FYRE FRAUD: An Analysis
In the Spring of 2017, a luxury music festival was supposed to occur on a secluded beach loaded with supermodels and rock stars: but said event never happened. An outstanding factor of Fyre Festival and it’s initial explosive media success and subsequent fiery downfall is the broader role of digital cultural intermediaries taking precedent over contemporary media outlets. Social Media was overtaken with blocks of orange by the most popular celebrities across multiple social outlets, flooding hundreds of millions of screens with a singular message: go to Fyre Festival (Bluestone).
Fyre Festival was entirely integrated into digital society. Nearly all marketing (through Jerry Media) was employed over social media, funds were digitized to be encoded to a microchip in Fyre wristbands, and following, the deterioration was recorded and publicized over media outlets online and stretching outward to contemporary media. Fyre Festival is a glowing example of social media and societal digitization as a powerful force that can overwhelm contemporary media and become extremely profitable whether consumer reception is positive or not.
Corporate ownership encompassing the Fyre Festival and its consequential expository documentaries was intrinsically convoluted. First, the Netflix rendition of the infamous story: Fyre, was announced in December of 2017 and produced by Jerry Media, a controversial company continually under fire for stolen media content and producing the viral promotional video for the Fyre Festival itself that assisted in launching the event into the public eye (Bluestone; Wilkinson). Second, was the self-proclaimed “true crime” documentary: Fyre Fraud, a surprise release by Hulu merely days before Netflix’s awaited release (Gasparro). Fyre Fraud focused on criticism of ownership, especially focusing on Jerry Media’s role in both the festival and the reporting done through the Netflix documentary and thus the conflict of interest associated with producing a biased story from one benefactor’s view (Gasparro; Wilkinson). As explained in a Vox article,
“Jerry Media is acting unethically in (presumably) benefiting from whatever licensing fees Netflix paid for the film, when it played an instrumental role in marketing the Fyre Festival, along with its mastermind/master con artist Billy McFarland”
Fyre Fraud possessed the benefit of featuring now incarcerated Fyre Festival founder, Billy McFarland for a paid 8-hour interview as well as rights over an exclusive selection of footage to be included in the final cut (Gasparro; Darville). Wherever the source originates, the festival and those involved in are depicted in a generally condescending light, highlighting ignorance and stupidity throughout, rather than the encouraging and dividing factors that played a monumental role. Millions had been duped into believing the claims of McFarland, while mostly ignored across multiple media sources, the documentaries from Netflix and Hulu along with the liberal American magazine The New Republic identified the main victims of Mcfarland’s fraud not as the wealthy consumers, but as the local workers who never received payment for their months of employment (Bluestone; Gasparro; Livingstone). The Festival was intrinsically intertwined with various media sources from its conception and thus, cloaked with curiosity and allure to the public eye.
Nearly all reports on the PR mess that Fyre Festival became involved the employment of the psychological concept of Schadenfreude: the pleasure at the suffering of others. Schadenfreude most commonly arises when ”...observers gain from the misfortune, ...another’s misfortune is deserved,... [and] a misfortune befalls an envied person.” (Smith 530). Many contemporary news outlets began to poke fun at the festival and festival-goers in order to deploy Schadenfreude as exemplified in the Variety article titled “The Best Reactions to the Disastrous Fyre Festival” (Ahern and Nyren). This article features tweets, memes, and other consumer-created content in order to align those watching the events to engage with it from afar.
Social media was overtaken with news and testimony encompassing the Fyre Festival. One of the most cited stories came from a festival-goer on-site tweeting,
Citizen journalism launched the media frenzy and consequently legal implications nearly immediately.
According to an article released by the American Bar Association, over 400 public figures were compensated to promote Fyre Festival through digital intermediation of news across social media (Martin et al. 295). The promotional material deployed by Jerry Media depicted “luxurious” conditions when in actuality the conditions were allegedly horrific and thus causing the festival to be canceled. Stated in the American Bar Association Article,
“The complaint alleges that the sponsored posts violated the FTC's Endorsement Guides ...the advertising in connection with the influencers was a basis for negligent misrepresentation and unfair, deceptive, and misleading advertising.”
(Martin et al. 295).
Reporting on Fyre provided Schadenfreude through both contemporary and modern journalism, and through the documentaries, Fyre Fraud leans into that aspect of consumer reception, while Fyre: The Greatest Party that Never Happened is a reminder that there is more than wealthy sufferers, and it delivers a cautionary tale about poking fun at tragedy (Gasparro;Bluestone).
Each individual attending the failed festival transitioned from being a source of income for the Fyre team to a primary source for contemporary media sources to capitalize upon. Fyre Festival became a media marvel because of its implications with digital media influence in association with social, corporate, and celebrity buzz.
As recognized in The Journal of Economic Issues,
“Electronic commerce provides an ideal laboratory for examining the extent to which digital intermediation is becoming a major factor in the economic viability of incumbent firms”
(Hawkins et al. 384).
All sectors of contemporary media; from celebrity tabloids to expository documentary filmmakers took advantage of the widespread frenzy that remained relevant for years. The News reporting of the Fyre Festival was extremely profitable in terms of shock value, and the intrigue of Schadenfreude.
An integral segment of the Fyre Festival was the mistreatment of its employees. First publicized in the Netflix documentary, Fyre, Andy King, an events producer working on the event is enlisted by his trusted colleague, Billy McFarland “take one for the team” by performing a sexual act for a customs officer in order to convince him to overlook a fee the Fyre team had not intended to pay for (Bluestone).
The spark created by the release of the two Fyre Festival documentaries invited a new wave of contemporary media interest to capitalize on the disturbingly personal and intimate stories of those involved in the festival. The influence of celebrity assisted in the profitability of the reporting executed across Fyre Festival and thus enabled all facets of media from corporate media such as Forbes, as well as teen celebrity media such as Teen Vogue to both share profits in the event (Kelly; Delgado). All reports and documents on the event have some tie to it, whether it be through digital intermediation of media or corporate and personal grudges, all contribute to the layers of allure surrounding this cultural event; each contributes to its respective portion of Fyre Festival’s PR-damaged entirety. Social media played a large role in humanizing the crisis that occurred in the Spring of 2017. News Media was not the singular contributor to the public reception of the festival and those responsible for its pitfalls. As noted in The Public Relations Review,
“With the advent of social media, the public has gained the power to collaborate in crisis frame building, especially as a means of rapid mass self-communication. ... the public and media frames may align after the media provides detailed information. In the end, when sufficient information is available, the public may personalize the crisis framing”
(Van Der Meer and Verhoeven 229).
Jerry Media’s involvement in the festival, as well as the expository documentary reporting, exemplified media bias in the most blatant form. Many news outlets and media companies were social, corporate, and financial benefactors of the failure of the festival for years after the event itself.
Ahern, Sarah, and Erin Nyren. “The Best Reactions to the Disastrous Fyre Festival.”
Variety, Variety, 31 May 2018,
Bluestone, Gabrielle, et al. Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened. Netflix,
Jerry Media, 18 Jan. 2019, www.netflix.com/title/81035279.
Darville, Jordan. “Hulu's Fyre Festival Documentary Is Now Available.” The FADER, The
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Delgado, Sara. “Hailey Bieber Revealed She Donated Her Fyre Festival Money to Charity.” Teen Vogue, TeenVogue.com, 7 Feb. 2019, www.teenvogue.com/story/hailey-bieber-donated-fyre-festival-promotion-money.
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Kelly, Jack. “Netflix's Fyre Festival Documentary Is A Cautionary Tale Of Bad Leadership.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 30 Jan. 2019, www.forbes.com/sites/jackkelly/2019/01/29/netflixs-fyre-festival-documentary-is-a-cautionary-tale-of-bad-leadership/#3670fc6bea28
Livingstone, Josephine. “The Real Villain of Fyre Festival.” The New Republic, 16 Jan. 2019, newrepublic.com/article/152906/real-villain-fyre-festival.
Martin, Amanda Rose, and Richik Sarkar. "Developments in Advertising and Consumer Protection in Cyberspace." Business Lawyer, Winter 2017, p. 295+. Academic OneFile, http://link.galegroup.com.proxy1.lib.uwo.ca/apps/doc/A530005008/AONE?u=lond95336&sid=AONE&xid=5bad2291.
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Trevor, DeHaas (@Trev4president). "The dinner that @fyrefestival promised us was
#fyrefestival" 27 April 2017, 10:00 p.m. Tweet.
Van Der Meer, Toni G.l.A., and Piet Verhoeven. “Public Framing Organizational Crisis Situations: Social Media versus News Media.” Public Relations Review, vol. 39, no. 3, 2013, pp. 229–231., doi:10.1016/j.pubrev.2012.12.001.
Wilkinson, Alissa. “Netflix's Fyre and Hulu's Fyre Fraud Come at the Same Topic in Different Ways. One Is Better.” Vox.com, Vox Media, 17 Jan. 2019, www.vox.com/culture/2019/1/17/18183166/fyre-fraud-netflix-hulu-review-better-billy-mcfarland-grifters