Susan: The week of January 14, I was anxiously awaiting the new Netflix documentary, Fyre, set to debut that Friday the 18th. But the Hulu gods helped me out and sneaky-dropped their own documentary, Fyre Fraud, four days before Netflix’s scheduled release of Fyre. Obviously, I watched it that night. My only complaint about the whole situation is that I couldn’t watch them back to back because, honestly, I could not get enough of this mess. I still can’t get enough, so here I am, forcing Mary to talk about both documentaries with me.
Mary: Susan, I’m so glad you asked me to talk all things Fyre Fest with you because I’ve been honestly obsessed with these documentaries and have been wanting to talk to someone else who has seen them. It’s almost impossible to believe some of this stuff.
Susan: I first heard of the Fyre Fest “incident” on an episode of Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me, and I remember thinking, “This sounds wild as hell.” Then I kind of forgot about it for a while until Billy McFarland was facing charges. I tried to find a good podcast episode that might cover the events, but I didn’t really find much. Finally, my dreams came true with Fyre Fraud and Fyre.
Mary: My first thought is that the Netflix doc (Fyre) is WAY WAY kinder to Jerry Media--because it’s produced by them. I think it’s worth talking about how comedians specifically have begun calling out the FuckJerry account (and Jerry Media that now houses that Instagram account) because they’ve essentially built a brand on the backs of other content creators by taking memes and jokes and repurposing them for their own Instagram account--and then later other accounts. Yes, Jerry Media is now a marketing team and do PR for big jobs, but we can’t forget what they did to get there--and still do on their account. They steal stuff. They’re not the only ones who do this (the other person who comes to mind is “The Fat Jew” on Instagram), but they’re one of the worst offenders.
As a side note, Jerry Media has gone into a tailspin and has put their Twitter account on private and begun telling people to take down embarrassing posts about them--mostly the ones accusing them of plagiarism. Vic Berger--who makes lots of strange, funny videos (most notably for the now defunct Super Deluxe), made a video accusing the team of plagiarism and then was forced to take it down due to “copyright infringement.” You can still watch the video on Vimeo, though, and there’s an article about it here.
It seems wild to me that Netflix would get Jerry Media to produce their documentary. It seems like a conflict of interest, doesn’t it?
Susan: Wow, I didn’t even realize Jerry Media produced the Netflix documentary. That’s crazy to me, and yes, it definitely seems like a conflict of interest. It’s pretty clear they are a bunch of plagiarizing bros. Hulu called out Netflix for this apparent conflict of interest, and Netflix called out Hulu for allegedly paying Billy McFarland $250,000 (the producer says it was less, but still) for his exclusive interview. This is also ethically questionable, given how much money he has stolen from people.
Mary: And this is where I can’t decide which doc is best, and why I think they work best as a pair. Fyre Fraud has interviews with Oren Aks, a former Jerry Media employee who was in charge of the Fyre Festival marketing. He gets nasty about how incompetent the media team was when dealing with the blatant fraud happening, and it’s a pretty juicy tell-all. Fyre lacks Aks, or any former Jerry Media employee, to give a behind the scenes look at marketing because Jerry Media produced Fyre--they’re not going to out themselves on a documentary they helped make. Fyre is a lot less damning of Jerry Media, but it also gives us different interviews that help flesh out the situation--like the interview with Andy King, the event producer for Fyre Festival.
King gives a measured, blunt interview about the time he showed up to the customs office “prepared to suck [the customs officer’s] dick” in order to release cases of Evian water for the festival without paying taxes. He was going to do that. It’s honestly wild, and it wouldn’t have been as effective if Andy King hadn’t said it all with a completely straight face, very evenly.
And yes, I also can’t believe they PAID McFarland to appear in Fyre Fraud, especially considering he didn’t really say much of interest, and spent most of his interview going, uhhhhh.
Susan: Yes, Fyre has some really interesting interviews (King’s being the most wtf of them all) with people who worked for the festival production and noticed some major flaws along the way, but were silenced. Like the guy who was doing some event coordination and was thinking they’d need to dock a cruise ship so that people would have places to sleep, especially because, you know, the “luxury villas” were a complete fabrication. He seems to be the only person who also remembered that people defecate, and that maybe they should think about toilets. He, of course, was “let go” at some point in this planning process.
The AV Club agrees with you that the docs work better as a pair, but they ultimately give Fyre the higher grade. I disagree, but I do kind of wonder if it matters which documentary one watches first.
What Fyre Fraud did a better job of, in my opinion, is capturing the cultural context surrounding Fyre Festival that made it possible for this many people to get scammed so hard. We all see influencer marketing every day. It’s become so prominent that we barely even notice it in our Instagram feeds. I can’t tell if Fyre Festival proves that influencer marketing is wildly successful or if it highlights the pitfalls of relying on the flashy tactics often employed by this type of marketing.
Mary: Yeah, I do think it matters which one you watch first (just like the old book vs movie debate, or the which adaptation was better debate). I watched Fyre Fraud first, and really enjoyed how it spun the blame onto the social media-hungry elite and FOMO--fear of missing out. People want to buy into the idea of things like Fyre Fest because they want to be at the center of the action. They want to be cool. That being said, it’s not cool to look like you got duped by a jerk and lifelong conman like Billy McFarland.
Susan: To me, Fyre felt more like a “here’s a list of crazy stuff that happened,” which was definitely entertaining, but I felt like Fyre Fraud was the better documentary overall. I like context. Fyre Fraud also had Billy himself, which was...interesting. While I love hearing all the crazy stuff that went wrong, I’m equally interested in digging into Billy’s psyche. He seems to actually believe he didn’t defraud everyone. I can’t tell if he is delusional or just a megalomaniac.
Fyre also seemed to have more event-related footage, which was cool to see. This doc really shows that things were straight bonkers from the get-go, even at the shoot of the promotional video. It’s like they just hired supermodels and then had almost zero creative direction or plan for how to shoot the commercial. The models seemed legitimately confused, and can you blame them? But both docs had footage of that terrible toast that Ja Rule and Billy clearly think is the coolest mantra ever. (“Live like movie stars, party like rock stars, and fuck like porn stars.”) *Eye roll*
Mary, what did you think were some of the craziest parts? Besides Andy King being fully willing to suck dick for the good of the festival, obviously.
Mary: There are SO MANY bananas moments in both of these documentaries. A few highlights for me:
When the busses (yellow school busses, mind you) were pulling into the festival site, you can clearly hear someone say “Oh nooooo, turn around!” and I died both times I heard it.
I kind of understand the food situation because the caterer had so little time to whip something together, but still, it’s absurd. It’s just all absurd that no actual planning went into this.
Susan: The food, OMG. That tweet that went viral with the pic of the cheese sandwich.
Mary: Also, what was the deal with JaRule? He’s been saying online that he too was duped, but I’m not buying it, especially after seeing all the footage of him having fun and partying with McFarland during the commercial shoot, toasting to their success, etc.. The biggest mystery to me was this: was he even at the festival? Neither doc really mentioned him being there.
Susan: Yeah, I don’t buy that he was “duped” at all. In Fyre especially we see plenty of footage of Ja Rule being demanding and seemingly reckless. (“If we want to see the pigs, we see the fucking pigs!” The behind-the-scenes footage of the commercial shoot was a prime example. He’s telling the models, “Yeah just go out there and splash!” and they’re like, “What the actual fuck are we doing?” He’s pretending to be a director, but it’s clear he has no real plan for how even the smallest pieces of this overall project are supposed to pan out.
I have to mention Microsoft Flight Simulator “pilot” as another insane highlight for me.
Also, Billy’s other company, Magnises. (He is correct; it should have been spelled differently. It looks way too much like “penises.”)
Mary: I’m also kind of stunned by how much Magnises sounds like a con. They took strips off of debit cards and put them on metal? Ok...I mean, who cares? Maybe it’s just me, but that doesn’t sound cool at all. Also, members got access to an exclusive club that was actually just an apartment and were encouraged to bring dates there? Sounds shady and weird, dude.
Mary: If I had to pull this blog post together, Fyre Fraud style and find the connecting thread between our observations, I’d say that the most interesting part of Fyre Fest is the schadenfreude that comes with seeing rich people fail--and that’s something that both documentaries do, but maybe Fyre Fraud does a little better.
Susan: I agree. If you’re in it for just the utter craziness, maybe Fyre has more of what you’re looking for. If you’re wanting a fuller picture of how this situation even became possible, plus a healthy dose of insane, Fyre Fraud does a better job. I demand a third documentary on this. Maybe even a fourth. More Fyre Festival, please.