The Fyre Festival and Violent Mimesis

Fyre Festival

On April 27, 2017, the first attendees of the now-infamous Fyre Festival landed in the Bahamas. They expected a weekend of luxury and pampering, and to potentially rub shoulders with Instagram influencers such as Kendall Jenner and Hailey Baldwin.

Instead, they were met with chaos. There were no luxury hotels or gourmet meals, just Lord of the Flies-style chaos. The festival quickly became an online joke under the hashtag #dumpsterfyre. It has since been the subject of two documentaries and numerous columns.

The crazy thing about the Fyre Festival is that it was never going to work. The organizers never had enough money, experience or time to pull off an event of the magnitude they had promised. Yet over 5,000 people signed up after seeing their favorite models and influencers post about it. Why would rational adults such a thing?

The answer: Mimesis.

What is mimesis?

Mimesis comes from the Greek word mīmeisthai, “to imitate”. Mimetic theory is a theory that explains human desire, and ultimately human behavior, with a very simple and very paradigm breaking observation: desire may feel like it comes from some objective place deep inside of us- but that is actually not true. We desire what we desire because we are imitating someone else who desired that first.

René Girard

René Girard is the founder of mimetic theory. He made his breakthrough after a break-up, when he realized that the more his ex dated, the more he desired her. He realized that her desire for him affected his desire for her, as did her view of herself. When she viewed herself as someone desirable to date, he wanted to date her. And thus the mimetic theory was born.

Where is mimesis in my life

The short answer is: Everywhere.

The longer answer is that you are born with certain biological urges, but not necessarily desire. You eat, drink, seek shelter, etc because your body tells you to. However, everything else you want, you’ve learned to want through a process that Girard named, “mimesis.”

This started when you were a baby. You didn’t have a biological urge to develop language; you began to speak because you heard your parents speaking. In fact, you imitated everything they did, from facial expressions to eye movements to words they didn’t mean to teach you when they stubbed their toe.

Babies are even more obvious. Pre-verbal children will spend the months before they begin speaking imitating others’ noises until they develop language. They also will imitate facial movements, and even follow their parent’s gaze. This is because we are hard-wired to learn what we want from others.

Want to put this to the test?
Anyone who has ever spent time with multiple children and singular toy should recognize mimesis at work. Say a doll with no clothes and ratty hair is lying on the ground, ignored. If a parent picks it up and begins to act as though they are having fun with it, the children are likely to drop whatever they are holding and demand a turn with the doll.

Why should I care about this?

Two reasons, really.

The first is that it helps us to know ourselves. Mimesis helps us understand our moral stances, spousal requirements, dreams, and so much more. If we understand that our desires come from who we are imitating, we can influence our desires by choosing different models. This gives us self-knowledge and helps us become better versions of ourselves. But it also helps us with a darker, deeply urgent problem that we all face.

Mimetic Theory

Mimesis doesn’t just explain desire. It explains violence. Think about it. If you imitate other people’s desires, you are likely to be drawn into rivalries with them, the same way little children will fight for the same toy, even if there are plenty of other toys in the room. Humans are incredibly prone to violence, and this shows up in our personal lives just as much as it does in our political arena. If you want to stop fighting with your partner, or repair relationships with family, or find ways out of what might feel like impossible conflicts in business, the insights of Rene Girard about mimesis, scapegoating, and violence can help you negate the conflict. To learn more about how to click here to read more:

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