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Eat the Rich: The Schadenfreude Joys and Sad Realities of Fyre Festival

By Kayleigh Donaldson | Think Pieces | May 1, 2017 |

By Kayleigh Donaldson | Think Pieces | May 1, 2017 |

It says much about my bank balance that I had no idea of the existence of Fyre Festival until it had entered meme history. The luxury event, with tickets priced up to an eye-watering $12,000, was billed as the Instagram dream: An elite celebration of the joys of elitism, the bacchanalia of the social media influencers, with treasure hunts, luxury tents, high-end cuisine and musical performances from the ever-relevant Blink-182. It’s the kind of set-up that, when you hear it, immediately sounds like an episode of an E! reality TV show, but from the get-go, it seemed that the festival had more in line with a dystopian YA novel.

The tweets spread far and wide, with attendees of varying degrees of self-awareness sharing details on the chaos, from a total absence of organisers to disaster relief tents in place of proper accommodation. Luggage was stolen, the staff were occasionally violent, feral dogs roamed the camp in hopes of picking off a few trust fund babies, and eventually some attendees were locked indoors with no food or water. As chief organiser Ja Rule scrambled to avoid ownership of the shit-show, social media blew up with a level of schadenfreude that not even Kendall Jenner’s world peace restoring Pepsi ad could create (coincidentally, Jenner featured in the now hysterical advert for the festival, which plays like a series of stock footage - probably because that’s what it is). During the countless tweets I read, many of which sent me into paroxysms of laughter, I saw literally one sympathetic message. The rest? Pure and utter joy at this misery.

As we now know, this festival was doomed from the start, but even if it had succeeded, the chances are a big chunk of social media, especially Twitter, would have been just as forceful in their jokes. It would have been the perfect metaphor for 2017 - the elite party in unimaginable wealth while the rest of us wait for the world to burn. Still, the reality was pretty apt too: Lord of the Flies for the Snapchat crowd; Coachella as organized by Jared Kushner; The new Hostel movie for the Trump era. Either option is fine for a cracking retweet, but as always, the sad truth is that the elite still win.

It was so very easy to laugh at the carnage of Fyre Festival, but also surprisingly cathartic. You couldn’t look at the continuing descent into hell at the hands of Donald Trump and not hope for a slither of justice at the ruling classes, however arbitrary the definition of that may be. Trust fund kids, the ones who saw $12,000 for a weekend with Blink-182 on a private island as a glittering frivolity, are an easy target, and something of an impervious one. This one weekend of true strife got them a lot of retweets and a great story for whatever publication is willing to pay for it, but ultimately, they’ll be fine. They’ll go back to university, their parents will line their pockets, and they’ll move on with their lives. This is a generalization, of course, but anyone with the cash to drop a minimum of $2,000 on two days in a tent is distinctly from a different life than most of us. One attendee asked a mocking tweeter to not “laugh at my trauma”, which she then followed up with gloating over her latest “2004 bottle of Dom Perigon” (her spelling). It seems that the hardships were short lived. What these festival attendees experienced was undoubtedly horrible, but it was also mere tourism into a life of poverty and marginalization they will never otherwise lead. It’s the “humbling” experience they’ll mention at a top job interview, not a truly life-changing moment that will force them to acknowledge the realities of their privilege.

We now know that the “tech entrepreneur” behind this mess - because of course that’s the title he’s given himself - is a 25 year old prep-schoolboy and failed businessman named Billy Macfarland, whose previous major venture was a pseudo-social club for elite millennials akin to the American Express black card, only completely useless. He’s the sort of snake-oil salesman that so pathetically embodies the baby boomer stereotypes of millennials that I half expect him to be made Trump’s social secretary soon. You just know he owns a Juicero. He’ll also probably be fine. “Entrepreneurs” of his stock tend to fail upward. The company have already released a statement, saying they’ll regroup for a Stateside 2018 festival, because “People were rooting for us after the worst day we’ve ever had as a company.” If at first you don’t kill everyone with your incompetence, try try again. You’ll get plenty of opportunities to do so.

For a festival designed to embody the social media fantasy, the Fyre affair ended up exposing the realities of that economy. The so-called “influencers”, the hyper-famous Instagram users you’ve never heard of, and the models you’re vaguely aware of from tabloid fodder, influenced as desired, but with a total lack of impunity. The blame is not at their feet, of course, but one can’t help but wonder at the responsibility a 21 year old model with close to 80m Instagram followers has when she’s asked to sell something, be it a glossed up Hunger Games or radical can of Pepsi. Busy Philipps was recently very candid about the money she makes from sponsored content on her very funny Instagram account, noting that it added up to more than she earned through acting. Imagine that cheque when the numbers are inflated for someone with 25 times Philipps’s followers, like Fyre promoter Bella Hadid.

Like Jenner, Hadid’s fanbase skews very young, and probably weren’t packing their bags in anticipation of Fyre, but they’re still being sold that unattainable lifestyle through countless images of designer clothes, exotic holidays and blindingly bright jewellery. There’s nothing wrong with a little make-believe, and the current era of Instagram is tailor-made for users exploring that fine line between fantasy and fetish. Yet sooner or later, everyone has to find out that Santa isn’t real and your favourite Instagram model doesn’t party with the plebs. I wonder if the implications of that, and the weight of the roles they play in such advertising, is something they think about beyond its capacity as a paying gig. All of these influencers have been silent on the festival’s fallout. They’ll be fine too.

There were elements of the mess that I truly worried about — for example, in a make-shift camp with no proper staff or security, were any women attending at risk of sexual assault from brutish guests? — and I’m sure the joke will have worn thin by next week once Trump has said sixteen other awful things, but for now, this is our social media bliss. The overhyped embodiment of obscene materialism, frat-boy shallowness, social media vanity and class revenge, all rolled into one unbuttered sandwich with pre-packaged cheese. It’s the unified declaration that finally, all those chumps who scream about bootstraps and special snowflakes know what it feels like. It’s a satisfying kind of happiness at the misfortune of others because most of them will be fine, and that in and of itself is so very depressing. Their weekends were spoiled but the rest of their lives will always be those of elite influencers.

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Kayleigh is a features writer for Pajiba. You can follow her on Twitter or listen to her podcast, The Hollywood Read.