Anti-reality politics

Is anti-reality populism the Fyre Festival of governance?

Fyre Festival is the perfect analogy for today’s aggressive anti-reality politics because they are the manifestation of the same collective process that put image over substance and where communication replaced reality.

For the reconstruction of what happened at Fyre I will use the documentaries on Hulu (Fyre Fraud, 2019) and Netflix (FYRE: The Greatest Party That Never Happened, 2019).

The Fyre Festival and anti-reality politics are near-identical in their origins, process and how everyone reacted to them. And, of course, their (eventual) results.

The asshole fairy is real

Imagine you are an influencer, or just someone who really wants to put a positive image of herself into people’s minds. Someone who performs the image of an attractive life on social media, whether it is paid or not.

You are posting that sunset instead of looking at it, photographing that food instead of eating it – and ordering the pretty food in the first place, instead of the one you wanted. You work out, burn hours painting your face, choosing that dress and then finding that spontaneous pose. And then you burn some more time on doctoring your images.

You live in other people’s minds and if they believe you, you believe them about yourself. If they all think you are relevant – you must be.

One day a particularly asshole fairy visits you and offers you two options: you can either BE that person in your feed, attractive, living an attractive life – or people will believe you are that person. You can have either – but you can’t have both.

Swallow back that clever quip on how you can fake it ’till you make it and how appearance supposedly brings forth reality, and stop asking to have both – because appearance has a crowding out effect on reality. And not just in the asshole fairy’s twisted offer. Let me explain.

There is a set amount of life you have. Same stands for effort, energy, time, mental bandwidth. You can split it between your real life (substance) and your make-believe life on Instagram (image), insisting you can be both attractive and appear attractive at the same time.

But then you have to work on both, simultaneously, and you are already at a disadvantage compared to those who don’t bother with substance and go straight for the image.

You may want a thin waist and go to the gym, starve yourself, you may even pay to get chopped up on a surgeon’s table, depleting your time, health and other resources. Then you do the mandatory makeup, wardrobe and posing, then the mandatory photoshopping – only to find that the competition didn’t bother with becoming thin, just chopped off 2/3 of her waist in photoshop, there is even a filter for that, and looks even thinner than you. This way she can post ten faked photos while you make one, earning more than you do in case you monetize on this image. What lesson do you learn?

If the rules of the game (instagram) remain the same, and you choose to continue, you must not waste resources on IRL delivery any longer, you must spend it all on the image.

And that is what politicians and fraudsters do. Replacing substance with image, governance with communication.

Replacing substance with image, governance with communication

It is not just influencers who have to face the dilemma. Politicians also find that opponents who don’t even bother with policy run faster, unrestrained by the burden of reality they can promise bigger, and consequently get voted for. Braggers of unfounded promises are branded visionaries and get more press and votes than the ones who relate humbly to reality and try to grapple with facts.

Doing big things is hard and gets you enemies – but promising even bigger things is cheap, fast, gets you love and eventually the coveted seat of power. But can you use that power to do good once you have it? Can a liar revert to an honest politician once elected?

Those who enter politics to do good will never gain power to actually execute it because they get criticized for their program even before they get elected. Those who didn’t bother with a program, on the other hand, cannot be criticized for it, and thus have a better chance at getting elected. Those who don’t bother fact-checking their promises can promise bigger things, and when those things don’t materialize – sadly, they often do in the short run by increasing debt and regulatory burden at the expense of the future. And that is someone else’s problem.

To use Fyre’s analogy, it’s enough to look at the rise of Billy McFarland, Fyre’s infamous Millennial entrepreneur mastermind. The guy had no particular field of expertise or interest, he just wanted to make it big in business, any business. So no substance to begin with – like a politician without a program, just aiming for power for power’s sake.

He was much hyped by investors and the dumbest corners of the media for “knowing what Millennials want” and collecting them as customers – but his schemes were never really sound financially, he was always just paying for one thing by launching into another, raising dumb money with attractive buzzwords.

Imagine being Billy’s competitor – but without the fearless attitude to debt and impossible promises. Imagine that you are in the same business, but fettered by the naive habit of only promising what is doable and being absolutely honest when it is not 100% certain. What investor would pay into your commendable, realistic self-doubt? What customer buys a ‘maybe’? They want face and posturing, they actually demand it, just look at any business manual (or political consulting advice). In fact, fake-it-till-you-make-it is the modus operandi of startuppers, always running from debts into even bigger projects, forever hoping that one of them will stick and finally make it so big that 1) they can pay back the loans or 2) they become too big to fail. This is what keep businesses unsound and politicians exposed to blackmail and creditors.

Try to be their honest competitor.

At some point in this communication arms race entrepreneurs and politicians alike have to start actively denying reality – not just neglecting it – because spending all that time doctoring your image makes you even more fat and less attractive IRL.

But the similarities between Fyre and politics don’t end here. Keep reading.


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