, there is far more going on underneath the surface that says more about white male privilege than the presumed stupidity of millennials.
The toxic masculinity wafts off the screen during Fyre. The festival, conceived by the perpetually grinning Billy McFarland, was a chance to live like rock stars and "f*ck like pornstars." McFarland, founder and CEO of Fyre Media, is called a "mad genius" throughout the documentary, touted as the man who truly understands millennials. In actuality, he created a clubhouse for wealthy 20-somethings which was meant to serve the new class of yuppies who are about branding above all else.
For McFarland and his co-founder, '90s rapper Ja Rule, the Fyre festival was about luxury, exclusivity, and a chance to prove their own individual power. Their wealth walked hand-in-hand with their presumed popularity. There was no way the festival could fail because people, as far as McFarland and Ja Rule were concerned, wanted to be them. In fact, McFarland loved having himself recorded which only added to his air of invincibility. Even after he was brought up on charges of fraud for the Fyre Festival, McFarland continued to document his fraudulent activity. Taped footage in Fyre shows him telling people that losers and presumed "stupid" people will buy whatever he's selling. So it's hard to buy the claims from those who knew McFarland that he was ⏤ deep down ⏤ a nice person, a brilliant man, someone who just got in over his head.
Fyre, both the documentary and the event itself, exposes our own penchant for exclusivity and the false legitimacy that comes from male power brokers. McFarland and his crew are shown actively lying to investors about how much money Fyre Media is worth. They even deceived average day laborers on the Bahamian island of Great Exuma who were working day and night to erect tents for countless people. There's no active discussion about what truly enticed people to spend up to $1,200 for the Fyre Festival, but it's evident that seeing Bella Hadid and other top models and social media "influencers" cavorting on Pablo Escobar's beach was all they needed to splurge.
The rise of influencer culture, something that seems to be a popular topic this year, continues to receive a wary eye. But it is indicative of a bigger problem. As young, privileged people in America were busy being seduced by celebrity, real people were being used and abused to put on the Fyre Festival. It's sad that average people were duped by McFarland, but it's even worse that McFarland exploited countless minorities in his quest to promote white exclusivity.
As the audience sees, the Fyre Festival was booted from Pablo Escobar's island after it was falsely promoted as his event. Escobar sent several warnings to stop the misleading branding to no avail. Eventually, the festival landed on Great Exuma, and the local townsfolk were overjoyed. They assumed that the Fyre Festival would give them a significant boost in tourism. Instead, the island was exploited for free labor and food that issue still hasn't been rectified. As one local restaurant owner explains in the documentary, talking about the Fyre Festival upsets her because of how used she feels. Ultimately, the Fyre Festival serves as a metaphor for the chronic manipulation of minorities for their labor, support, and money.
Fyre is a documentary about far more than a music festival. Infamy always makes something attractive. Couple that with male privilege and the continued adoration of wealth and power, and it's no surprise that the Fyre festival was something many (even today) believe has promise. Yet, underneath the promises, as we've seen outside the world of music and celebrity, there's something darker. If McFarland wasn't a seemingly successful white male, would he have been granted the same cache? It's doubtful. But watching Fyre becomes less of a lesson in schadenfreude and more an examination into the deification of white male privilege.
Fyre is available to stream on Netflix January 18th