Flash Point
January 18, 2019 7:35 PM   Subscribe

The abysmal failure known as the Fyre Festival (previously) is the stuff of legends. This week, Netflix and Hulu rolled out competing documentaries covering the fiasco. Now, both documentary teams are accusing one another of ethical lapses, while the festival's incarcerated founder and the social media agencies who hyped the festival are profiting off of the films. The Ringer has the story.
posted by duffell (38 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
“It’s a little bit of a head-scratcher to say that we have an ethical quandary when it seems like people who got the rest of the world knee deep in shit are making large licensing fees and getting prestige when this thing comes out on Friday. To me, I think it’s a little bit of the pot calling the kettle black.”

That sounds pretty accurate. The people who are ethically compromised are calling out the other people who are ethically compromised. Is this supposed to take the heat off you in some way?
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 8:39 PM on January 18 [2 favorites]

This seems very 2019.
posted by PMdixon at 8:50 PM on January 18 [8 favorites]

This is like some kind of epic shit snowball that keeps growing. I have visions of some Douglas Adams style sketch like the shoe event horizon where some music festival is just so impossibly bad and vapid that it triggers the downfall of an entire civilization by creating an extended existential humanitarian crisis and fractal drama hurricane.
posted by loquacious at 9:21 PM on January 18 [39 favorites]

Ok, but here's the real question: One FanFare post or two? And, can someone watch them and start the thread(s) so I know whether or not either of them are worth my time?
posted by rogerroger at 9:58 PM on January 18 [7 favorites]

When Netflix/Hulu found out that Hulu/Netflix was also making a documentary about Fyre Fest an unnamed marketing exec waived off the multiple warnings and said, “Let’s just do it and be legends, man.”
posted by ActingTheGoat at 10:10 PM on January 18 [30 favorites]

there's a gif going around of two little kids playing William Tell with a bat (in the bigger kid's hands) and a ball (on the smaller kid's head). The bigger kid aims to knock the ball off the smaller kid's head, but misjudges and bashes the smaller kid's head. And then it just keeps looping.

This is how I feel about Fyre Fest.
posted by philip-random at 11:08 PM on January 18 [1 favorite]

somebody needs to make a film about this.
posted by carter at 12:00 AM on January 19 [7 favorites]

someone needs to make -three- films of this

And that’s if we’re just doing Fibonacci...
posted by fizban at 12:15 AM on January 19 [7 favorites]

I think viewers are indulging the opportunity to have as many Fyre Festival documentaries as they could possibly consume. People would be excited to watch 10 of them if there were 10 of them.”

That quote is what’s 2019. Binge watch the adorkopalypse.
posted by chavenet at 1:20 AM on January 19 [5 favorites]

I’ve now watched both and if you could somehow smash them together you’d probably get a very entertaining movie. The Hulu doc has more background on exactly how this foolishness got started, while the Netflix doc has more about the impact to the little people who got shafted, and the chaos of the festival itself. The Hulu doc did a lot of padding of visual elements with stock footage that had nothing to do with what was happening, while constantly using the word “millennials” and explaining the last 15 years of social media as if I hadn’t lived through it. The Netflix doc just assumed you already knew everything about the major players in this fiasco, while absolving the social media team of any wrongdoing (because they created this movie). But really, I was just in it for the woman screaming, Turn around! Turn the bus around!” when the first wave of people realize their beachside villas are FEMA tents.
posted by loriginedumonde at 2:05 AM on January 19 [39 favorites]

The Hulu doc, while annoying in its tepidly anti-millenial approach, did a much better job of skewering Billy McFarland (the founder) and wasn't just a tidy little PR piece for the FuckJerry guys.

But the ABSOLUTE BEST PART is Delroy.

If Ja Rule (and everyone else, for that matter) had just listened to Delroy, the island bartender and resident fly on the wall, we wouldn't be in this mess:

Delroy Jackson, a local Bahamian hired as a fixer for the festival, recalls Rule visiting the barren festival grounds four months out from the start date and expressing skepticism that they’d actually pull it off. “He pulled me aside like, ‘Yo, Delroy. Just be straight up dawg. Is this festival gonna happen. What’d you think?’” he says. “All I did was scratch my head. I was just like, ‘Ja, it’s really not gonna happen.’”
posted by nightrecordings at 4:32 AM on January 19 [28 favorites]

I've seen them both and they're both pretty good. Watch them in release order (Hulu then Netflix) - the Hulu background, interview, and Fuck Jerry fucking makes the Netflix doc more interesting. The Netflix doc does have more about the aftermath (islanders, ticket scheme) as well as a brief interview with the WORST PERSON in the entire two docs.

Spoiler Alert: The WORST PERSON is the Fyre attendee who, during the tent grab stampede, admits to his and his gang of bros cutting up and pissing in neighboring tents so they'd have a secluded hovel. Fucking fuck that fucker - everything had already gone to shit and he spent his time making it shittier for others.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 6:24 AM on January 19 [42 favorites]

Imo the Hulu doc is way better than the Netflix one. The latter is centered around the (highly dubious) idea that Billy McFarland is solely to blame for the debacle, while the former convincingly argues that it takes a lot of people, not just one, to perpetuate a scam of this magnitude. Also, the Hulu doc is more interesting and informative.
posted by Frobenius Twist at 10:08 AM on January 19 [5 favorites]

> fractal drama hurricane

A lovely phrase. Thank you.
posted by glonous keming at 10:57 AM on January 19

I want to add, although I like the Hulu doc more, some of the most upsetting revelations were in the Netflix doc. In addition to what robocop is bleeding mentioned about the jackass who intentionally made the campsites worse for everyone:

- The organizer who, under direct orders from Billy McFarland, went down to the Bahamanian customs' guy's office fully prepared to give him a blow job so that customs would release a shipment of water. I won't spoil what happens but, shit.
- The Bahamian woman who paid $50k - out of her own pocket, her life savings - to her team of ten employees who worked on building infrastructure for the festival. Because the Fyre Festival organizers never paid them and were never going to pay them. The pain and heartbreak on that woman's face.
posted by nightrecordings at 11:09 AM on January 19 [21 favorites]

This is the story behind the stories about the story.
posted by Apocryphon at 11:34 AM on January 19 [3 favorites]

The Hulu doc took the old VH1 commentary approach to what everyone remembered hearing about the Fyre Fest. I enjoyed the Netflix doc more, since it had lots of behind-the-scenes footage that gave more detail about the scam. (And scam is the right word, because this festival didn't fall apart at the last moment. Days -- and weeks and months -- before the event, it was clear that this wasn't doable. They were collecting money as fast as possible right to the end.) If you're interested in the subject, I don't think either doc is a bad time...but the Hulu one is basically Twitter comments, with a weird overlay of "that's what happens with these millennials and their instagramming."

McFarland rightly came off terribly in both docs, but I thought the Netflix footage was pretty damning when it came to Ja Rule's involvement! Previously I assumed Ja Rule was just there for publicity. He seemed...way more closely involved in truth, to the point where he's still attached to the core product (app) they were developing at the same time as Fyre Fest.
posted by grandiloquiet at 11:43 AM on January 19 [7 favorites]

Because the Fyre Festival organizers never paid them and were never going to pay them. The pain and heartbreak on that woman's face.

This is precisely the sort of shitty thing and fallout I'm alluding to with my "fractal drama hurricane" dystopian fantasy riff.

And I'm not really entirely joking. A big mismanaged festival in the wrong community or place could just destroy a given local economy and even kill people with badly rigged stages, lack of water and hygiene and even natural disasters.

I've been involved with some very large festivals and have organized dozens of my own smaller shows and parties. And thankfully almost everything I've been personally involved with producing has delivered and been various levels of a success, but there have also been near misses and I have witnessed or worked for some major disasters.

It's terrifying and a lot of work to pull off even smaller shows or parties. Even for my small DJ nights at established venues I get butterflies and full on adrenaline anxiety rushes just thinking about it and how a bunch of invisible work has to be focused and lined up with 4-5 specific hours. It is really remarkably easy for things to go sideways and pear shaped and even all kinds of fucked up. And this is in the best case scenario with honest, hard working people who don't place a bunch of useless ego, posturing or other major character flaws in the way of themselves and the production.

Throw a con men and some hard drug use and a bunch of people biting off more than they can chew and too many people and you have a recipe for a pretty large scale humanitarian crisis.
posted by loquacious at 11:49 AM on January 19 [12 favorites]

Spoiler Alert: The WORST PERSON is the Fyre attendee who, during the tent grab stampede, admits to his and his gang of bros cutting up and pissing in neighboring tents so they'd have a secluded hovel. Fucking fuck that fucker - everything had already gone to shit and he spent his time making it shittier for others.

YES I HATE THAT DUDE AND HIS AWFUL FRIENDS. There's always some asshole ready to play "end of civilization" at the slightest provocation. Imagine being one of the strongest and healthiest people in that situation, surrounded by your pack of strong and healthy friends, and deciding to make that night more difficult and precarious for everyone else around you. I really wish people like this would self-sort themselves to Siberia, because we shouldn't have to try and make communities work with anyone who has this sick mindset.

One of the people on the Netflix doc said that they ran into a girl who was drunk, crying, and stumbling around the campsite looking for her friend. ("But what could I do," the guy said mournfully, like an idiot, when the obvious answer is "convince this girl to sit down, sober up, and find her friend in the daytime.") All the female Fyre attendees in the doc sounded like they were in yachts or houses. I do wish they'd talked to some women who had been stuck in the tents. The closest I felt to sympathy to Fyre Fest attendees was imagining being in that situation, because even well-run music festivals are gross and rapey. And at Fyre Fest...your idiot co-attendees are apparently destroying the only usable living spaces.
posted by grandiloquiet at 11:59 AM on January 19 [9 favorites]

The chef who lost her life savings paying her people to keep working through the whole thing, and never got paid for all the work done, has a GoFundMe up. It's here.
posted by kafziel at 12:01 PM on January 19 [11 favorites]

YES I HATE THAT DUDE AND HIS AWFUL FRIENDS. There's always some asshole ready to play "end of civilization" at the slightest provocation.

Yeah, we had a way of dealing with these jerks at the desert parties around LA back in the 90s, and that was to make it way too hard to find and get directions to the party. And when they did show up they were often sent home and confronted by a bunch of people because they'd do dumb stuff like get their SUV stuck in the sand or try to light pointless momentary bonfires out of uprooted creosote bushes that had to be a few hundred years old.

I remember one frat boy party crew that showed up to one thankfully in the daylight and immediately upon arrival buried their obviously rented Xterra SUV right up to the axles trying to park off road. Then they buried it right down to the rocker panels trying to get out, spraying cubic meters of sand and getting pretty close to burning out the engine or drive train.

We got the jackass to stop and about 30 techno pagan weirdos easily picked up that SUV and placed it back on the road facing the way out, at which point dude bro and his crew were warmly and firmly asked to leave and instructed to not stop driving or leave the trail until they reached pavement.

I can't imagine intentionally marketing to that demographic.
posted by loquacious at 12:20 PM on January 19 [8 favorites]

I still need to see FYRE, because I got waylaid with HBomberguy's DK64 stream for Mermaids (the UK trans charity, not actual mermaids), but when Fyre Fraud dropped I turned it on — and it was so ineptly made with the random stock footage (and the fucking robot voice? whaat?) that I turned it off after about 20 minutes.
posted by Rev. Syung Myung Me at 1:09 PM on January 19 [2 favorites]

It's impressive that they did this without John McAfee
posted by thelonius at 1:43 PM on January 19 [11 favorites]

Great, now I'm going to have legit nightmares about working for a festival funded/run by McAfee. I'm expecting wild dogs gnawing me while running around on fire and everyone around me is zombie-shuffling high on research chemicals and the festival grounds are a refinery for some insane reason and everyone seems to have brought fireworks.
posted by loquacious at 1:48 PM on January 19 [12 favorites]

I thought the Netflix doc was great, and was pretty clear-cut about the roles the marketing/PR firms had in the whole fiasco. They ended up looking like the kind of people who'd work with a Billy McFarland.

I'm less interested in the Hulu doc if it's a "...and that's why Instagram caused Trump!" fist-shaking for 90 minutes. Yep, social media is full of lies, no shit. But the story here is good enough (and damning enough) on its own.

More from the Summer of Scam: Anna Delvey allegedly took in McFarland just before the festival happened.
posted by Gin and Broadband at 2:06 PM on January 19 [6 favorites]

I do feel like one angle left out a bit in the rush to blame social media is the gutting of journalism and the rise of PR everywhere, to the point that there are more than 6 PR pros for every journalist in this country. We don't just have more social media, we have less editorial media. It's not even that some journalist would have called BS on McFarland sooner if we had more reporters, but the way in which everything is so built around the need for Content and the ready-made industry of people who will supply it quickly and efficiently is precisely the circumstances under which people like McFarland happen. Press releases become articles without anybody checking to see whether there's any there there first.
posted by zachlipton at 2:24 PM on January 19 [19 favorites]

I’m honestly amazed that neither documentary mentioned any drugs. You’re telling me there wasn’t a mountain of cocaine involved? Grant wrote a 1,000 word email to the composers on the scoring of the ad and he was SOBER? (Just one example that stood out to me.)
posted by liet at 5:06 PM on January 19 [13 favorites]

I thought that the organizer who was tasked with getting the water out of customs was the target of a distasteful joke by McFarland when the incident was referenced in articles, but in the interview, this middle aged professional took this fratboy's instructions dead serious in a way I found unexpected.
posted by Selena777 at 5:42 PM on January 19 [4 favorites]

I can't imagine intentionally marketing to that demographic.

Gotta go where the money is. Much easier when they're your people.

I just don't get the whole "influencer" thing. If you're really influenced by an influencer, someone whose sole purpose to get (in this case, moneyed) rubes to follow their social media, you're just asking to get fleeced. As the Netflix doc reveals, the victims weren't the attendees, who gleefully ponied up to get their little piece of exclusivity and elite douchebaggery experience, but rather the people who got royally stiffed. Who were little people. People of color.

Even crazier is how the Fyre organization began to eat itself in the cause of keeping it going just a little longer. From the pilot who was jettisoned for having the gall to point out that the first teeny island couldn't possibly accommodate a festival, to the tragically loyal Andy King being sacrificed by McFarland himself in such a vile way.

I don't know what McFarland was paid by Hulu, but if there's any justice in the world, every cent would be taken right out of his hand, distributed to every worker he fucked over, and every one invited to kick him in the balls for interest.
posted by 2N2222 at 5:42 PM on January 19 [10 favorites]

Grant, in general, gets off somewhat lightly in the Hulu documentary (and a $35K fine to the SEC, plus pending lawsuits). He's portrayed as a bumbling fool everyone hated, but it also sure seems like he was a pretty integral part of promoting the scam. And I feel like we all know a Grant. Always fails upwards, believes he's an expert at everything (writing thousands of words to tell a professional composer what kind of music he's looking for, mocks up non-existent villas in AutoCAD, etc...), promoting grandiose schemes with the belief other people will somehow make them happen. And Grant, the Magnises card, McFarland, Fyre: it's a culture I sometimes associate with "business development."

With tech startups, depending on their founders and culture, you see that sometimes they can be predominately engineering-focused or product-focused, and then there's the ones that are mainly just bizdev-focused. And business development people are great—they can get you access to resources that you need or an app preinstalled on a gazillion devices or promoted to hundreds of millions of users—, but that culture taken to excess can reach a point where the volume of "doing deals" exceeds any actual value the company has: nobody really cares if these deals make any sense for customers or the product or anything else, because it just makes everyone look busy and successful. "We just signed a deal with prestigious BIG_COMPANY" is great news to give to investors, while "we're trying an experiment with YOUTHFUL_STARTUP" gives you something to explain to your boss what you've been doing. Everyone's happy. And as an actual person, you come across this stuff (if it actually gets built, if there's even enough of an idea that some poor soul can build it), and it's so transparently obvious that nobody sat down and came up with these ideas because they thought they'd be things anybody would want. They're just exercises in mutual corporate masturbation after some people wasted corporate card money on meals and liquor and agreed "yeah we should totally work together on something or another."

And when you take that culture all the way, and add some straight-up financial fraud, that's the Fyre Festival. You don't even need actual corporations with VPs of Business Development anymore; individuals with their personal brands can become influencers and play the same game themselves. Romney told us "corporations are people," and the gig economy means that people are increasingly corporations, so what's more natural than individual people emulating the stupid things corporations do? And, of course, the people who got stiffed worst of all were the actual employees, who were expected to make the result of all these deals happen and never got paid.
posted by zachlipton at 8:39 PM on January 19 [10 favorites]

I saw the Hulu doc first, and have to say it does a much better job giving context behind Billy McFarland, his initial rise, and his aiders and abettors not just with the Fyre Festival, but in his career and in the wild unregulated west of online social influencing in general. It may not be Charles Ferguson, and is often irritatingly too cute-by-half instead, but it provided greater context.

The Netflix one does give more footage about locals and the scale in which their labor was abused. The additional footage and info about the night of the disaster and the repercussions the day after for McFarland's hapless staff. It also provides some interesting plot points, like the fact that there was a mole on the island with an elaborate Wikileaks-type site (who was never revealed, it seems).

Overall if you took the two documentaries together, edited them professionally, added additional footage on the ground from YouTube and Twitter, you could have a decent three or four episode mini-series.
posted by Apocryphon at 10:59 PM on January 19 [6 favorites]

More from the Summer of Scam: Anna Delvey allegedly took in McFarland just before the festival happened.

Oh my word. Just when I thought this tabloid tale couldn't get any juicier or trashier. I am eating this up.
posted by nightrecordings at 6:11 AM on January 20 [1 favorite]

I've seen both (it was cold outside this weekend so I didn't leave the house). I like the Netflix one better, only because I don't want to hear from this McFarland guy at all. I'd say the main difference between the two is that the Hulu one goes into more background of McFarland himself while the Netflix one is more focused on the festival and the people who tried to pull it off and tried to tell McFarland know and inject some reality (at least that's what they say they did in the doc) but he wasn't having any of it.

I now know way too much about FYRE than I thought I would in 2019.

It's not even that some journalist would have called BS on McFarland sooner if we had more reporters, but the way in which everything is so built around the need for Content and the ready-made industry of people who will supply it quickly and efficiently is precisely the circumstances under which people like McFarland happen. Press releases become articles without anybody checking to see whether there's any there there first.

Someone from Vanity Fair (I think) did point out that the media was essentially just printing the press releases. But! There were people who tried and even a story in the Wall Street Journal about it. I just think people like to believe the hype more than they like to believe reality.
posted by LizBoBiz at 2:21 AM on January 21 [1 favorite]

I can't imagine what either of these documentaries cover that the Internet Historian video they likely both ripped off didn't already do.
posted by GoblinHoney at 1:00 PM on January 21

Now that I've seen both documentaries, one thing that stands out to me is how social media is treated as this monolithic concept that just simply exists in the world rather than the result of specific product decisions made at certain software companies. You see this with politics too, people blame social media for various ills without ever getting more specific about how the software works. And there's a quote in the Netflix doc that gets at this:
What they didn't talk about, which I think was something that was missed, was a couple of powerful models posting an orange tile is what essentially built this entire festival, and then one kid with probably 400 followers posted a picture of cheese on toast that trended and essentially ripped down the festival
That, of course, isn't true: the festival wasn't ripped down because of a picture of a bad sandwich; it was was ripped down well before then by virtue of the fact that the organizers failed to provide the basic necessities to support thousands of people like they promised. But the festival specifically wasn't ripped down on Instagram, where it was promoted, because, as discussed in both docs, the social media team worked overtime deleting all negative questions/comments on Instagram and blocking people who had questions before the event. These are important anti-harassment and anti-spam tools for individuals, but it also means that super-specific decisions about how Instagram's product works played a role in what happened: nobody could see the endless feed of logistical concerns before the event, the links to the fyrefraud twitter account, etc... and make take those into account before deciding whether to get on a plane. Instagram is for presenting a curated, highly idealized image of yourself (Marc reflects on this toward the end of the Netflix documentary, realizing that things were absolutely miserable but all his Instagram posts before the festival were beautiful beaches and sunsets), which is why it was both the perfect place to promote the festival, and the worst possible place for anybody who was relying on Fyre to find out what was going on.

When the festival did unravel, the social media aspect mainly happened on Twitter, which, in contrast to Instagram, is where you go to destroy things, in large part because the retweet and reply functions are perfectly geared for that kind of thing. That's also what makes Twitter a much stronger vehicle for harassment. It's not that these networks are inherently good or bad, but that their design choices directly impact the nature of the conversations that happen on them, whether that's influencers promoting a fraudulent festival with undisclosed advertising or festival customers trying to ask questions.
posted by zachlipton at 10:31 PM on January 21 [12 favorites]

You’re telling me there wasn’t a mountain of cocaine involved? Grant wrote a 1,000 word email to the composers on the scoring of the ad and he was SOBER?

You know the crimes are bad when the documentary makers don't even have time for the really sexy stuff, like recreational drug use!
posted by nightrecordings at 2:47 PM on January 22 [2 favorites]

"Mommy, I want to be an influencer when I grow up." Jesus wept.
posted by Bob Regular at 8:49 AM on January 24

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