Tuesday, July 7, 2015

You Cruise, You Schmooze

How would you like to be a passenger on an Impact Cruise Ship run by the dicey Carnival line? 

No, it isn't a thrill-ride replica of the Costa Concordia experience or even a remake of the Poseidon Adventure. It's a whole new way of vacationing --  the neoliberal, philanthrocapitalist way. It's the Peace Corps for people who are too busy or too important to spend two whole years of their lives actually living and working in the harsh conditions of a third world country.

Starting next year, and for only a couple thousand bucks, give or take, and only one week out of your busy schedule, you can become a "Voluntourist" to the Dominican Republic or Cuba, where residents are said to be waiting with bated breath for the great American Barging-In.

 The whole idea behind impact cruising is to make you feel better about your privileged, selfish life.  Now you, too, can be Angelina Jolie, George Clooney, Bono, and Chelsea Clinton all rolled into one self-satisfied do-gooder. And the beauty of it is that you need never even unpack for your impacting experience. Hedonism will still prevail. You will still gorge on multi-course Carnival meals served by The Help. You will still sleep the sleep of the just in a soft, clean, oversized bed in your exquisitely appointed, ocean view Carnival state room. You will still be entitled to spa treatments and laps in the onboard pool. You will spend more time floating (four days) with like-minded tourists than you will engaging with actual poor people on actual land (three days.)

The SS Impact: Neoliberal Ship of Peace

Needless to say, the New York Times travel desk is on it:
The cruises to Cuba, approved by the U.S. Department of Commerce and the Treasury Department, fall under the rules that allow licensed travel companies to bring in visitors who will spend their time doing activities that support the Cuban people. Carnival is in talks with Cuban officials to finalize the deal, the company said in a release.
“We know there is strong demand from travelers who want to immerse themselves in Cuban culture, so this is a historic opportunity for us to enable more people to experience Cuban society,” said Arnold Donald, president and chief executive of the Carnival Corporation.
In other words, altruism must be seen to trump co-optation and plunder -- at least for now. The Times doesn't tell us exactly what activities the American voluntourists will be doing to "support" the  Cuban people. But I suppose if they were honest and said the support will involve throwing a few American dollars at people living in poverty while scoping out the distressed real estate landscape for future development, it might look a bit too crass. Naturally, voluntourists will not be required to sign a pledge attesting to their well-intentioned bona fides. Donald Trump himself could theoretically strut up the gangway claiming to be a missionary and nobody would throw him overboard.

Maybe Carnival's "fathom" website itself can give us a few more clues about what the "activities" of American voluntourists might be. Then again, maybe not.

According to the online brochure, voluntourists will spend much of their impactful cruising time in a crash course of Spanish in order to teach English to the Spanish-speaking. While the Cuban agenda still remains shrouded in mystery (you will somehow "immerse" yourself in their culture and thereby magically improve their world) the Dominican experience centers around  harvesting cacao with the locals. Otherwise, it is an a la carte menu of philanthropportunism, the cost of each extra impact payable by you, the voluntourist. So don't leave home without a valid credit card.

But included at no extra charge in the Voyage Out:
During your outward journey, workshops and other on-board activities will help prepare you for your impact experience and help you learn how to apply your skills and talents in the most effective way. For example, you could learn about water shortages in developing countries and put yourself in the role of an aid worker to improve access to clean water. When it’s time to begin your chosen impact activity in earnest, this kind of on-board training will enable you to hit the ground running.
In other words, although you will not become an actual career aid worker, you will get to play one for three days. The schmooze-cruise will get you all fired up and ready to go... just like the politician who once played Community Organizer in order to prepare the way to his own glorious, impactful, and very rewarding career.

Carnival's "fathom" voluntourism subsidiary is the brainchild of one Tara Russell, self-proclaimed "social entrepreneur" and  alumna of such multinationals as Nike, General Motors and Intel. (I am dying to know how she impacted the 40 cents-per-hour  lives of the Vietnamese children making $100 sneakers for rich Americans who take cruises, but that's a story for another day.) A Davos woman, Russell last year was invited by the World Economic Forum to become the founding curator of something called the Global Shapers Community.

More like Global Shape-Shifters, if you ask me. Because it has been only a plutocratic hop, skip and jump to improve the tattered image of Carnival by turning one of their smaller, less popular cruise ships (the Adonia) into a floating neoliberal Peace Corps. Carnival's venture has the value-added, admitted goal of attracting liberal millennials and baby boomers with disposable incomes back into the cruising lifestyle -- which has taken quite the impactful economic hit in recent years, what with on-board crime, food poisonings and various other disease outbreaks, and massive infrastructure failures resulting in near disasters and backed up sewage. You can pretty much rest assured that the riffraff will not be lining up to become voluntourists. The Adonia doesn't even have a casino or a stage show.

So what better way to alleviate your own guilt and contribute to the bottom line of a great multinational corporation fallen upon public relations hard times than becoming a voluntourist?

Life is a carnival. Life is a cabaret, my friend.  As Tara Russell explains, as she invites you to send in your $600 deposit right now:
Like you, I want life abundant – I want my and your heart and soul to sing.  I believe that humans deserve the opportunity to flourish, and I believe that when we unleash our personal gifts, talents, and passion in a way that serves the needs of others, we achieve a beautiful sweet spot and flow.
I’m addicted to this incredible high of finding energy in serving the needs of others – and I invite you to join our fathom journey and discover how to unleash your greatness in simple, meaningful ways that bring you joy and delight every day.
You can’t change the world in seven days, and we don’t expect to – but we do believe that our holistic impact experiences before, during and after the trips, combined with our long-term systematic approach to holistic transformation in our partner communities will allow for impact on a scale the world has never seen.  We know the journey will be as meaningful for our travelers as it will be for the places we visit.
Even God didn't change the world in seven days. He only made it in seven days. And if God can make it, you can make it. That, fellow travelers in neoliberalism, is the American way.Never do for free out of the goodness of your heart. Do unto others while also paying a rent-seeking corporation its own tribute in the process.

"We believe in building bridges, relationships, and strong teams that have the talent and focus necessary to deliver results. We believe in managing well. We believe in transparency. And we believe in impact – impact on behalf of the American people we serve". --- HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell (alumna  of Walmart, the Gates Foundation, Robert Rubin's Glass-Steagall-killing Citigroup Treasury Dept. and McKinsey) on the gospel of free-market Neoliberalism.


Meredith NYC said...

Ah, an innovative marketing concept allied now with foreign policy. Only reported in the Travel Section? This should be brought up at the Josh Ernest’s White House briefings. He seems adept at explaining things, so the press corps should ask him how Obama feels that voluntourism will fit in with his aims of better Cuban relations, etc. Entertainment for cspan viewers.

Msnbc.....Hillary is raising average 570,000/per day, 2X more than Sanders. See Wash. Post article on Hillary’s record-setting fund raising. This is how our candidates run a campaign to represent ‘all ‘ Americans in our unique democracy?
Compare to public election funding abroad, during their much cheaper, 3 month long campaigns, where citizens have a chance of actually being represented by those they elect. Actually I’m looking for some articles on that, but, CAN’T FIND!


I recently found a video of Krugman debating Tony Atkinson on Inequality, moderated by Christia Freeland, at the Cuny Graduate Center. (She’s an ex journalist, author, now in the Canadian parliament. ) I haven’t watched it all yet, but I recall you said you got Tony Atkinson’s book “Inequality: What Can Be Done?”, and you were enthusiastic. When you have time, could you tell us your reactions to his book?

Meredith NYC said...

How about voluntourism to Greece! Tours of the lovely Greek Islands and the birthplace of democracy!

To add to Karen’s excellent comment to Krugman’s latest column on the Greek crisis, today’s Democracy Now show with Amy Goodman has to be one of their best episodes ever. Such clear context and basic facts/history--the transcript bears reading.

She had on Richard Wolff, economics prof from U of Mass, who is excellent and also a documentary producer from UK TV channel 4. Discussed background on the Greeks, the EU, Germany, the left vs right wings, the financial oligarchs in EU and US and discussion of the evolving meaning of socialism and Bernie Sanders contrasted with Hillary.

One of many interesting points was that in 1952, the US, etc, forgave most of Germany’s huge WW2 debt, and set up a 30 year payment schedule, in order to get the country back on its feet AND to serve as a bulwark against Soviet communism in Europe. (And I think after WW1, German debt was also forgiven.)

This debt forgiveness/and restructuring is what Germany has been refusing Greece today. Also interesting that now, the French rw Marine Le Pen aligns with the left economically and socially. Not like the US rw cutting social supports.

Many other interesting points. July 7, DemocracyNow.org

valerie said...

This whole idea of rich people taking their vacations in order to help the poor in the Developing World is not all bad. Clearly, the people doing it already have some sensibility concerning the gross injustices and poverty in the Third World. And I agree that what little they do accomplish is micro-infinitesimal. Nevertheless, I am not against this kind of travel because there is a profound educational value to the experience that could spark a fire in a person.

Before I go any further, this Carnival Cruise thing is a joke and you were right to "out" it for the sham and con it is. Clearly Carnival is in it for the money. But your essay really got me thinking along those lines.

We in the the First World have no idea the gut wrenching poverty people live with in the Third World. And I believe, sadly, that until we see it with our own eyes, we will never be REALLY moved to do anything about it. Who is to say that one of these volun-tourists will not be moved to start an organisation that will do great good? I realise that aid to the Developing World is a band aid put on a septic wound - yet those people living in villages without access to clean water have lives that ARE vastly improved by having a communal well drilled in their village. I have a friend who was so moved by the story of Catherine Hamlin's work that she has moved to Niger and is working as a gynecologist in a Mission Hospital. When visiting doctors come for a week or two or three, this is the only break she gets from 12 to 18 hour days in oppressive heat and heart-wrenching conditions. Dipping their big toe into the world she lives in every day, allows her the breaks she needs to continue her work.

Personally, I think it would do every university student a lot of good to have to spend a summer in a country in the Developing World. To build relationships with people and to care whether or not they have terrible lives. I think young people would vote differently and be more active in the politics of poverty. Sure a bunch would come back virtually unchanged; materialism and the brain dullness of social media and phone technology will reestablish itself quickly. But some will be changed. They will develop relationships with others who they have met on their journey or who share their beliefs and they will be different. The biggest problem with rich people is that they are so removed from the average American who is struggling to make a living and have a middle class life, that they have no empathy. These experiences have the potential to spark empathy.

Jay–Ottawa said...

“Like you, I want life abundant – I want my and your heart and soul to sing. I believe that humans deserve the opportunity to flourish, and I believe that when we unleash our personal gifts, talents, and passion in a way that serves the needs of others, we achieve a beautiful sweet spot and flow.”

I actually began to levitate by the end of that paragraph––well, at least I would have been able to walk on water at that moment if there were an ocean at hand––but then Tara Russell reached yet again for that word ‘impact’ and my spirit took a dive like Icarus.

Francesco Schettino, Costa Concordia, Enormo Impatto! Cruise ships and impacts are the last things you want conjoined in people’s minds. Especially if you’re supposed to be selling tickets.

People in the big floating boat business who use the word ‘impact’ in just about every paragraph should review their marketing textbooks. Tara probably made the same faux pas at General Motors, hence she’s no longer making an impact there. I suppose it was at Nike that she became addicted to the impact word. ‘Cause it’s OK for sneakers to just do it and impact something, albeit in a bouncy sort of way.

As for sentimental tourists impacting need in Cuba, why not? I’m with Valerie. Making believe you’re doing good may be the necessary first step towards the real thing.

Karen Garcia said...

I agree that rich people visiting third world countries has its up-side. My point is to criticize the profit motive and the ridiculously short amount of time devoted to volunteering. The Carnival scheme is dangerous because it substitutes for programs like the Peace Corps and volunteering in your own back yard or on your own in more far-flung locales.

Love Jay's comment. Laughed till I almost impacted my ability to breathe.

Speaking of voluntourism in Greece, I read that tourists are helping locals feed and house refugees that more "advanced" countries are not accepting. I have a feeling that the only tours of duty in that part of the world will be CIA coups fomenting regime change.