Thursday, 5 December 2019

Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened (2019) - Movie Review

Hype is the epitome of what social currency looks like. It has zero tangible or even practical value on its own, but it has the power to create so much momentum that it can turn otherwise unassuming media into a colossal event. It is one of the few things I’ve encountered that can completely alter how I approach a given film, whether it’s a recently-released tentpole blockbuster that has everyone and their mother talking on social media, or an older classic that makes me consider how it was received at the time vs. how it is received divorced from its contemporaneous marketing. Sometimes, it leads to moments that can define an entire year, and sometimes, it becomes a disaster that defines an entire generation. This documentary, directed by Jim & Andy’s Chris Smith, covers something that wholly belongs in the latter category.

For a start, it manages to give an embarrassingly-incisive look at what it means to create a major promotional event from the ground-up. A music festival touted as a grand spectacle and vacation experience, the insider’s perspective given by those who worked with Billy McFarland, along with the companies Jerry Media and MATTE Projects who also co-produced this feature, is one of outright anarchy. From working out the logistics of getting several thousand peoples on a single island (including the worries about sufficient toilets for all in attendance), to the numerous snafus regarding the marketing and trying to get talent to perform on-site, to the myriad of natural and man-made disasters that made this impossible scenario even harder to cleave through, you almost feel sorry for these guys.

Of course, that sympathy doesn’t give way to excusing the shitstorm that the Fyre Festival devolved into, as the film holds no qualms in pointing the finger at everyone who built this fiasco into what it ultimately became. Through a combination of social media influencers, who are basically word-of-mouth on steroids, and the classic marketing strategy on manipulating innate human fears of missing out on something big that everyone else is seemingly going to be witnessing, we see how an event where no-one directly involved were even sure what it was going to involve, and yet had caught so many people off-guard and convinced them to buy into the emperor’s new festival. It’s easy to look at the bewildered workers on the inside, who almost cross the line into literal prostitution to keep things afloat, and see them as victims of their own design.

And in truth, it’s difficult to place the blame entirely on them. Or on the general populace who got tricked into spending exuberant amounts of money on something that doesn’t even exist as they have been led to believe. Or even in the workers who struggled at every single second to try and salvage this whole mess. No, it all ultimately lays at the feet of Billy McFarland and Ja Rule, the two at the nucleus of this calamity and the ones who basically bullshitted their way into generating buzz for an app that soon mushroomed into such a total disaster. Finding more things to mock Ja Rule for, the man whose career famously imploded at the hands of 50 Cent back in the 2000’s, will always be welcome in these parts, but this film ends up generating far more concern than it does yuks at anyone’s expense.

In the age of social media, where any kind of buzz is worth more than the actual cash that gets spent at the event the buzz is creating hype for, stories like this are cautionary as fuck. I remember last year when YouTuber Yousef Erakat tried to do a similar thing with his Hate Dies, Love Arrives festival, and it might have turned out even worse than this did on a drama level, if not necessarily a monetary level. At least Fyre had Ja Rule; Fousey couldn't even get that far.

It’s not so much ‘sell the sizzle, not the steak’ as much as selling drops of water on a hot sidewalk and convincing you that it’s a steak on a grill. If it sounds ludicrous, it’s only because it is, both in its construction and in how many people it can take under its wing and fleece for all they’re worth. It’s a frightening indictment on digital capitalism and just how much damage it can cause, but even more so, it’s a look at how the old school of marketing and the new school of social media can collide into something so absolutely confounding that it’s hard to tear your eyes away from it.

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