This week, streaming giants Hulu and Netflix dropped rival documentaries about Fyre Fest—the beautiful disaster that, in April 2017, practically imploded the internet with rich kid schadenfreude after an attendee posted a photo of a sad cheese sandwich. If you're not familiar (or need a refresher), the whole mess began when rapper Ja Rule and young entrepreneur/Fyre Media CEO Billy McFarland announced their plan to host a destination music festival to promote their music booking app.
Then a promotional video dropped featuring über-famous models like Kendall Jenner and Bella Hadid frolicking around an island in the Bahamas that the ad claimed was once owned by Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar. It looked like Instagram incarnate—aquamarine waters, piña coladas, adorable beach pigs. Blink-182 and Major Lazer were booked to headline the festival. Attendees (who paid thousands of dollars for their tickets) were promised accommodations in luxury geodesic domes and meals cooked by celebrity chefs, along with water trampolines, yoga on the beach, and $1 million of real treasure and jewels hidden around the island. Instead, they got soggy FEMA tents and the infamous cheese sandwiches.
The whole thing unraveled pretty quickly from there, devolving into well-moneyed millennials' very own version of Lord of the Flies. Multi-million dollar lawsuits followed, and McFarland is currently serving six years in prison for wire fraud. Hulu surprise-dropped its doc earlier this week, and Netflix's is out today. I've watched both, which chronicle the downfall of Fyre Festival and the men who tried and failed to build it, but there are some major differences worth examining.
In the Netflix documentary Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened, former Fyre employees explain how, exactly, everything went to shit and highlight the ways McFarland kept them in the dark about the festival's financial situation. It's interesting to hear the madness explained, but Hulu's documentary Fyre Fraud zooms out to contextualize Fyre Festival as a symptom of a much greater issue.
Fyre Fraud seems to center on the idea behind one interviewee's comment that "it's a great time to be a conman in America." And it's true; just look at the "Wolf of Wall Street" Jordan Belfort, "Pharma Bro" Martin Shkreli, and Donald Trump. The winter after the 2016 presidential election—when millions of Americans were feeling deflated and disillusioned—was the perfect time to capitalize on their desire for escapism, and that's just what McFarland did. Fyre Fraud also delves into the ways "influence" and FOMO (the "fear of missing out") can be weaponized on platforms like Instagram, and how in this instance a few posts from beautiful models were like a siren song luring people to this place that never really existed.
Fyre Fraud includes an exclusive interview with McFarland that he was reportedly offered $250,000 to do. Honestly, it doesn't really bother that his scam tricked a bunch of investors and rich kids with cash to burn; as comedian Ron Funches says in a clip from Conan that's included in one of the docs, “If you paid thousands of dollars to go on a trip to see Blink-182, that’s on you. That is Darwinism at its finest.” But the way McFarland treated the local Bahamians he hired to build the festival is what truly makes my blood boil. An estimated $25,000 is still owed to workers, and in the Hulu doc, Ava Turnquest of Nassau's Tribune News Network emphasizes that being a good host is a point of pride in Bahamian culture—something that was unflinchingly exploited by McFarland & Co.
Even though it makes him look like a total dingus—at one point someone compares his credit card company Magnises to Entertainment 720, the "premiere, high-end, all-media entertainment conglomerate" from Parks and Rec—I was mad the Hulu doc gave McFarland money and a chance to defend himself. If you already know someone's a conman, why would you give him another opportunity to manipulate the public's perception? On the other hand, interviews in Fyre Fraud reveal that Netflix's Fyre documentary was produced by Jerry Media (of @fuckjerry), the same company that did all the deceptive, influencer-driven marketing for Fyre Festival. The Ringer has a fantastic breakdown of both documentaries' ethical issues, but the takeaway is simply that the whole truth of what happened at Fyre Festival and its aftermath is presented by neither—that's what makes them so interesting.