Billy McFarland promises Fyre Festival 2. Why people hope it fails
Billy McFarland – the founder of the Fyre Festival – is trying to (sort of) redeem himself.
“Fyre Festival II is finally happening,” McFarland wrote in a tweet earlier this month. “Tell me why you should be invited.”
The RSVP list could be sparse: The entrepreneur admitted he swindled investors at Fyre Festival 2017 out of $26 million and over $100,000 in a fraudulent ticket sales scheme after he was arrested in the scam.
Why on earth do people want to see him try again? Experts say we can’t look the other way because of glee — finding joy in the needs of others — and the ever-enticing pull of a good story.
“Whoever buys a ticket this time deserves what they get,” wrote one Twitter user. “The online gloating will be epic.” Another added: “Invite me please, I’ll post the invite on social media and make fun of it.”
Why we couldn’t look away from Fyre Festival
Social media followed the festival’s disaster in real time: the gross meals went viral, people tweeted about the lack of bathrooms and more.
The festival was such a colossal failure that it ultimately resulted in two juicy Netflix and Hulu documentaries detailing the behind-the-scenes scheme. The spectators ate it up.
That’s because some people delight in observing the moments that remind us that the rich “really don’t have everything,” said Elizabeth Cohen, an associate professor at West Virginia University of media psychology and popular culture researched, previously told USA TODAY. “And maybe they don’t really deserve all this.”
It’s the same factors that are fueling interest in Fyre Festival 2.0.
“Love it or hate it, Americans and global audiences alike love witnessing celebrity scandals, epic failures and potential media resurgences,” said Melvin Williams, associate professor of communications and media studies at Pace University. “McFarland’s attempt to revitalize the Fyre Festival inspires an enduring public fascination in watching pathetic moments unfold into entertainment.”
“I’m glad I’m not”
Behind this is a psychological theory called “social comparison,” says Cohen. It assumes that people will always try to compare themselves to other people to see where they fit in the world. When you believe someone is “better” than you, you get caught up in upward social comparison.
“The problem with upward social comparison is that it can be positive, but it can make you feel like you’re not where you belong,” says Cohen. “So it can be motivating, but it can also make you feel bad.”
The downside is the social downward comparison where you consume media only to look down on others.
“When we see someone fail spectacularly like McFarland did at Fyre Festival, it swings in our favor on the comparative scale,” says Regine Galanti, a clinical psychologist. “In a world of social comparison, especially when nothing terrible is happening, like death or murder, seeing someone being knocked out spectacularly lifts us up comparatively and (we) feel better.”
Although both fictional media and watching something unfold in real-time might evoke a similar “I’m glad I’m not” response, knowing something is real might make that response even more visceral.
Fyre Festival’s ‘Schadenfreude Pleasure’
More broadly, “we like to watch other people behave in weird and bad ways,” Robert Thompson, founding director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at the Newhouse School of Public Communications Syracuse University, previously told USA TODAY. “We enjoy watching other people collapse, regardless of their income status.”
All of that is part of a good story. “There seems to be a narrative thread that we like to watch as people make this climb to wealth and status,” says Thompson. “But when they actually get there, one of the only narrative threads left is watching them fall. And we get a lot of glee when you look at a lot of examples of stories we tell.”
Whatever happens to McFarland, you know people will tune in.
Contributors: Naledi Ushe and The Associated Press
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