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Constructing a "democratic" dreamworld: Carnival cruise ships and an aesthetic of optimism

Journal of Consumer Culture

Published online on


The democratization of leisure cruising via Carnival Cruise Lines, from an elite option for the wealthy to an increasingly popular mass-market vacation for all, demonstrates the desire for an aesthetic of pleasure and accessibility that meshes particularly well with late 20th-century myths of classlessness in the United States, and with constructs of American national identity that favor and uplift notions of non-pretentiousness, playfulness, and inclusiveness. Utilizing historical overview, the critical analysis of promotional literature and other company-generated materials, and participant observation, I argue that Carnival cruise ships embody an aesthetic of overflowing juxtaposition and freneticism that seeks to symbolically annihilate class differences and redistribute power by enacting neoliberal fantasies of freedom, access, and democracy as enacted in the marketplace. Carnival cruise ships can be seen as representing a desire for collectivity and community in the face of splintering marketplaces and increased segmentation.