The Way We Live Now

Still a little out of it from watching both Fyre Festival documentaries back to back last night. Can’t escape the feeling that somehow the pervasive sense of catastrophe and bad faith invaded my dreams and left me ill at ease when I woke.

Beneath the easy schadenfreude of watching things go badly for other people, I’m thinking about how the problems of the people around Fyre come out of the speculation of the start-up age and the collision of two tendencies in out current economy.

The first is the notion that there are piles of money to be made by inserting oneself as the digital mediator of a social interaction. Fyre’s business was supposed to be one where the interface of Tinder is applied to talent booking, bypassing booking agents, and presenting the illusion of celebrity proximity. The festival, had it been planned rationally, could have been part of the splashy launch of that service – an event designed to make physical the buzzy ethos Fyre’s owners played out in their social media accounts, but not a money maker in itself. Fyre as a stand-alone service would have proved it’s value by functioning as an influencer echo chamber, and high end mailing list that could then be monetized in various ways.

The second is the notion of vapor-ware, the fact that you don’t necessarily have to ship a product to acheive “success” in the current economy. In fact as long as you keep flipping different promised “visions” between investors, you can make more money that if you actually ship.

Fyre the service never really had to succeed as long as it corralled the right contacts and eyeballs. If people don’t get their software, or get it late and patched, they can get angry but it’s par for the course in startup world. But Fyre the Festival had to deliver what it promised on the day it was promised or the results would be… what we know them to be.

In both documentaries, I watched people sliding towards the cliff of the festival dates, unable to stop themselves because of that little voice that rings through contemporary capitalism:

“Everyone who has done something like this before says we can’t do this, everyone with experience says it will fail, but maybe we’re doing something new, something no-one ever has done, and if we keep acting like it’s going to happen maybe it will actually happen”

In fact there was nothing unique about the Fyre Festival except how poorly the creators understood what they were actually trying to do. There was nothing unique about the tactics they used to silence doubters and squeeze their victims as the clock ran out, nothing unique about their bullshit of “we are about solutions not problems” and noting unique about the emotional story of their grift.

Thanking about what I watched, I was suddenly back reading Anthony Trollope’s novel “The Way We Live Now” which is built around a financial boondoggle in 1870’s London, and is full of the same grasping, decorative, morally blinded “influential” people as the two documentaries. There the investment engine is a railroad and not a festival, but the greed and the damage is the same.

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