FYRE FRAUD FEVER
You may have heard of Fyre Festival - an overhyped festival promising A-list musicians, supermodels and luxury to rich millennials. It was scheduled to take place on an island in the Bahamas in 2017. It failed, publically, in spectacular fashion - despite reportedly selling 95% of tickets in 48 hours. Instead of extravagance, the event left guests stranded with little or no food, wet mattresses and sweaty cheese sandwiches. Dubbed the best horror film of 2019 so far, the festival’s disaster story is now being told in two documentaries (one by Netflix and another by Hulu - both released in the same week).
So, why all the hype?
Members of the creative team described their approach to marketing Fyre as "selling a dream, selling a vacation, selling a concept." Fyre Festival can be seen as a warning metaphor for ‘Instagram’ living - looking like you’re having fun is not more important than the real thing.
“Everyone wants to have this online klout, they want to have access and exclusivity. Fyre was basically Instagram come to life.” Christopher Leacock (Major Lazer), ‘Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened.’
Initially, the festival was marketed using some of the world’s most iconic supermodels and online influencers. Kendall Jenner, Emily Ratajkowski and Bella Hadid were all there - posing in bikinis and riding on jet skis in tropical water to promote the event. In fact, the supermodel’s fees are one of the reasons organisers say the festival bombed.
From the get-go, the publicised involvement of these zeitgeist celebrities got heads turning - and it all plays out in the documentaries. With young people becoming more aware of how they are being marketed to (and Instagram filtering), the creative strategy behind Fyre was a compelling pull for even those vaguely interested to dig deeper into the disaster story.
For many young people, there is a growing need to validate sources of information. The fact that there were two compelling (competing) documentary sources to compare stories against, meant that both pieces attracted lots of attention and social media talkability. Interestingly, each production worked with different parties involved in the controversy - Billy McFarland (founder of Fyre Media) was interviewed exclusively in the Hulu documentary and Elliot Tebele, creator of Jerry Media/FuckJerry, who did marketing for the festival, is an executive producer of the Netflix documentary.
Both films incited extreme outrage among young viewers. This spurred others to want to know what the hype was all about. Mass outrage ensued. Some of this outrage came in the form of lighthearted amazement and disbelief at just how ridiculous some of the ‘professionally’ manufactured scenarios managed to get. (At one point, production manager Andy King was asked to ‘take one for the team’ in a highly NSFW way - and he was ready to do it). Elsewhere, some of the most entertaining reactions were inspired by rapper Ja Rule’s reactive Twitterstorm about his involvement with the festival.
However, most of the outrage was critical of the unbelievable carelessness of those involved. The frat-boy culture among organisers depicted in the films, throws up topical issues surrounding capitalism and wealth, white privilege and influencers.
“It was shocking. A lot of the toxic masculinity conversation that’s going on at the moment was so prevalent in the scenes. There’s one when the guys are asking the models to get in the water with them… If this was to happen even today just a couple of years later, you’d hope that someone would call them out right then and there.” - Fin, 25.
Ultimately, the story told showcases the story of a coordinated fraud. And, if there’s one thing young people consuming this entertaining content have no sympathy for, it’s a scam.
FUNDING THE FYRE FEAST FOLLOW UP
Spurred by this outrage, social media blew up with criticism for all parties involved, calling for justice. Perhaps the most impressive result of the entertaining films was how they spurred real action from young viewers. In sympathy for island locals who lost their own money as a result of the failed festival, people from all over the world who watched the documentary donated money to a GoFundMe. Within 10 days over six thousand people donated over $180,000.
As a format, documentaries are popular among young people, who, time-poor, are not only being entertained when watching them, but are learning something valuable and concerning about the wider world.
“There’s definitely a rise in the production of documentaries - because they’re cheaper to produce than a feature. They have increasing potential to have tangible impact by reaching people en mass - like ‘Blackfish’ shutting down Seaworld and ‘What the Health?’ changing people's’ eating habits. Rather than passive entertainment, they are seen as having an impact on your life and the lives of others.” Johnny, Thinkhouse Production Team.
Young people have a strong sense of morality and welcome content that helps them craft educated opinions on topical issues. The fact that the social impact element of the Fyre story was told in an engaging and entertaining way, inspired youth to take action.