Why the backlash to Byron Baes is a storm in a teacup
The Netflix reality series Byron Baes has locals in a lather. But why? The coastal hotspot has long been on the global map.
Call it a storm in an artisanal teacup. The residents of Byron Bay are mad and they're not going to take it anymore. The salacious Netflix series Byron Baes is hijacking their coastal paradise next month - and the pitchforks are out.
They're ranting on social media, venting on morning TV, and staging paddle-outs to protest this cultural abomination. They're also collecting names for a petition which, at the last count, has reaped 8611 signatures. "We do not want to be cast as the perfect backdrop and magnet for social media influencers," it petulantly declares. "We do not want to appear in Byron Baes."
Can we all just simmer down? I'm no reality TV fanatic, but I find the faux outrage a little absurd. It's hard to understand exactly what these people are objecting to. If it's the commodification of Byron Bay, that ship sailed long ago.
Like London, Paris or Brooklyn, Byron Bay already is a global brand. It's known for shimmering beaches, mylk lattes, yoga retreats, healing crystals, and eye-wateringly expensive real estate. It's a barefoot Chris Hemsworth taking the kids to the beach, pear and almond fruit toast with handmade butter at The Farm, and the wave of "murfer" influencers posting about their idyllic lives. It's a mecca for anything ethical, organic and slightly kooky. Along with its neighbour Mullumbimby, it's the anti-vaccination capital of Australia.
Byron's status as influencer central was apparent long before this show was mooted, and long before the infamous Vanity Fair article from 2019; that story threw shade on the social stars who deploy their children as scatter cushions in their sunny lives. I remember being poolside at Elements, the stylish resort that arrived five years ago, where two bikini-clad guests turned the splashy scene into a risqué photo shoot.
They posed, they preened, they pouted for hours on end. Even Kim Kardashian would have clocked off before these diehards did. Did they irk the other guests? Sure, but we could still swim up to the pool bar, so knock yourself out, ladies, we thought. To deny that aspect of Byron Bay, as a drawcard for all types including Insta-narcissists, seems disingenuous.
One complaint levelled at the show is that the focus should be on worthy subjects like the housing shortage, coastal erosion and homelessness - have those people ever watched reality TV? A docusoap is not a documentary. Byron Baes is not being narrated by David Attenborough. Reality TV is a lurid celebration of trashiness, vapidity and pretension - which is why people love to hate-watch it.
No one believes it to be an accurate representation of a place or its people. Another reported concern is the potential for over-tourism from cashed-up American viewers. But, given Netflix has more than 200 million paid subscribers worldwide, this tacky little show could help jump-start Australian tourism in the post-pandemic world. Plus, the Northern Rivers region is not the Galápagos Islands or Antarctica, where the human footprint needs to be circumscribed.
Did Melburnians have a meltdown when The Real Housewives juggernaut crashed into town? Did Sydneysiders spit the dummy when Australia's Next Top Model premiered? Did the South Pacific nation of Fiji baulk at being the location for Love Island Australia? The point is that Byron Bay is merely the backdrop for the soapy shenanigans.
I'm sorry you weren't "consulted" but are you a filmmaker, production designer or location scout? It's well within the rights of local businesses to refuse permission to shoot at their venues, but to demand an end to its production smacks of wowserism and parochialism. It's also nuttier than a macadamia farm. Carrying on like the angry mob from The Simpsons might land you a cameo on the show that you so revile.
Originally published as Why the backlash to Byron Baes is a storm in a teacup