By Aron Solomon
Remarkably to some, unbelievably to others, a follow-up to the plane-crashing-into-the-side-of-a-mountain that was the original Fyre Festival is, if we are to take Billy McFarland at his word, underway.
For those living in a perhaps blissful social media cave, Fyre Festival was a highly publicized music and luxury event that was supposed to take place on the island of Great Exuma in the Bahamas in April 2017. The festival was promoted by entrepreneur Billy McFarland and rapper Ja Rule, with the promise of luxurious accommodations, gourmet food, and performances by some of the biggest names in music.
However, when festival-goers arrived on the island, they found a chaotic and disorganized event that was far from the luxurious experience they had been promised. The accommodations were makeshift tents, the food was limited to cheese sandwiches, and there were no musical performances.
The festival quickly became a viral sensation on social media, with attendees posting photos and videos of the dismal conditions. The backlash was swift and widespread, with many calling the festival a scam and demanding refunds.
In the aftermath of the festival and in part as the result of a wildly popular Netflix documentary, McFarland was charged with wire fraud and sentenced to six years in prison though he was recently released having served only four years. He was also ordered to pay restitution of $26 million to his victims, which he has not done. Ja Rule was not charged in connection with the festival, but he did face multiple lawsuits from attendees.
In addition to the legal ramifications for McFarland and Ja Rule, the festival also had a significant impact on the wider music and entertainment industry. It (very temporarily) served as a cautionary tale for the dangers of overhyping events and underdelivering on promises, and it highlighted the importance of transparency and accountability in event planning.
Fyre Festival was a very high-profile disaster highlighting what can go wrong when event organizers prioritize hype and marketing over delivering a quality experience for attendees. Clearly, we thought, Fyre Festival could never happen again. We’d never fall for it. Not twice.
Well, here we are – at least at the point where the idea is being floated around.
Yet Fyre Festival 2 would be a horrible idea for several reasons, all of which should be obvious.
The original Fyre Festival was a disaster, with attendees stranded on an island with little food, water, or shelter. The idea that any reputable host exists for a second Fyre Festival is unrealistic. There would be no appropriate venue in which to host it.
Perhaps most importantly, in the six years that have passed since the planning of the original Fyre Festival, we have learned more about how we interact online and believe narratives we perhaps shouldn’t. There’s a very strong argument to be made that both planned Fyre Festivals are troubling symptoms of a much larger societal affliction.
Notably since the year of the original Fyre Festival date, there has been a noticeable shift in popular culture towards influencers and celebrities, and it seems that society is becoming more and more focused on these individuals. From social media to television, it’s hard to escape the constant bombardment of celebrity news, gossip, and lifestyle. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with having role models or enjoying entertainment, the degree to which our culture has become centered around influencers and celebrities is excessive, and here’s why.
Firstly, the emphasis on celebrity and influencer culture is affecting our values and priorities as a society. In the past, people were celebrated for their accomplishments and contributions to society. Today, it seems like we are more concerned with fame, wealth, and status. Many young (and even not-so-young) people aspire to be social media influencers, believing that it’s a way to achieve quick success and fortune, rather than (as the counter-argument would go) pursuing meaningful careers or making a positive impact on the world. This shift in priorities is worrying, as it can lead to a generation of individuals who prioritize materialistic pursuits over more meaningful goals.
Moreover, the influence that celebrities and influencers wield over their followers can be detrimental to society. In many cases, they promote unrealistic beauty standards, unhealthy lifestyles, and harmful messages. For example, many influencers promote diet products and cosmetic surgery, perpetuating harmful beauty standards and encouraging people to go to extreme lengths to achieve them. Moreover, celebrities often endorse products without disclosing that they are being paid to do so, which can be misleading for consumers.
Finally, the focus on influencers and celebrities can be damaging to our mental health. Constantly comparing ourselves to others and feeling inadequate because we don’t have the same lifestyle, appearance, or success as our favorite celebrities can lead to low self-esteem and anxiety. Furthermore, the pressure to conform to societal expectations and meet unrealistic standards can lead to mental health issues, such as eating disorders and body dysmorphia.
All of this together is what would drive people to want more events in the vein of Fyre Festival. This is why the original Fyre Festival was able to dupe so many people at such a massive scale. It was a truly historical FOMO – a fear of missing out so intense that far too many people sought membership at any cost.
To believe that today, six years later, we are in any better position as a society in our relation to celebrities, social media, and social responsibility to each other would be deeply delusional.
Whether Billy McFarland or anyone else could successfully stage even a neighborhood BBQ named Fyre Festival remains to be seen. But what’s absolutely certain, as Attorney Michael Epstein points out, is:
“Any Fyre Festival, whether it’s next year or ten years from now, would be an event where caveat emptor – buyer beware – should be the standard. Hope for the best, expect the worst.”
About Aron Solomon
A Pulitzer Prize-nominated writer, Aron Solomon, JD, is the Chief Legal Analyst for Esquire Digital and the Editor-in-Chief for Today’s Esquire. He has taught entrepreneurship at McGill University and the University of Pennsylvania, and was elected to Fastcase 50, recognizing the top 50 legal innovators in the world. Aron has been featured in Forbes, CBS News, CNBC, USA Today, ESPN, TechCrunch, The Hill, BuzzFeed, Fortune, Venture Beat, The Independent, Fortune China, Yahoo!, ABA Journal, Law.com, The Boston Globe, YouTube, NewsBreak, and many other leading publications.