When Chris Smith, director of Netflix’s “FYRE: The Greatest Party that Never Happened,” was asked about Hulu’s “Fyre Fraud” paying Billy McFarland — Fyre Fest creator — to appear in its documentary, he had this to say: “After spending time with so many people who had such a negative impact on their lives from their experience at Fyre, it felt particularly wrong to us for [McFarland] to be benefitting.” Although McFarland was reportedly paid less than $250,000 to appear in the film, the sum he received was reportedly in the six-figure range. This issue is certainly worth unpacking. While Hulu’s Fyre documentary certainly reported on McFarland and his company’s indictments, it also allowed him to benefit off of his own decline. Yet Netflix’s own documentary on the Fyre Festival also draws concern. In fact, if you look a little closer at Netflix’s Fyre documentary, insidious hypocrisy comes to light.
Last week, I wrote about the Instagram account @fuckjerry and encouraged all of my readers to unfollow this account. To recap, the @fuckjerry team takes screenshots of internet memes (often found on Twitter) created by other users, then posts them to the @fuckjerry page, where they get hundreds of thousands of likes. The page, which hovers around 14 million followers, has become the most prominent meme account on Instagram. The problem is that they are no longer a meme account. They are an advertising company.
“FuckJerry has used such content to create ads for brands such as MTV and Burger King, reportedly making up to $30,000 per post,” writes George Civeris in a column for the Columbia Journalism Review. “When original content creators attempt to claim ownership over their jokes or ask for them to be taken down, FuckJerry responds by ignoring, blocking or mocking them.”
Because of its success, @fuckjerry has been able to evolve into Jerry Media, a full-on advertising firm. You might remember Mick Purzycki from “FYRE.” He was interviewed because he is the CEO of Jerry Media, which was the advertising company hired by McFarland to promote the event. This interview makes a lot of sense; a big part of the unfortunate spectacle of the Fyre Festival was the marketing campaign leading up to the event. However, Purzycki, as well as Elliot Tebele and James Ohlinger of @fuckjerry were producers of the documentary. In fact, documents show that at one point, Purzycki was allowed to have a final say on the cut of the movie. Netflix has since refuted this claim, saying that his authority was ultimately revoked. But the fact remains that Purzycki and Jerry Media had a seat at the table in spinning their own story.
Re-watching both movies with this knowledge, the Netflix documentary begins to feel nearly as slimy as the subjects themselves. Josephine Livingstone, in a superb investigative article for The New Republic, notes the discrepancies in the respective documentaries: “Hulu’s “Fyre Fraud” focused on social media marketing agency FuckJerry — which is trying to rebrand as Jerry Media — and its complicity in McFarland’s doomed project.” But Netflix’s “Fyre” was mysteriously quiet on that issue, instead highlighting eye-poppingly nefarious anecdotes, like event producer Andy King’s claim that he came very close to performing fellatio on a customs official to extract a detained shipment of Evian water.
It is important to understand Jerry Media’s deep attachment to the Fyre Festival’s successful scam. “It was FuckJerry that had hyped up the festival into an Instagram craze, using mysterious orange squares to tease its announcement,” Livingstone writes. Jerry Media released a statement claiming that all of its actions during the lead-up to the documentary were done at the insistence of McFarland and those close to the festival. However, as Livingstone notes, the Hulu documentary claims that “FuckJerry was aware of the problems in the festival’s production, but proceeded full steam ahead anyway.”
Without the knowledge that Jerry Media was seemingly at the center of “FYRE,” the documentary feels like a cohesive and exhaustive retelling of the scam that was Fyre Festival. However, knowing that those who were directly responsible for the event’s promotion were involved in this retelling, the entire film reads more like a scam itself. The film takes great steps to shirk all blame on McFarland, repeatedly noting what an incredible salesman he is. Like Ja Rule claimed on Twitter after the documentaries dropped, “FYRE” aims to show that all those involved were “hustled, scammed, bamboozled, hoodwinked and led astray.” However, it seems that the team at Jerry Media was more interested in leading us astray than they were in telling the whole story. As Livingstone solemnly notes, “the way the movie was produced suggests that FuckJerry used the film to launder the troubled company’s reputation.”
So, I urge you again to unfollow @fuckjerry. Not only have they been profiting off of stolen work for years, they also have deliberately deceived the public in order to protect their reputation. Of course, this is not to say that Billy McFarland was not at fault here — he obviously was. But while the microscope has been thoroughly focused on him, others who were directly responsible for the reach of the scam are escaping unscathed. Now, it’s time for @fuckjerry to get scathed.