The Two Fyre Festival Docs Show Very Different Sides of Poisonous Influencer Culture
One thing is for certain: The Fyre Festival was nothing short of a rich, influencer-driven disaster. It was supposed to be a high-end getaway music festival with headliners Blink-182, G.O.O.D. Music, and Lil Yachty. Fans were promised beautiful people, beautiful food, beautiful beaches, and beautiful accommodations. But when the wealthy attendees began arriving at Great Exuma on April 27, 2017, they found themselves in the middle of chaos. There were wet mattresses! Postponed shows! No water! Lost baggage! Delayed flights! And for God's sake, people with disposable income were expected to eat poorly constructed cheese sandwiches!
As the frantic social media reports made it back to civilization, the Fyre Festival became a viral story. But after the social media firestorm faded, the Ja Rule and Billy McFarland brainchild had serious legal implications. This resulted in multiple multi-million dollar lawsuits and a federal criminal investigation. But what ever really happened at the ill-fated Fyre Festival and its shady creator?
That's what both Netflix and Hulu aim to explore with rival documentaries. Netflix announced its highly-anticipated documentary Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened late in 2018, but on the week of its release, Hulu scooped the mega-streamer by releasing Fyre Fraud. The Netflix documentary highlights the disaster on the ground. The Hulu documentary features details straight from the creator's mouth—Billy McFarland—along with a more in-depth explanation of the lead up to the Fyre Festival.
I've watched both documentaries, and I can tell you that you should do the same if you really want a comprehensive picture of the disastrous Fyre Festival. This is what I learned.
Influencers were taken on a ride... by influencers.
Both Fyre Fraud and Fyre highlight how integral influencer culture, particularly on Instagram, was to the successful marketing of Fyre Festival. The fest itself was ultimately meant to launch the Fyre app, which would act as a high-end booking app for people who can afford to have, say, Ellie Goulding at their bar mitzvah. Kendall Jenner was paid a quick $250,000 for one post of the promotional video. Others also shared the promotional video which was marked by the blank orange post that pre-empted the video's start.
Influencers who posted it were promised a variety of things from free admission to premium housing. When the planning process behind securing promised villas and housing to influencers fell through, different influencers were given different treatment. Some were simply not accommodated at all, while others (few) ended up in villas. The one through line is that even on the ground, attendees didn't have a clear idea of what actually was going on.
The gravity of Jerry Media's involvement is still unclear.
Hulu's Fyre Fraud's focus is much more focused on the preparation for the Fyre Festival, which is damning for Jerry Media (of @fuckjerry fame), who was hired on for marketing expertise. Jerry Media is the company that developed the iconic orange slide that kicked off the promotional video that so many influencers shared. Ex-Jerry Media employee Oren Aks is interviewed in Fyre Fraud, and alleges that the company knew a great deal about the event falling apart and even tried to cover it up. "Any time there'd be anything that was distasteful or calling Fyre out on anything, it was always a matter of 'go to that source and eliminate it,'" Aks says in the documentary.
The Netflix version of events is a bit more different. The deleting of negative message was also mentioned in the Jerry Media-produced documentary, but instead of implicating the marketing team hired (which was Jerry Media), it implicated the Fyre Media team and focused more on the action and less on the company doing it.
While Netflix focused on the financial burden Fyre caused Bahamians, Hulu focused on its logistical missteps.
Bahamians were royally fucked by the Fyre Festival.
If Netflix's documentary really excels at one thing, it's highlighting the financial burden that McFarland and his cohorts placed upon Bahamians. Workers and business owners on the islands have still gone without payment. Bahamians suggest that practically the entire island of Exuma was brought in to help put the festival together, but the goal of getting the festival off the ground was more important than the logistics behind having some 200 workers as contractors. To this day, many Bahamians haven't been paid for the services they provided. Some preferred not to discuss it at all.
The infamous cheese sandwich picture came from a kid with about 400 followers at the time.
Everyone knows what the cheese sandwich disaster photo looks like, but by the time the Fyre Festival's failure went viral, it was being shared by so many people that it was unclear exactly where it came from. The Netflix documentary poignantly notes that while the festival was ultimately propped up by models and influencers sharing the promotional video to thousands of fans, the demise came from the sandwich tweet, sent out by a user with around 400 followers. The image spread like wildfire, and though many other sources used it, Netflix suggests it came from the small account of a public user.
Both documentaries come with their own baggage.
Earlier this week, The Ringer dove into the alleged ethical concerns behind both documentaries, and each streaming platform has its own argument against the other one. Hulu points out that Netflix's documentary partnered with Jerry Media, and @FuckJerry founder Elliot Tebele is listed as an executive producer. While the Netflix documentary doesn't let Jerry Media's involvement with social media marketing slide, it does objectively go easier on Jerry Media than the Hulu documentary. With that being said, Netflix's documentary focuses more on the aftermath and less on the lead up.
On the other end, according to The Ringer, Netflix discovered that Hulu's production was in place after getting in touch with Billy McFarland. According to McFarland, he was offered $250,000 for an interview and exclusive access with Hulu. While Hulu disputed that number, it did confirm that a payment was made to McFarland.
So, much like the Fyre Festival itself, each documentary offers something that we weren't quite promised. But all of it—the documentaries, the Fyre Festival, the influencers who fueled its promotion—are all indicative of the culture that social media and its most avid users have created. Each documentary offers a version of the truth. But what it reveals most bluntly is that influencer culture and the visage of perfection is only as strong as the pillars who prop it up.
This story originally appeared on Esquire.com.
* Minor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.