So I related quite personally to Supposedly Fun Thing. Last spring break I went on an all-expenses paid Royal Caribbean cruise to Mexico, expecting it to be the trip of my life. Cruises are supposed to be all luxury and fun and convenience. Instead, after spending days watching the same conga-lines and crazy cruise directors DFW describes, I felt this impending angst and unease. In all its luxury and splendor, the cruise ship screamed overconsumption and faux joy to me. Since someone else was paying for my trip, I felt guilty even thinking about this. I was, of course, grateful for the experience, but the whole cruise thing really was kind of disturbing. People I met in the hot tub proceeded to tell me about the nine other cruises they’d been on- they call themselves “cruisers.” There’s this whole kind of world of people who cruise around, having food and staff on hand at any hour of the day. DFW’s essay gave me much relief; finally, I had found someone who feels the same way I do.
I appreciated the way DFW made this a comical adventure, engaging his approachable yet intelligent sense of humor, while still managing to make cultural commentary. Or at least raise some questions about consumption that echo his views about tv and society. He recognizes this “unbearably sad” (261) feeling about the ship. Maybe that’s just a physical thing, explained by the huge vastness of the ship and the relative smallness of a person. He further expands on this feeling of smallness and selfishness, the “wanting to jump overboard,” the despair. I don’t think it’s a matter of size or the vastness of the ocean. The cruise ship is a manifestation of all of our culture’s desires- youth, convenience, luxury. Having literally everything provided for you.
It’s similar to the idea of television. You can literally go through a day on a cruise ship without cleaning up after yourself. The waiter at my dinner table continued serving all the desserts on the menu until we flat-out refused. Things are being shoved at you left and right, offers for activities and merchandise and drinks. Your interaction is completely your choice because there is no need to make an exchange (other than money.) It’s just instant satisfaction at your fingertips. I often wanted to be able to wander around the ports for longer, to be able to get lost and talk to locals and shop in the markets before having to rush back onto the ship.
Ok, so I probably sound like cruise ships are hell on the ocean. It’s just a vacation for a few days, an escape into relaxation and peace. Maybe it’s ok for it all to be artificial; at least the people are nice and everyone is having “fun.” But it just became apparent to me throughout my trip what an incredible, and sometimes frightening, little microcosm of overconsumption the cruise ship displays. Sometimes I really wanted to throw up or jump off. But now, at least, I know I’m not alone.