Before starting Wallace’s essay “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again” I was extremely excited and filled with anticipation. His other essay for Harpers, “Getting Away from Already Being Pretty Much Away from It All”, made be appreciated his journalistic commentary and I enjoyed the opportunity to experience this new perspective. However, “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again” had me experience a sort of foreign animosity towards Wallace. Let me preface this: in no way is this a defense of cruise liners. I felt like this essay was saturated with hypocritical remarks, and characterizations that left me with a bad taste in my mouth.
I acknowledge the fact that Wallace’s characterization of cruise life is entirely satiric, humorous, and aimed to entertain (after all this was paid in full by Harpers). It isn’t the intent of Wallace, nor is it the platform on which Wallace extends his perspective that I find irritating. His characterization, rather, is what irks me. His descriptions of the Nadir itself and the culture surrounding it is very much in keeping with my one experience on a cruise ship, however he consistently describes these situations in a negative light that go well past touching upon condescension. This absurdity is more than possibly inherent in the nature of his journalistic observation, but I still think they are worth taking a look at for the sake of meta-observation.
In “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again”, Wallace assumes the position of a journalist, constantly scanning his surroundings and succeeding in taking a significant amount of detail. The preceding sentence was what I was thinking prior to his description of the transformation of cruisers into tourists as they board the dock of Cozumel, Mexico. He writes, “As each person’s sandal hits the pier, a sociolinguistic transformation from cruiser to tourists is effected” (308). He then goes on show what seemed to me as feigned empathy, saying “Looking down from a great height at your countrymen waddling in expensive sandals into poverty-stricken ports is not one of the funner moments of a 7NC Luxury cruise.” (310). Ok, so he manages to point out the disgustingly exploitative relationship that is tourism, but still be is writing all of this as he participates within the system that he mocks. His negativity offers criticism that’s on point, but I felt that Wallace described all of this with an air of detachedness, as he metaphorically looks down on the sea of tourists.
He continues on to describe the interaction between the cruisers and Mexicans, saying, “I cannot help imagining us as we appear to them” (310). This line in particular, appears as if Wallace is actually being genuinely empathetic and denouncing the Americanness that he finds unpleasant. However, his consistently sardonic commentary tainted by perception of these moments where Wallace is actually breaking free past the faux-wood confines of the Nadir, and is seen touching upon significant problems in human relations. As he starts to empathize, I couldn’t help but think of how the relationship of tourism mirrors the job that paid Wallace to board this cruiser and led him to exploit his fellow participants. These participants who are actually paying their own way to give into a harmless act of self-indulgence. Both the tourists and Wallace share in the act of approaching an Other and using its resources in order to inform, and essentially further the Self. Though these end goals are different, Wallace and the tourists share in this exploitative practice. In the end though, Wallacet is seen as above it all.