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We DID Start the Fyre: How We All Contribute to Toxic Influencer Culture

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Our new column The Wanderer follows young writer Tess F. Stevens through different threads of San Francisco culture, experiences, and issues. She hopes to challenge, connect and define some of the things we find difficult to put into words. 

Illustration from Bloomberg 

I’ve been stuck in bed for the past three days with a fever of 102, a nose full of gunk, and a cough that blew several doctors away. Still, with a viral infection and a head ballooning into the atmosphere, I decided to watch the two documentaries on the ill-fated cultural nightmare that is now known as Fyre Festival.

If you haven’t heard about this event by now, and that is very unlikely if you’re reading this article on the internet, I’ll break it down for you real quick. You can also read an article in which we interviewed someone who worked it right here.

Essentially this guy named Billy McFarland and rapper Ja Rule, yes Ja Rule of “Always On Time” fame, spearheaded a talent booking app called “Fyre.”

The sad thing is, that the app itself sounds pretty interesting. Basically, it’s like Tinder for booking talent for events. Say you want an influencer to attend your event, you can swipe right on them in the “Fyre” app and then if your terms match what the influencer wants, they’ll show up.

In order to catapult the “Fyre” app into the minds of millennials with money, McFarland and Ja decided to put on the Fyre Festival, an event marketed as Instagram in real life. Breathtaking models strutting across 100-foot yachts in the Bahamas. Alcohol. Partying. Drugs. Music. DJ’s. Private Planes. Dinner parties with influencers. Free swag. Private island access. Two weekends of escape from reality.

Some of the influencers who helped catapult Fyre Fest into the social media frenzy that it was. (photo from Yahoo)

It’s a social media feed come to life, propelled by celebrity influencers like Bella Hadid, Kendall Jenner, Chanel Iman, Hayley Bieber and more. The real genius and ultimate downfall of the whole thing, is the culture that we have all contributed to with our social media obsessions. With one simple post from the aforementioned “influencers,” the internet went wild, and needed to know exactly what Fyre Festival was and how they could get there.

After consuming nearly three hours of content on the dumpster-Fyre Festival, I got to thinking — did we as a culture of millennials endorse this fraud, and buy into it because of our own toxic wants?

I want you to try something. Open up your phone and take a look at your camera roll for a second. Odds are that you have over a thousand photos in there and if you’re anything like me, you had to retake a bunch of them because you didn’t look thin enough, or cool enough, or the lighting wasn’t right, or your flat-lay of things you just bought didn’t photograph quite right. Odds are that you tried really, really hard to get that one “magic” shot for Instagram that made you look like you had your shit together.

If I’m wrong, then you’re definitely above me and definitely above reading this article, so props to you.

If I’m right, then you know just as much as I do that aiming for perfection online is a full-time job. And it seems like every other day, someone is popping up as the next “influencer” with a coupon code for the latest makeup brushes, or a paid partnership that offers product placement in their latest posts.

Some lady doing the influencer thing. (photo from Arab News)

It seems that with little work, little care, and a lot of attention to looks, people are being rewarded online for cultivating their own brand — monetized personalities.

Things like the Fyre Festival wouldn’t be possible or desired without influencer marketing — or our willingness to buy and do things just because someone prettier than us told us to.

One of the reasons this event disaster went viral is because everyone who wasn’t “gullible” enough to buy a ticket felt good that white, upper-class, materialistic people were getting their just desserts. But is that really what this situation teaches us?

Of course, those of us who don’t live their lives based on the word of 20-year-old influencers, would say Fyre Festival was a fraud from a mile away. But the harsh reality is that any one of us could have been victims of it. Say the lineup was different, and instead of major DJ acts, it was a punk rock festival.

If I had the money (which, I definitely don’t) I would be on the next plane.

Who doesn’t want to look like they’re living the life everyone should be jealous of?

That’s the real problem. Instead of being satisfied with our current situation (example: Me frying to death with a fever in my in-laws’ house), we look to others and see that we’re not skinny, we’re not beautiful, and we’re definitely not rich. Then, we get upset. We think ‘why couldn’t I be born into a wealthy family. Why couldn’t I be a famous model or actor. Did I just not work hard enough?’

This thought spiral is exactly what those who worked on the Fyre Festival were trying to encourage, and take advantage of.

What if you could live like one of those famous Instagram celebrities for a couple weekends in the Bahamas. For a few thousand dollars — would you?

What’s a few thousand dollars in the eyes of all those envious followers and potential fans online?

Until we all take responsibility (myself included) for the culture that we have created and encouraged, we have no right to point fingers at the people who organized Fyre Festival and defrauded people of millions of dollars. Yes they are criminals, but they are criminals that we created.

Until we all decide we don’t give a fuck about likes or vanity online, we’re just going to keep on this path of mutually-assured detox tea, gummy vitamin, weight-loss shake, waist-trainer, lip-plumper hype that we keep scrolling past daily.

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Tess F. Stevens

Tess F. Stevens

Hey I'm Tess. I'm a pop-punk musician and social media professional based in the East Bay of California. My EP "Patient 139" is out now. Check me out @tessfstevens on Instagram and Tik Tok. For music, merch, and more visit