Typical. You wait the best part of a few years for a documentary detailing one of the more deliciously emblematic pop cultural clusterfucks of the past decade to emerge and then two crash into your already hectic early-year streaming schedule at once.
One of the most telling lines in Netflix’s appropriately glossy — and for the sake of enjoying ourselves at the expense of some of the uniquely terrible, vainglorious examples of everything smug, self-satisfactory and simply wrong about life in the me, me, me hell that is 21st century late-capitalism, we will skim over the defects the film has as a piece of documentary filmmaking — Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened comes right at the beginning of the film.
An anonymous looking American influencer is describing how she felt before embarking on what would become one of the less enjoyable holidays of her no doubt wonderful life. “So literally,” she says, deploying the omnipresent “So” which seems to fall out of all of our mouths at the start of every utterance imaginable, “I was excited.”
The influencer neither looks nor sounds excited. This is pertinent, as throughout the course of this entertaining documentary, the only person who expresses any real excitement at any point is Billy McFarland, the now-imprisoned former-CEO of Fyre Media.
Billy, who bears an uncanny resemblance to Daily Telegraph political sketch-writer Michael Deacon, is an opportunistic liar, a confidence man who inspires seemingly limitless confidence in everyone he meets. Until things go terribly, terribly wrong. Which we, the viewer, know will happen.
We know about the soaking wet mattresses and the cheese sandwiches. We know, too, that the dream Ja Rule and his best pal Billy sold to a phalanx of full-sleeved YouTubers intent on documenting every fucking second of their infuriating fucking lives will crumble into acrimonious emergency evacuations, a social media shitstorm, and an eventually a stint behind bars.
We know this and we love this.
Fyre Fraud, American streaming service Hulu’s take on the great festival fiasco, tells the (largely) same (but just as delectable) story of a start-up entrepreneur spinning himself a web of bound-to-fail lies and facing the consequences. Corporate downfall hasn’t been this entertaining since the news was awash with images of long-faced ex-bankers shuffling out of the Lehman Brothers building clutching cardboard boxes to their pinstriped chests.
It is telling that aside from the odd mention of a Calvin Harris or a Claptone aside, music has very little to do with either documentary. This makes sense, for Fyre wasn’t a festival in the sense that Love International, Freerotation, or Gottwood is a festival. Fyre, in each of its guises, both real and imagined, was always going to be that most troublingly contemporary of things: the artificially engendered experience.
The ‘experience’ — which is only ever an ‘experience’ in the sense that it is something that literally happened, in the same way that eating dry Weetabix, or shitting in an on-train toilet knowing full well you’ve forgotten to lock the door is “an experience” — is something to be viewed with deep suspicion.
The ‘experience’ — in this case, the potential for days spent on sun-kissed beaches, at decadent post-sunset parties held in lavish and luxurious villas — prioritizes representation over reality. If something didn’t make it into your Instagram stories, did it really happen?
In the case of Fyre, yes it did. And yes, it was as gloriously awful as you remember it being.
Both films implicitly force the viewer to consider their relationship to sympathy, empathy and wealth. There is an argument to be made that the attendees of Fyre did not deserve to be treated so shoddily, that they are the blameless victims of one man’s inane — not insane — act of hubris. This, to be blunt, is horseshit.
The fact of that matter is, if you’re stupid enough to get hoodwinked into spending tens of thousands of dollars on the chance to watch Major Lazer from the comfort of a cabana which doesn’t exist just because you saw a few models post a terracotta square on Instagram, you deserve everything you get.
That, by the way, does not absolve Billy of his sins. He is still, and will likely always remain, an archetypal start-up bullshiter who preys on the false sense of belief he has managed to instil in his overworked, underpaid staff - both in New York, and in the Bahamas. Exuma Point Bar and Grille manager Maryann Rolle had to use $50,000 of her personal savings to pay staff after Billy ripped off then dipped from the island. These people are the real victims of his rapacious and unseemly desire to play the role of a limousine riding, jet flying, kiss-stealing, wheelin' n' dealin' pseudo-celeb, and this should not go overlooked. He is a contemporary villain of the highest order.
Still, like Del Boy falling through the bar, or Mr. Humphries cooing “I’M FREE” in an episode of Are You Being Served?, the sight of ostentatiously wealthy young Americans shitting themselves with entitled panic as they realise they’ve spunked the average worker’s yearly salary on slightly less than fuck all will never be anything less than hilarious.
At a socio-political, historical, and economic moment in time where the demonization of the mindlessly wealthy is more vital and acceptable than ever, this pair of timely documentaries stand as pertinent reminders that greed corrupts, that wealth corrodes the soul, and that sometimes, just sometimes, you’ve got to be prepared to suck a little dick to ensure your stash of Evian gets through the Caribbean customs system.
Josh Baines is a freelance journalist and News Editor at It's Nice That, follow him on Twitter