Last Tuesday, I was awakened from my mid-afternoon nap to what sounded like a party happening on the second floor. When I came down from the frigid attic I call my bedroom, I was greeted by the most wonderful of news: For only the third time in 40 years, the University had cancelled school, and not just for one day, but for two. With my schedule already perfectly aligned to give me Fridays off, I was now looking at an early spring break. How did I spend it? Did I catch up on all of the work I had? Did I finally get around to applying to all those internships I had been talking about? Well actually, yes I did. But before I got around to doing all the important things, I woke up on Wednesday and spent the first four hours watching two documentaries I had been hearing about that both happened to be on the same subject.
Fyre Festival. It has become a meme twice over now, once when the event originally took place and again now that Netflix and Hulu have brought it back to the forefront of public scrutiny. For my part, I had no idea what the festival was until I started hearing about the Netflix documentary last week — maybe that’s just how out of touch with social media I am. I happened to watch the Hulu documentary first because the friend I was watching with had already seen the Netflix one, and I was introduced to Billy McFarland, the Fyre Festival, and a whole host of con artists, shady businessman, unfortunate victims and rich Instagram models. As the hours went by and I slowly became an expert on the biggest concert turned train crash in modern history, I found myself more and more fascinated and simultaneously more and more confused.
Almost every facet of the Fyre Festival boggles my mind. It was absurd that people were willing to pay tens of thousands (or in some cases hundreds of thousands) of dollars to go to a concert that didn’t exist. Billy McFarland’s entire gimmick of using a bigger scheme to pay off his last scheme. The bizarre timing of both Hulu and Netflix releasing documentaries about the Fyre Festival within days of each other and the strange way in which the documentaries almost feel like two halves of a single whole. All of this stuns me. I’m just waiting for some third party to come along and tell us the meta-story of Hulu and Netflix’s competing desire to cover this purely 21st century debacle. How could both companies possibly be making a movie about the exact same thing and then release them at the exact same time? Did they plan that? Is this some new kind of corporate synergy? And what are we to make of the fact that Hulu paid McFarland for his appearance, but Netflix’s doc was produced by Jerry Media, the same company that promoted the Fyre Fest to begin with?
One of my roommates became annoyed with the Hulu documentary because he thought it was attacking millennials unnecessarily. The Hulu doc does argue that millennial culture and the pretend world of Instagram are things that make possible a world where something like the Fyre Festival can exist. But the Hulu doc also went to a place that I found even harder to understand: It argued that in today’s society anyone who isn’t on twitter or Instagram in essence does not exist. The film actually doesn’t argue this so much as it states it as a fact of the digital age. At first I found this to be a preposterous assumption. I hardly ever tweet and surely I exist. Surely even if no one in my house so much as exited the front door on that frostbite inducing day we would still exist. To think otherwise would be to give ourselves over entirely to a digital world where all that matters is perception and reality is meaningless. Or in this digital framework, has perception become reality? We do, after all, live in a world where it is increasingly obvious that politicians do not have to say anything resembling the truth in order to get elected and where our executive branch treats the truth with such a lack of regard as to render it almost meaningless. If I do not post a picture on a beach, did I really go on vacation? If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, did it really make a sound?
Although my roommate was disturbed by the notion that millennial culture caused the Fyre Festival and that he didn’t exist because he wasn’t on Instagram, a few days later I brought up the subject at a club meeting and half the room agreed that if you are not a prevalent person on social media you basically do not exist. This shocked me. Again I reiterated that I was sitting right in front of them, I was speaking in the room, they were hearing me, and this alone was proof that I exist. They assured me that, no, in fact, I did not exist. They admitted that they probably didn’t exist either and that even if they posted on Instagram right than and there if the algorithm didn’t push their post to the front of people’s feeds it wouldn’t functionally be in existence, for how can the post exist if no one has liked it? This line of reasoning seems dangerous to me. Every person is the center of their own universe, the key factor in their own continued existence.
There are people on this campus I have never spoken to. To me, perhaps they do not exist. But that does not mean they are not there. Collectively, the anonymous figures I walk past on campus have an impact on me, but more importantly they have an impact on themselves. You do not need the outside world to tell you your life is worthwhile. Is the support and love of your friends and family not enough? Is it not enough to sit inside on a snow day and text no one, post nowhere, call not a soul, and enjoy a calm peaceful day with your roommates and a Netflix documentary? Maybe not. But if watching four hours of footage about the Fyre Fest has taught me anything, it’s that you don’t need to pay $250,000 to attend a concert and you don’t need to post on Instagram in order to prove you exist. Just take a look in the mirror and sing a song in the shower. Descartes said, “I think, therefore I am.” In this age of Hulu and Instagram, I think I’m still inclined to agree with him.