Netflix’s documentary on the Fyre Festival will probably mostly be remembered for its odd Prestige/Illusionist double-act with Hulu’s Fyre Fraud and, of course, its memorable scene of a man whose strongest profanity is “gosh” relating how he found himself chugging mouthwash to go trade a blowjob for Customs releasing trucks filled with bottled water.
What it captures is a kind of circus that is both eternal–hucksters and conmen have always been with us–and oddly poised in its time a place. The Fyre Festival was a fiction whipped up by factors that, to someone outside its sphere of influence, seem baffling. People were drawn to paying thousands upon thousands of dollars for a remote concert in the Bahamas based on little more than a glossy, Instagram-model-filled advertisement for a party and a few artists not even at their peak cultural relevance. The pitch apparently being that you would go to a pretty place where there would be pretty people, and somehow that appeal was hypnotic enough to convince many to overlook the increasingly obvious signs of fraud and pure fiasco. Because, hey, it had a popular hashtag. It was the “it” movement. One person involved in the documentary brings up FOMO, the fear of missing out that apparently haunted everyone involved. Fyre Festival was potentially going to be the new Woodstock–for rich millennials–and apparently you couldn’t not be at the party. The most baffling thing is that no prospective guest really ever speaks about the appeal as anything more than that. They weren’t super-fans of the musicians, for example. They just couldn’t imagine not being present for this little sliver of Twitter history.
If it’s hard to pity someone being disappointed in that hope, the documentary nonetheless as a vivid sense of all the people who were genuinely, significantly hurt by the fraud involved. There were Fyre employees who were frantically trying to do their jobs without sufficient time, funding, or equipment, repeatedly warning that the sky was about to fall down; they were professionals who didn’t realize that the business was an elaborate shell game. Most of all, there were the residents of the Bahamas, many of whom were effectively robbed of weeks’ worth of pay and one whom lost much of her life savings when she had to pay the contracted labor herself. There’s the joke of Fyre–the photo of a particularly sad cheese sandwich, the blatant lie about the private island, the hurricane relief “luxury tents”–but underneath it all is a stark reminder of who pays and exactly how the pain gets passed down the line.
At one point, attendees fairly blithely relate the “looting mentality” that developed when it become apparent that the festival was incredibly inadequately prepared for their arrival; one man and his friends deliberately pissed all over neighboring tents so that they could ensure their surroundings would be relatively quiet. He’s not the one who suffered, so he’s not ashamed. It’s Instagram meets Lord of the Flies, and exactly as perversely chilling as it sounds.