"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 31 July 1998. Updated every WEEKDAY.





From the Spanish Armada to Pearl Harbor to Waterworld, there's always been something about the sea that brings out humanity's worst ideas. The King of the World's billion-dollar bilge pump seems to have opened up new oceans of stomach trouble and shipboard fires. In recent weeks we've seen the launching of the SS Disney Magic, inadvertent suicides by Kate-and-Leo-style bow-flying copycats, even a special food-poisoning-enhanced Princess Cruise. But the strangest development on the high seas is surely the advent of the magazine-and-luxury-cruise cross-branded package tour. Whether this notion was concocted by a meretricious editor, a cruise-line flack, an advertising director, or just some seaside booze hound in a captain's hat, magazines are sending their writers down the gangways to get cruise-ship freebies.

We first got wind of the cruise-ship cabal when we spotted an ad in The New Yorker, detailing how seven of the magazine's writers, editors, and cartoonists will set sail on a 90-day voyage aboard the Crystal Symphony, providing shipboard seminars for the entertainment of the passengers. You, Gentle Reader, are invited to join them. Like Magellan, the hacks' flotilla will circumnavigate the earth, calling at 5 continents and 38 "exotic ports." No sooner had we gotten our sea legs when a similar ad for a similar cruise appeared in the left-talking Nation. And while we're suckers for trenchant agitprop, somehow the idea of being stuck on a ship with Katha Pollitt and Nation publisher Victor Navasky seems about as appealing as a back-alley spinal tap.

In journalism, it takes three to make a trend, so imagine our relief when we read that the American Society of Magazine Editors had sent a sharply worded letter to the editors of Bon Appétit, condemning that magazine's journalist-injected sea trough. This one wasn't just striking; it was puzzling. For one thing, we'd never heard of a luxury liner lacking fancy cuisine, and fine dining strikes us as something best done in peace - that is, without having to listen to some tubby pantywaist rhapsodize about the pleasures of being a "foody." Reading about the third news cruise wasn't just the charm; it was the icing on our already engorged cake of jealousy. Somebody's giving out free cruises for hacks, and we can't even get a Suck T-shirt! This is one ship we don't want to miss. Though we don't have a Condé Nast-sized fleet to escort us and can barely furnish entertainment any more diverting than a dove act, we decided to take matters into our own hands....


Next ... The Suck Cruise: Fatuity on the High Seas

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