What does hell look like? For me, it’s a seven-night Caribbean cruise.
No fire, no brimstone, no wailing–just a paradisiacal seven-night Caribbean cruise. David Foster Wallace planted my distaste for shipborne fun in the Caribbean sun in his essay A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again.
I have seen sunsets that looked computer-enhanced [and] 500 upscale Americans dance the electric slide. I have heard steel drums and eaten conch fritters and watched a woman in silver lamé projectile-vomit inside a glass elevator. … I have smelled suntan lotion spread over 2,100 pounds of hot flesh.
For Wallace, what’s supposed to be paradise is really a ton of sweating flesh on a barge. Indeed, what does he remember after returning from what’s promised to be a trip of relaxation and regeneration? Vomit oozing down the side of a pane of glass.
And why is that how he remembers his cruise? Because when someone promises you ultimate fulfillment, you can bet it’s a lie. And believing lies make us despair. Listen to Wallace as he discovers that believing the cruise will meet all of his desires condemns himself to hell:
For this–the promise to sate the part of me that always and only WANTS–is the central fantasy the [cruise] is selling. The thing to notice is that the real fantasy here isn’t that this promise will be kept but that such a promise is keepable at all. This is The Big One, this lie.
Yet, even knowing that it’s a lie, Wallace gets so sucked into this promise that he can say without irony, “The ship has Dr. Pepper but not Mr. Pibb; it’s an absolute [gosh-darn] travesty.” Being stuck in this never-ending spiral of wants is, well, hellish.
Hell is believing that I can make myself happy just as soon as I have everything I want. Hate to break the bad news, but there is only one thing that’ll give you ultimate fulfillment, and it sure as hell doesn’t involve a metric ton of sweaty flesh.