Back in 2017, Fyre Festival was an eruption of hubris, delusion and incompetence that created one of the biggest tsunamis of *schadenfreude* the Internet has ever seen. No mean feat that. At the time it seemed like no one in this flustercuck was deserving of our sympathy - just a bunch of snake oil salesmen and the kind of entitled fools who are soon parted from their money anyway.
There are two documentaries out on this mother of all pseudo-events - one by Netflix and the other by Hulu. I watched the Netflix one. In some ways, it paints a slightly more nuanced picture. In others it confirms the craven idiocy and greed that animated the whole project.
Most importantly, the documentary highlights that there were people deserving of sympathy and support: the locals at Grand Exuma, who sacrificed real time and resources to the project and were left empty-handed as the hypebeasts fled the Lord of Flies shitstorm they’d created. The people left behind were essentially invisible until now. After the documentaries premiered, the restaurant that was ripped off managed to more than recoup its losses through a GoFundMe campaign.
For those who have forgotten or were blissfully unaware of Fyre Festival to begin with, it was started as a way to launch Fyre Media’s service for booking artists. Their aim was to become the “Uber of booking talent”. Yes, people were trying to be the “Uber of” as recently as 2017. The festival was supposed to offer people the chance to enjoy music, luxury accommodations and pristine beaches in close proximity with supermodels and Instagram influencers. It was essentially an epic manifestation of FOMO that tried to become a reality.
Unsuccessfully. Spectacularly so.
From where I sit, one of the important things the documentary shed light on was how deeply it was essentially a failure of culture - both for us as a society living in a particular technological reality and for the company trying to produce the festival.
Let’s take a closer look at the latter.
Fyre Media was set up like an authoritarian 20th century “industrial” organisation that had weaponised 21st century corporate culture tropes about community and commitment to extract more out of people and obscure the reality of what they were doing.
A total lack of transparency allowed it to hide how bad things were right up until the very end.
There was no tolerance for dissent even when it was clearly based on expertise in the area in question. There was a tendency to kill the messenger. Bearers of bad news were criticised for having a bad attitude. In this context, the leadership managed to abuse the idea of a solution-focused culture by accusing internal critics of being problem-focused and using it so silence dissent. People unwilling to go along and join the collective delusion were let go, sooner or later.
All decision-making power was removed from the frontline where the actual work is done. Once again, if your knowhow came into conflict with the collective delusion the key protagonists operated under or, at the very least, felt necessary to maintain, you’d be let go.
Combining the worst aspects of old-school corporate management with new school digital marketing is obviously quite potent. In a bad way. In the case of Fyre Festival, their culture was so wrong, it veered into criminality. And just like cultural change needs to start at the top to be effective, the rot has to start there, too, to be this pervasive. William McFarland, the CEO of Fire Media, was sentenced to prison for defrauding investors of over 27 million dollars.
On a side note, all through watching the documentary, something that repeatedly came to mind was Theranos. There’s a documentary out on that company, too. Tapping into something people really want to believe is always powerful. It’s a shame when people misuse it.
PS. Of course documentaries are always problematic in that there’s really no such thing - just a carefully curated or moderated presentation of a particular perspective. Or, at times, a naked attempt to manipulate. The same applies in this case. Is the Netflix documentary on Fyre Festival just the postscript to the scam?
- Arttu TolonenCommunications Lead