An unknown Titanic crew member is reported to have said to embarking passenger Sylvia Caldwell, “God himself could not sink this ship!”
In 2017, a promotional video for the Fyre Festival, which was supposed to take place in May 2017 on a paradise island in the Bahamas, came out promising potential ticket buyers “an immersive music festival … two transformative weekends … on the boundaries of the impossible.” Even with more than a century between them and not much more in common other than their proximity to water, there is one thing that ties these two events: arrogance.
After Hulu and Netflix’s documentaries about the Fyre Festival premiered earlier this month, hundreds of people have been talking about the failed event organized by now-infamous entrepreneur Billy McFarland and rapper Ja Rule. The documentaries explore the rise and fall of the fraudulent festival, from its dreamlike conception, to its misleading marketing, to its far reaching fallout, which culminated with a $100 million lawsuit against McFarland and Ja Rule that alleged breach of contract, breach of covenant of good faith, negligent misrepresentation, and fraud (or, as Ja Rule would call it, “false advertising”).
In hindsight, Fyre Festival was doomed from the start. A lack of authentic funding, last minute planning, and reckless overspending were all culprits in the epic disaster that unfolded. There were numerous suggestions throughout the process that the team should pull the plug and save everybody their time, money, and reputation. However, Ja Rule and McFarlane’s delusions of grandeur prevented them from accepting defeat out of sheer arrogance. That, and the lack of regard for how their actions might affect other people, is what ultimately made the Fyre Festival such a disaster.
From forcing guests to sleep in muddy tents (most of whom had paid for luxurious villages), failing to provide transportation, and a myriad of other empty promises, Fyre Festival organizers took internet catfishing to a whole new level. Concertgoers were not the only ones affected by this fiasco, though. In fact, the documentary reported that there was an outstanding debt of $500,000 to the Bahamian laborers that worked for one month straight on the festival grounds with the promise of pay at a later time.
It seems irresponsible that so many people put their faith into a project they didn’t know much about and expect to be paid hoping that the event would produce enough profit to do so. But what people need to understand, and what was explored in depth in both documentaries, is the huge role that social media played in making the project seem more legitimate than it actually was. Many influencers, including Kendall Jenner and Bella Hadid, were onboard to promote the event. With their legions of devoted fans, it is hard for people to not trust that whatever project they are involved is worth it—even if it sounds too good to be true.
Social media already makes it hard enough to differentiate make-believe from reality. People choose to share only their best moments on social media, curating an image of themselves that is not necessarily one hundred percent true. It was clear that the image McFarlane was selling had to do with elitism and excess, and he used those components to attract people and fool them into believing that he was more successful than he actually was—a technique he’d used before to attract funding for a previous business venture called Magnesis. As Calvin Wells, a financier interviewed in the Netflix documentary accurately put it, “if there is anything that [McFarlane’s] good at is separating consumers from their cash, and if there is anything that this country celebrates more than that I don’t know.”
If anything, Fyre Festival’s aftermath and these resulting documentaries prove that honesty is the best policy when it comes to business.
After having scammed thousands of blameless people out of millions of dollars, Ja Rule and McFarlane still today refuse to take responsibility for their actions (take a look at Ja Rule’s twitter feed and you’ll know what I mean).
I too was hustled, scammed, bamboozled, hood winked, lead astray!!!
— Ja Rule (@Ruleyork) January 20, 2019
Rule claims ignorance from McFarlane’s fraudulent tactics, but was outspoken in his support for the ill fated project even when it was clear to most that the festival had bloated into a feverish pipe dream. Amazingly, McFarlane started running scams again, selling fake concert tickets under a fake name. He is currently serving six years in prison for it.
The amount of backlash he and Rule have gotten will probably turn off investors from working with them in the future. Even though McFarlane is the obvious culprit in this debacle, Ja Rule and other team members don’t get to get off the hook so easily — real “moguls” know when to cut their losses and move on to the next venture. Their names will be the ones remembered after all this, but that should not be the focus.
Focus, instead, on people like Maryann Role, a Bahamian restaurant owner who moved people with her kindness after she used $50,000 from her own savings to pay the Bahamian residents who worked for the festival. After the Netflix documentary aired, viewers created a GoFundMe page in her name that has raised $169,000 dollars in ten days. They also created a separate fundraiser to pay all of the workers that worked for a month straight at the festival ground. After asked what she is planning to do with the rest of the money, she said that she would share it with local workers.
“The money hasn’t reached into my physical hands yet to help people, to pass the love on and to make people happy,” she told CBS MoneyWatch. “The money is still in the GoFundMe account and I am waiting to bless people.”