David Foster Wallace, one of the great American writers in recent times, produced a short collection of essays called, “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again.” In this collection of essays was the writing, “Shipping Out,” a piece about Wallace’s experience on a cruise ship framed as an advertisement for said cruise ship. Wallace was not a fan of his cruise experience as it brought an odd feeling of despair.
Wallace presents a thesis, “There’s something about a mass-market Luxury Cruise that’s unbearably sad” (Wallace). He by providing a list of all of the obligations that come with a seven-day cruise, such as,
“I have eaten more and classier food than I’ve ever eaten, and done this during a week when I’ve also learned the difference between “rolling” in heavy seas and “pitching” in heavy seas. I have heard a professional cruise-ship comedian tell folks, without irony, “But seriously” (Wallace).
Wallace immerses us into the life of the Nadir through this description, making us understand his discomfort and confusion.
Next, Wallace uses the advertising aspect to further push the you are obligated to have fun narrative. This advertising shows why the Nadir is so sad. Wallace states,
This is advertising (i.e., fantasy-enablement), but with a queerly authoritarian twist. Note the imperative use of the second person and a specificity out of detail that extends even to what you will say (you will say “I couldn’t agree more” and “Let’s do it all!”). You are, here, excused from even the work of constructing the fantasy, because the ads do it for you” (Wallace).
You simply do not have a choice on this cruise ship, you will need to have fun. It can be said that cruise ships truly are fun, and that Wallace’s experience is simply anecdotal. However, the overall concept of a cruise ship seems incredibly sad based on Wallace’s writing. Personally, I have never been on a cruise ship, but the thought of being in the middle of an ocean with no choice but to participate in the activities provided does seem gloomy. Overall, Wallace presents an interesting case about travel in general, one where everything seems artificial, even the place you are traveling. One where everything seems expensive rather than beautiful, and where the entire trip appears faux.