“It sounds crazy, but so many things had to go right to make it this big of a failure.”
In 2017, Billy McFarland and Ja Rule created Fyre Festival, a luxury music festival complete with an island getaway fantasy. That’s all it turned out to be for hopefuls – a fantasy. Complete with financial fraud and social media fallout, Fyre was The Emperor’s New Clothes for Millennials. But was the guy behind it just a scammer, or did he get so invested in a dream that he himself grew out of touch with reality?
A Tale of Two Fyres
The above clip is Andy King in one of the most jaw-dropping (not literally, but almost) interviews from Netflix’s Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened. Two documentaries were watched (and watched again and again) for this post, including the one brought to us by Netflix and Hulu’s Fyre Fraud. It turns out that FuckJerry, the marketing agency largely behind the marking for the Fyre Festival, had a large role in producing Netflix’s documentary. If that sounds shady, I agree with you.
Personally, the Hulu one is better – Jia Tolentino, commentary on influencer culture and con artists served up with actual interviews with the infamous Billy McFarland. The Netflix one sure has its moments though (^See Andy King and his commitment to hydration). Frankly, one documentary about this crazy festival is just not enough so we are lucky to have two of them, regardless of defense mechanisms and blame games involved.
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It’s unclear from Billy’s interviews and even from those discussing Billy if he knew what he was up to, or if he got carried away by the island getaway in his own head. It is clear from the interviews in Fyre Fraud that he tends to get defensive and withholding when unpleasant questions arise about the festival. Is he a con artist, or such a good salesman that he believed his own impossible pitch?
The very question of Billy’s nature, and the nature of all con artists, is what makes them so fascinating. Do they intend to trick others, or do they love the game so much that they too get invested, only to find that it was smoke and mirrors all along? Indeed, confidence is the game; therefore, they have to make us feel like they believe as much as we do.
Like Angela from Catfish, Billy may have been so caught in his own web that he forgot it was a web in the first place. Like Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes, Billy may have intended to deceive from the beginning for monetary gain, hoping that dreams would become reality before it was time to settle his debt. It’s even possible that there is a lot more to this story than either set of documentary crews managed to capture.
What is clear is that the con artists’ true art form lies in playing a game that no one else realizes is a game until they have already lost. Until we manage to see all the cards, the deck will forever be stacked in favor of the trickster.