Looking at Byron Baes thru the Crystal Ball

April 1st, 2022

I am prepared to take a bullet for my readers. I went down the Byron Baes rabbit hole so you don’t have to. That is 6.5 hours of my life I will never get back. (It’s actually 8 hours but I couldn’t do it).  Byron Baes, is the Netflix reality TV series about social media influencers in Byron.  The show is not as interesting as the controversy and handwringing it created. What is more important is what it says about how we see ourselves and what this town has become. Let’s go down that rabbit hole.

A Pretty Backdrop

It seems there is now something called a “Hate Watch”. This is so bad it is still great to watch.  A bit of a contradiction but that’s how highbrow commentators justify liking lowbrow entertainment. The review in The Guardian was fairly typical. Tacky, tasteless and awful but if you stick with it you are rewarded with engaging escapism.  As an ex-TV producer, I can recognise the skill required to convince a viewer to invest time into vacuous, shallow people having petty spats and catfights in contrived situations.

This TV series created a ferocious debate here when it went into production.  The claim was that it was not going to accurately represent the people, culture and true lifestyle of Byron Bay. Well Duh! Of course not. That would be like saying a Marvel Sci-Fi movie will not adequately represent a NASA Mars mission. What are we going to do, appoint style police to monitor and prescribe how our town is portrayed in the media?

Also, the show was about influencers and the new business of social media marketing. Byron Bay was supposed to be just a pretty backdrop but did not even make the cut for that. Most of the production was filmed in Tweed or Ballina shires as the crew were basically hounded out of town. Very similar to how the Disco Dong sculpture artist was treated. Byron locals are well known to be protective and bolshie about this place. Obviously, the slow down, chill out mantra does not work for everyone.

Introspective Disconnect

But Byron locals have a very different idea of what Byron is compared to everyone else. We believe we live in a sleepy, hippy town that asks visitors politely to slow down and chill out. The wider world’s image of Byron is of a hip, happening town full of wealthy celebrities who post glamourous selfies of themselves. There is a disconnect happening and that gap is going to get a lot wider.

Ever since the Hemsworths arrived and this Vanity Fair article was published, Byron has been on a trajectory all its own. It is valid that we as a community be aware and try our best to manage our image and uniqueness. The trouble happens when our self-image and the outsider’s impressions are so widely contradictory.

Managing the Brand

For better or worse, Byron Bay is now some kind of mythic creation dislodged from ordinary life. It is a place of dreams and aspirations for people who don’t like where they live and are bored with what they do. Byron is now a destination to escape to and mythical land where you can reinvent yourself. A crazy mash-up of Hollywood, Bali and Monaco. For many of us living here, doing humble jobs and taking the kids to school, it is hard to understand what all the fuss is about. But we ignore this divergence at our peril.

Byron Bay is now a serious brand and our laid back, hippy sensibility does not want to look that in the eye. It is the third most recognised location with incoming tourists – after the Opera House and Uluru. Byron beaches are the most Instagramed place in Australia with 3.1 million hits.  Bondi Beach is a distant second with just under 2 million mentions on insta feeds.

Unfortunately, we cannot control or manage this as there is no copyright on a place name or location. Unlike how a corporation or product can manage its own identity and image. It would also be great if the community or council get royalties from all the businesses using the “Made in Byron” promo. These are lucrative businesses trading off that brand recognition and insta hits. But none of this is legally or fiscally possible. It is a good start at least if more of us recognise this disconnect. We need to try to remain slowed down and chilled out while riding a runaway global sensation.

More reading:

When the Byron Baes Show was in production and created all the controversy, I wrote about it in this previous post.

This is an interesting article in the SMH from a local writer engaged to review Bayron Baes. The irony is that she had no internet for which to stream the show because of power failure from the floods.

While all the controversy was happening, Netflix ANZ director of content Que Minh Luu issued this statement:

“The show is authentic and honest, and while it carries all the classic hallmarks of the form and embraces the drama, heartbreak and conflict that makes for such entertaining viewing, our goal is to lift the curtain on influencer culture to understand the motivation, the desire and the pain behind this very human need to be loved,” she said.

“The reason behind choosing Byron Bay as a location was driven by the area’s unique attributes as a melting pot of entrepreneurialism, lifestyle and health practices, and the sometimes uneasy coming together of the traditional ‘old Byron’ and the alternative ‘new’, all of which we’ll address in the series.”

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