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The luxury cruise of David Foster Wallace

David Foster WallaceI never paid too much attention to the world of luxury cruises, that unquestionably represents one of the more evident expressions of (real or presumed) richness. I did not do it because I never embarked for a luxury cruise. I never had this chance, until when I recently read a brilliant essay written by David Foster Wallace and entitled A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again: Essays and Arguments (published by Little, Brown and Company in 1997).

Wallace had a one week luxury cruise in the Caribbean – aboard the cruise ship MV Zenith – paid by a magazine for which he was supposed to write an extensive overview for advertisement purposes. As a matter of fact, after the journey he wrote the review as he was commissioned to do. Nonetheless, the experience in the Caribbean was so staggering that David Foster wrote also the work mentioned above.

The style of the essay is a well chosen mix of attention to the details, of deep ability to observe the behaviour of people through and beyond appearances, and, also importantly, of sharp and well balanced irony. Such a blend of ingredients enables a terrific echo for the reader, who has the possibility of observing situations and habits laid bare and that concern the formal behavioural protocols of people – passengers and staff – during a luxury cruise.

Thoughts and considerations stimulated by Wallace's essay are multiple and, as I mentioned in the beginning of this article, are applicable not only to the theme of luxury cruises, but to the general concept of modernity related to society and behavioural schemes, with a specific focus on side effects and distortions of the basic principles upon which it is based.

The first concept that I found through the pages wisely written by David Foster Wallace is that when an individual purchases a journey on a luxury cruise ship, most probably he/she is purchasing an illusion. One could question that selling an illusion is unfair, since it is against any ethic rules. But what if the product, or better the service, sold by a certain company is admittedly an illusion?

By means of his unique style, Wallace highlights precisely the point that most part of the passengers, aboard a luxury cruises ship, are there to live an illusion that lasts as much as their journey. The illusion of an existence in which everything comes easy, in which all one has to do is ask to be helped. And if one does not even want to bother asking, help will come anyway.

The real challenge – and the commitment to reach this target – for the staff aboard the cruise ship is to ensure that travellers have a seamless perception of the just mentioned illusion. And this task is so badly fulfilled by waiters and deck assistants, that their kindness turns into arrogance.

Luxury cruiseSeveral details reveal this weird attitude of the ship crew, despite they are not easy to be identified. For example, during the dinner it is not possible to have the empty glass, because the waiter promptly refills it with wine. It does not matter whether you want to drink or not. Moreover, on the upper desk it is not possible to leave the sun lounger unattended for more than five seconds, without the desk attendants replacing immediately the towel, even if it was perfectly clean.

Furthermore, there are plenty of examples referred to other habits and behaviours to be observed during the journey, wisely highlighted by Wallace. One above all is the strict dress code policy that must be observed in the ship's restaurants, and that drastically limits the freedom of wearing what one feels more comfortable with.

The interesting perspective that emerges by reading the essay is that most part of what is felt like restrictive and meaningless by David Foster Wallace looks perfectly sound to most part of the people he interacts with during the journey, so that it is worth to them paying several thousand dollar for it.

However, what is shared between most part of people becomes normal, while the different point of view of one person cannot change things, but can definitely provide novel cues to think differently about something, especially if the style is brilliant and ironic as Wallace's one.

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