Directed by Chris Smith
Billy McFarland, the central subject of the fairly recent Netflix documentary, makes for a good villain. He is slimy, mysterious, delusional and, in the end, outright malicious. Just looking at him might stir up feelings of feelings of disgust particularly as he attempts to smother himself with the life he might think he deserves to live, a life of pure capitalistic success.
McFarland was the CEO of Magnesis, a company that apparently sold credit cards to millennials and which defrauded many of them. Then he started Fyre Media through which you could book high end bands and performers for various events. To promote that he and partner Ja Rule decided to host a music festival on a small island in the Bahamas once owned by Pablo Escobar.
Though a little known company, Fyre took off when McFarland, Ja Rule and a video crew captured a few days at the beach with a handful of models and Instagram “influencers,” including Bella Hadid and Kylie Jenner. These are people who are paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to promote whatever it is they are paid to promote. In this case it was for the Fyre Music Festival, and sure enough it caused a firestorm.
From what I understand, McFarland truly believed he could pull off this music festival in such a short amount of time. The festival, as I’m sure you know, was a disaster, and not only that but McFarland defrauded customers and investors alike, losing some $26 million while many others suffered as a result of his delusions and deceit.
If you thought he was just in over his head, well later in the documentary we see that while out on bail he began a new enterprise called NYC VIP that sold over $100,000 worth of tickets that didn’t actually exist.
There is plenty of footage in Fyre chronicling the lead up to the festival and even McFarland’s life after the festival. That’s because he hired a video crew to film just about everything. His need for attention, for constant documentation is in line with one of the documentary’s themes. The other is about the misinformation often spread by such documentation which is less documentary-like and more just a way to show off the version of yourself you want others to see.
It’s a stereotype of millennials, that need to be seen and to control how you’re seen. It’s quite troubling and is pushed to the extreme here. As a result there is something delightful about watching the scammers get found out as well as some of the self-broadcasting attendees.
Around Billy there are Fyre Media employees who seem sincere that they were fooled and who you might feel for. They jump at the opportunity to work for something that seems so exciting, and they don’t ask the same questions I might not ask were I in such a position. The job seems entertaining enough, and as long as you’re getting paid, what the hell? Well, then they stop getting paid.
Some of the other pour souls caught up in this are employers in the Bahamas who had to shell out their own money to save face after the people worked tirelessly for them for days, weeks and even months without seeing a cent.
The whole situation is absurd, and it feels like the premise of some kind of satire about music festivals and a certain angst that permeates through young adults, myself included. I guess that’s the thing I dislike, that I feel this too, this “fear of missing out.”
I think Fyre is effective because the subtext of the story feels like it exists everywhere, at least amongst a certain age of person. It’s this lie spread through the internet that everyone else is living their best self and that you need to keep up. It’s a messaging that suggests you’re never doing what you should be, you’re never where you should be, and you’re probably not with who you should be with. Instead there is always something better, and you should pursue it.
I think it’s a feeling that affects a lot of people who are, for lack of a better word, Millennials (as much as a I hate any overarching generalization). These are people, again myself included, who have a certain comfort and a certain level of access to the world around them, and we are told to play the game, to leave home, to chase our dreams, and in many cases to trade in what you currently have in favor of what you could have.
The comfort you might look for around you can only come from within, as cheesy as it sounds.
Just look at those pithy quotes like, “wherever you go, there you are,” or “home is where the heart is.” Satisfaction is hard to come by when you listen to the forces that suggest you shouldn’t be satisfied. These are things like the simple glorification of Hollywood success stories (which often overlook the truth in favor of a good narrative), reality tv, the glorification of working yourself into the ground for more money and I guess just consumerism as a whole. I mean, there’s a new iPhone ever year. How many iPhones do there need to be?
To wrap up the millennial theme I need to relate this back again to myself. I relate to the impulses that got some of these would be festival attendees in over their heads, and I marvel at the audacity at someone like Billy McFarland to try and will himself, illegally, into the lifestyle he thinks he should live.
It’s a conviction sold to you that you should be playing the same game as everyone else, and it’s hard to shake. When I was in San Diego a couple months ago, I hailed a Lyft with a young man who told me not to play that game. “Don’t compete,” he said, “create.” I like that message.
Up Next: Misery (1990), Nine to Five (1980), Blackboard Jungle (1955)