Saturday, February 16, 2013

America: Cruise Ship on the Rocks

It was hard to keep from laughing while reading about the rescue of the Carnival Cruise ship adrift in the Gulf of Mexico. Apparently, while toiling with the next generation working hard for their own opportunity to charge a cruise to their Discover cards, the media was covering this tragedy minute by minute.  Missing out on the breathless commentary must have immunized me to the pathos of the poor victims of the worst vay-cay ever.

It is probably an occupational hazard, but it's hard not to see metaphor, metaphor, metaphor in every aspect of the story--starting with the obvious: the fun on the cruise was only a power generator away from calamity, and the glitter and the glitz but a thin, tinselly veneer over the true human condition.

Zap.  All pretense wiped away and the teeming masses quickly sank into a floating sewage container of their own making.  The ongoing buffett of over indulgence dried up within hours and vacationers were forced to subsist on ketchup and buns.

Can't help it.  It makes me laugh.  A cosmic joke for sure.

The idea of going on a cruise has never appealed, particularly after a trip to the east coast of Mexico where I acknowledge my own culpability as an over-indulged nomad.

First, I witnessed the Very Angry, Very Important, Very Righteous, Very Wealthy man at the hotel desk who loudly berated the staff, as though they were recalcitrant servants, for spoiling one of his Very Precious Vacation Moments.  As the staff behaved deferentially, I searched for a piece of furniture to crawl under, so embarrassed by a fellow American demanding that his hosts speak a more standard English.  Ugh.

As a part of that trip, our group went scuba diving in the underwater natural park just off the coast.  A behemoth cruise ship was moored offshore.  These floating hotels dwarf any other man-made building within sight.  Unless you've seen one, it is hard to imagine how these bright white, floating playgrounds for nearly 4,000 people dominate the seascape.

The Dive Master was disgusted.  He called them floating environmental disasters, leaving in their wake mountains of garbage and destroyed coral forests.  Once again, we paint a lovely picture of excess and entitlement.

I felt my own excess when our drive through some real hard times ended in the manicured, opulent hotel where our drinking water was filtered.

But back to the cruise.  The late David Foster Wallace wrote about his experience in his essay "A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again."  He claims the experience transformed him into a self-described spoiled brat.

How much like a cruise is life in America?

Locked on a floating island with thousands of the continuously fed and catered to, encouraged to eschew the reviving sun and seaspray by sitting in darkened casinos dominated by ringing bells and flashing lights, entertained by crooners in spandex and sparkles.

Adventures ashore are highly programmed visits to shopping areas on impoverished Caribbean islands where the bubble of fun avoids any contact with the real lives of those whose memories we collect in native gee-gaws.  ("Don't look over there.  It's the face of poverty, and it will completely spoil your fun. And don't forget, we're having fun.  You deserve it.")  Friendships are arranged via assigned seating arrangements at the opulent meals.

Draw your own parallels.

And when the plug is pulled and the lights go out?  A real, stinky mess.