Trial by Fyre

In the game Jenga, players pull foundational wooden blocks from a block tower and place […]

Sam Guthrie / 2.25.19

In the game Jenga, players pull foundational wooden blocks from a block tower and place them strategically back on top. The tower gets higher and weaker, and all it takes is one misplaced block to bring it all tumbling down. If you’ve never played Jenga, but think you’d enjoy seeing the disastrous toppling of a poorly built design, look no further than the Netflix documentary Fyre.

Fyre tells the true story of the luxury music festival disaster. When festival creators — hip-hop artist Ja Rule and entrepreneur Billy McFarland — envisioned the Fyre Festival, they saw a bonafide, booze-filled, star-studded fantasy where the average Joe could escape from reality and indulge on the beaches of the Bahamas (Pablo Escobar’s island to be exact). With a seductive marketing scheme that preceded empty promises, travelers took the bait. It wasn’t until their arrival at the Fyre Festival that ticket holders, who had spent thousands of dollars, realized the dream was just a sexy mirage. Beautiful villas turned out to be hurricane relief tents. Promised headliners didn’t show, there was no A/C or running water, and this photo of “dinner” almost broke the internet:

As a documentary, Fyre blends entertaining and informing into a tight, fast-paced thrill ride from beginning to end. Jerry Media, the company that helped spearhead the documentary production of Fyre was, ironically, the media platform behind the festival’s branding campaign. Jerry Media’s unique positioning allowed them to craft an artful retelling of the festival nightmare. But in exposing Ja Rule and Billy McFarland’s failed attempt, Jerry Media simultaneously attempts to remove themselves from the fiasco. A fiasco that they curated, dressed up, and launched. Jerry Media succeeds in showing us the downfall of the festival but utterly fails in their subtle attempt to trick audiences into viewing them as the victim. Each person that Billy McFarland brought into the unholy fold of Fyre had the opportunity to abandon ship, and yet a surprising number stuck by his side until the end. Some may laud it as loyalty to Billy but it’s naive to think many weren’t rolling the dice on the off-chance Fyre Festival would be a success. They stayed close enough to be included in the fame, and far enough away to escape relatively unscathed.

Theologian Thomas Cranmer once said that what the heart desires, the will chooses, and the mind justifies. In Fyre, Cranmer’s insight is alive and well. Fyre ticket holders justified spending thousands of dollars on private villas, jet skis, and booze because, as a faulty marketing campaign indicated, some desire to escape reality. Jerry Media’s desire to make it big in the marketing world meant signing on to a bogus festival on the off-chance of its success but the likelihood that documenting its downfall could payoff as well. Cranmer’s insight reaches far beyond Fyre Festival and makes its way into the daily rhythms of life. We pick our poison and any attentive human being will show us how we guzzle it. Desire to feel wanted, valued, fulfilled, even forgiven, will always gravitate towards the first substance that will help fill the void: music festivals, food, social media, drugs, sex, exercise, education, twitter followers, and up votes, you name it.

In Fyre, as in most of our lives, social media takes center stage. It is the medium that gives us what we want at the tap of a finger. And for all of the think-pieces and studies on the negative effects of social media, many of us still fervently participate in the cycle. Marx thought religion was the opiate of the masses. If he’d been around today, he may label social media as the numbing drug of choice. Each day we are subtly fooled by the influencers and algorithms that show us what we want to see online. We may not be throwing thousands of dollars to Ja Rule, but we’ll gladly purchase whatever Chip and Joanna Gaines tell us to. Marie Kondo will sucker us into trading our crap for some elusive happiness, and the steezy Instagram influencers will make us believe our style and swag is just one purchase or habit modification away. But despite our promising plans, we’ll scroll through pics and still wonder why we haven’t made it. Envy can creep in with even the faintest whiff of the flawless, effortless, and cost-conscious lives of those we’ll never meet in person. Fyre Festival, of all things, is the parable that doesn’t just draw the curtain for us to see the mayhem behind the scenes; it violently rips it open. We see the exposed disaster beneath the social media and entertainment facade. And when the light turns on, we blush at what we actually spend our time doing (weekly screentime update, anyone?).

But the mess we find behind the scenes of the music festival fiasco, at its core, is less a social media problem and more a human problem. Yes, Fyre’s outrageous hilarity clearly points to the ways social media distorts reality. And sure, the documentary provides a perfect opportunity to check our social media habits and the ways we (ab)use it. But for us inhabiting the digital age, like every age before, humans remain the constant variable in the equation of distortion. The will attempts to find a way to whatever the heart tells it to seek.

Fyre provides uncomfortable laughs, jaw-dropping absurdity, and helpful food-for-thought no matter your engagement with social media. But the help we need to round up our wayward desires must go far deeper. Often, if not always, deeper than we even care to admit.

Featured image credit: Scott McIntyre/The New York Times/Redux.

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