The Fyre Festival and the Culture of Late Capitalism

By now everybody on the Internet has had a good laugh about the Fyre Festival, the disastrous attempt by rapper Ja Rule and a young entrepreneur from Short Hill New Jersey named Billy McFarland to organize a deluxe edition of the Coachella Festival in the Bahamas. A few days ago, several hundred people, who paid anywhere from $1500 to $12,000, showed up on the island of Great Exuma expecting to spend two glorious weekends housed in “modern, eco-friendly, geodesic domes” where they would be served “gourmet celebrity chef meals.” The music seems to have been besides the point. Who would pay $12,000 to see Blink 182? If you read between the lines of the advertisements – Fyre Festival was heavily promoted by Bella Hadid and Emily Ratajkowski and used Pablo Escobar’s connections with Great Exuma as a selling point – it was all about the drugs and the sex. Sadly, for Fyre Festival’s guests, no infrastructure had been put in place by the festival’s organizers. Instead of the “modern, eco-friendly, geodesic domes,” there were surplus refugee tents. There was no music, bad food, and almost certainly no children conceived in between lines of coke. A lot of very privileged young people had paid the equivalent of a semester’s tuition at a good state university to spend a couple of days at a construction site.

galal

In spite of the schadenfreude that most leftists, including myself, engaged in at the expense of so many trust fund brats whining on social media about cold cheese sandwiches, I don’t think the real issue for Fyre Festival’s guests was that they had to rough it for a few nights. After all, part of the original appeal of Burning Man was spending the weekend in the desert. What really angered people like Northeastern University student Lamaan Gallal was not only the lack of control – she got locked inside the airport – but the sudden realization that she had bought herself into a refugee camp. It’s also what delighted people on the left. Ja Rule had managed to scam the bourgeoisie into paying for their own gulag. The more I thought about it, however, the more I realized that the people who fell for the Fyre Festival’s advertising campaign weren’t the ruling class, but the children of the upper-middle-class. Wall Street tycoons don’t pay for weekend jaunts in the Bahamas. They get them for free. Celebrities like Bella Hadid and Emily Ratajkowski usually get paid just to show up. Ja Rule and Billy McFarland weren’t selling gourmet meals. They weren’t even selling sex drugs and rock and roll. They were selling exclusivity, the chance to say “I was at the Fyre Festival and you weren’t.” What they actually delivered was humiliation. Young bourgeoisie like Lamaan Gallal usually like to believe they’re the smartest people in the room. Now everybody knows they’re as stupid as the typical West Virginia coal miner who voted for Trump.

Out of curiosity, I Googled the price of a ticket to the original Woodstock Festival. It was $18 dollars for all three days. That’s about $126 dollars in 2017. So what did you get for a weekend pass and the price of a tank of gas from the city up to the Catskills? First of all, you got to see Jimi Hendrix and Jefferson Airplane at their height. You got to see Santana, The Who, Janis Joplin the Grateful Dead, and Creedence Clearwater Revival. Popular music was really good back then. Above all, however, you got the “experience” of being part of history. We all know the jokes about Baby Boomers who weren’t within a thousand miles of Max Yasgur’s Farm in August of 1969 claiming that they not only marched with Martin Luther King and protested the war in Vietnam, but that they were “at Woodstock.”

We now live in a dead culture that creates nothing original, but instead packages, reboots, and repackages the culture of the past. Millennials don’t want anything new. They want Star Wars with black people. As a result, popular music has become less about the music itself, and more about the “experience,” the desire to be part of a shared history. It’s not only the people who got scammed by the Fyre Festival. Pop “queens” like Beyonce and Lady Gaga are basically just reboots of Madonna. It costs big bucks these days to go see old man Springsteen growl his way through an acoustic version of Born to Run with his sixty something lungs. The Rolling Stones are still touring, essentially acting as a Rolling Stones cover band. You’ll never “experience” the Mick Jagger of the 1960s or the Bruce Springsteen of the 1980s, but you will have a ticket stub that says at least once before you died you got to see Springsteen or the Rolling Stones live.

Putting on an outdoor music festival takes work, but it’s not exactly a lost art. Even if they couldn’t have pulled it off themselves, Ja Rule and Billy McFarland could have just gone out and hired the Trump Organization to do it for them. Had they just delivered Blink 182 and a few other bands, they could have pocketed the money and laughed all the way to the bank. Instead, they’re probably both going to jail. Those kids who got stranded at the Great Exuma Airport have parents who have lawyers and friends in their local district attorney’s office. Yet I’ll take Ja Rule’s word for it that the Fyre Festival wasn’t a scam. An out and out scam would have been better organized. I think the Ja Rule and Billy McFarland probably believed their own hype. They would organize the Woodstock of the rich. They would be the impresarios behind an “experience” that thousands of young people would still be talking about in fifty years. When it all began to fall apart, the ambitious project had been so poorly and so vaguely conceived that nobody noticed until it was too late. Ja Rule and Billy McFarland, and everybody they cheated out of $12,000 dollars, basically got bit by the zombie that is American popular culture in 2017.

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4 comments

  1. “They would organize the Woodstock of the rich. They would be the impresarios behind an ‘experience’ that thousands of young people would still be talking about in fifty years.”

    Oh, I think those young people that went will DEFINITELY remember their Fyre Festival “experience” fifty years from now…

    Re: the culture today wanting Star Wars but with black people, you’re not wrong–film has essentially become the killing floor of art in the modern era–but on the other hand, we do have some *amazing* original television nowadays.

  2. Oh, I think those young people that went will DEFINITELY remember their Fyre Festival “experience” fifty years from now…

    And by that time it will be so embellished it will have little to do with the reality.

  3. […] In my previous post on the Fyre Festival I said that I didn’t think Ja Rule and Billy McFarland were out and out scam artists, that a scam would have been better organized. But at some point you realize that the line between an out and out scam and a badly organized startup is never totally clear. Like so many tech startups in the late 1990s, the Fyre Festival was a company without a product to sell. They hired people probably knowing that at some point they wouldn’t be able to meet payroll. Judging by the leaked phone call, the Fyre Festival’s employees are onto the scam and intend to walk as soon as possible. Good for them. They’re in a lot better shape than most employees at most startup. Everybody knows about the Fyre Festival. They’re facing lawsuits from disgruntled ticket buyers. Those employees will probably not only get their unemployment claims accepted, they’ll probably get a cut of the money from the eventual court settlement. Let’s hope Ja Rule and Billy McFarland both do some jail time. Maybe in the future it will discourage these kinds of bullshit startups from ever getting any funding at all and hiring employees in the first place. […]

  4. […] is nothing more to sell or profit from, it tries to monetize things which has no monetary value. The Fyre Festival (selling an experience not product) ripped jeans costing hundreds of dollars, more than whole in […]

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