Despite being released on competing platforms, Netflix’s Fyre and Hulu’s Fyre Fraud are better viewed as a complete set.
We could all guess this was coming. After the now-infamous Fyre Festival became the talk of newspapers, social media, blogs, and talk shows for decidedly different reasons than its creators intended, anyone with half an eye on the story could have predicted that a documentary was coming too. Funnily enough, reflecting the near-total media blitz Fyre occupied during its brief supernova, we have not one, but two documentaries, proving once more Fyre’s enduring morbid appeal among pop-culture consumers.
First, a quick rundown for those recently returned from deep space or deep sea, the only places the story may not have permeated: Fyre Festival was supposed to be the music festival for the YouTube generation; a luxurious, Instagram-come-to-life party where the images off our iPhones finally materialized a world around us, melding our digital fantasies with real life for a few glorious days. Average schmucks were promised, among the typical music festival activities, every possible indulgence: private air transport, stays in fancy villas, attention from beautiful models, parties with the internet’s premiere influencers, all for (of course) exorbitant prices, which just added to the legitimacy of the enterprise. Needless to say, this attracted a mob of haves and have-nots, internet celebrities and cash-flush average Joes alike, the former mining any experience they can for more content to share with their audiences, the latter to feel like the former. And it didn’t end well.
Both Fyre and Fyre Fraud examine the story and motivations surrounding the festival, with different concentrations. Netflix’s Fyre sourced interviews with many more people directly involved in the planning and marketing of the festival itself, the rank-and-file workers now willing to dish on the top dogs who basically left them to fend for themselves when the shit hit the fan. This laid bare quite a bit of the internal communications in the form of email, recorded calls and conversations, illustrating just how willing festival creator, entrepreneur, and bona-fide fraudster (jailed six years for wire fraud after all was said and done) Billy McFarland was willing to go, with co-conspirators Ja Rule and Grant Margolin, in deceiving the festival-goers as to the state of Fyre Festival, while still looking for ways to squeeze more money out of them and investors. Thanks to the number of insiders willing to talk, we’re treated to a pretty comprehensive, if at time’s structurally confusing, detailing of the festival’s birth, uncertain gestation, and laughable death.
Where Netflix’s doc falters, and Hulu’s Fyre Fraud subsequently picks up the slack, is looking into Billy’s past business dealings and more of a character study around him, Ja, and Grant, as well as an overall critical eye at the influencers and celebrities who blew the festival’s hype to such proportions in the first place. Where Fyre was content detailing the festival from conception to completion, criticizing mostly Billy’s lack of awareness, or outright lack of care over the glaring warning signs, Fyre Fraud examines the culture of social media obsession, the delusional fanatic devotion to online personas and the incessant documentation of one’s lifestyle, and how this helped perpetuate the popularity of a cultural event that was nothing but digital smoke and mirrors. In taking more of a subjective perspective, the documentary pokes fun at nearly everyone involved. We see empty-headed “influencers”, obsessively promoting their lives as their ‘brand’, which, when asked to describe what that actually means, spout something like, you know, positivity and stuff. We’ve got the outside marketing team, Jerry Media (curiously absent from scrutiny in Netflix’s doc, till you see they helped produce it), four douchy dudebros who continued to promote the festival, despite various red flags popping up around them, deceiving thousands. And then we’ve got your “average” millennials, you know the type: white men and women in upper echelon marketing and tech jobs, those with $250k just sitting around for a boring day, waiting to be spent. The same as you and me. Fyre Fraud skewers them all, albeit in a questionably way. The producers of the Hulu doc know their audience, so what better way to rail against the vapid hollowness of internet culture than through tired memes and silly movie clips, the bread and butter of said internet culture? Erroneous footage and funny photoshops abound, as if attention span is what they’re worried about. If irony was what they were going for, I’m not sure it was successful.
Fyre Fraud does have one major leg up over Fyre, and that’s in its access to Billy McFarland himself. The doc’s producers got him to sit for an interview, but he’s a slippery foe. Billy’s media training comes through more than any potential character flaws in his windy, snakelike ability to twist the questions back to the topics he’s been prepped on, or, if that fails, to just sit silently and wait it out. I’m not sure his testimony in the doc will sway anyone’s already formed opinion on him one way or the other.
Despite the obvious competitive attempts of the media companies responsible for Fyre and Fyre Fraud to one-up each other, the documentaries cover different aspects of the same event, thus, in tandem, contributing to a clearer picture of Fyre Festival and Billy McFarland. There’s no need for A Bug’s Life vs. Antz, or The Illusionist vs. The Prestige discussion here. When diving into the miraculous and possibly calculated failure of Fyre Festival, just watch them both. After all, it’s easy to let the current of satisfied enjoyment at other’s misfortunes sweep you lazily on its course. A healthy dose of schadenfreude at the suffering of a bunch of entitled, shallow rich kids trapped on a luxury island can’t be a bad thing, right? It’s just karma reasserting itself, tipping the scales of the universe a tad bit back toward balanced. Where’s the harm in seeing that twice?