Hulu’s ‘Fyre Fraud’ Offers a Tired Commentary on Millennial Culture

Yes, much of our lives are driven by FOMO, but isn't that better than materialism?
January 28, 2019
8 mins read

It almost feels like you can’t go a day without reading somewhere that millennials have ruined something, whether it be diamonds, divorce or canned tuna. Solidly into adulthood and soon to become America’s largest generation, millennials catch a lot of flak for the things that they do.

There have always been differences between generations, but what has made millennial culture so fascinating and easy to criticize is the fact that it has been so profoundly shaped by the age of the internet and social media. Some say it has made millennials the most connected generation by opening up new lines of global communication, while others say that it has made them self-centered and egotistical, prone to excessive self-promotion on social media. Hulu’s recently-released documentary, “Fyre Fraud,” explores the idea through the complete disaster that was the Fyre Festival.

The documentary, which was coincidentally released just before Netflix began streaming its own take on the topic, explores that inception and outright terrible execution of the Fyre Festival, which took place in spring 2017 on the Bahamian island Great Exhuma.

It was marketed on social media as the ultimate music festival experience, complete with luxurious villas, once-in-a-lifetime excursions and some of the most popular social media influencers. People paid thousands of dollars to go, but when they arrived on the island, they found themselves stranded, living in FEMA tents and eating cheese sandwiches, although it should be noted that there was still more than enough alcohol.

Pictures and video of the botched event blew up all over social media, and Billy McFarland, the master of it all, was later convicted of wire fraud related to Fyre Festival’s planning stages. Online, it was kind of hilarious, and for some it felt like a sort of karma for the people who were willing to blow so much money on going in the first place. But at the same time, it looked so miserable that it was enough to make anyone wonder how it even got to that point.

“Fyre Fraud” walks the audience through the process of the Fyre Festival’s inception and even features an interview with McFarland himself, who is currently serving out a six-year prison sentence. He’s described as being someone who always dreamed big, who wanted to create the next big thing.

He and his team, featuring Ja Rule, wanted to take music festival culture, which has practically blown up among millennials, and elevate it in a way that made people feel perfectly fine with shelling out thousands just to avoid missing out. They even paid influencers like Kendall Jenner and Bella Hadid to promote the festival on social media as part of their strategy.

As the documentary shows the chaos that was going on during the planning process for the festival, it’s easy to wonder how people didn’t notice any red flags. To be fair, McFarland’s team went to great lengths to quiet any criticism that the festival was receiving in its pre-planning stages, but rumors were still flying that it was a huge scam. But what got Fyre as far as it did was how deceptively and intensely it was marketed, and as unethical as it sounds, perhaps the only thing that organizers were good at was exploiting millennial culture to defraud thousands of people.

At face value, “Fyre Fraud” portrays millennials as being slaves to the FOMO, or “fear of missing out,” generated by social media and as too narcissistic to enjoy things like music festivals without getting that perfect shot for their profiles.

While FOMO is definitely a real thing and something that most people can probably relate to, it’s not as self-driven as others might want to make it seem; instead, it’s driven by the value that millennials place on experiences rather than material items. It’s the reason why the retail industry is struggling, while companies like AirBnb, which seem to encourage people to travel at a lower cost, are popping up and booming everywhere.

People wonder why anyone would want to spend thousands of dollars to go to Fyre Festival, but some of those who were scammed would probably say it would have been worth it had they been given what they were promised.

While FOMO might be a stereotype that millennials hate, it’s clear that companies know how to exploit it to make money, and if there’s anything that can be learned from Fyre, it’s that certain promises have to be approached with a certain level of caution in the future. In the same way that you might question the usefulness and authenticity of products being sold on late night infomercials, you have to question the promises of experience being promoted on social media.

Fyre Festival was going to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience worthy of every penny spent, the ultimate party that would be a good time and look pretty good on Instagram. The event itself was even just a marketing tool for McFarland’s company, Fyre Media, where people would be able to book musical artists for personal events. It seemed too good to be true, and because of the relatively recent nature of its promotional strategy, maybe it can be forgiven that so many people didn’t catch onto what was really going on.

Although it makes a lot of valid points about social media culture, to a certain degree, “Fyre Fraud” sounds a bit like the classic Baby Boomer complaining about how millennials are entitled and too easily manipulated by what they see online.

Sure, it’s pretty difficult to feel bad for a group of people who were able to spend thousands of dollars to basically attend a weekend-long party. But that’s in no way representative of the average millennial, who would probably be one of the first people to call out the absurdity of the whole situation.

To claim that such an image defines an entire generation marked by more financial caution and rising debt is irresponsible, and, to be honest, there must’ve been plenty of Boomers and Gen Xers who made themselves look just as stupid at one point. Just maybe not in a FEMA tent in the Bahamas.

Candace Baker, University of Texas at Austin

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Candace Baker

University of Texas at Austin

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