Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Writing Updates

I feel as though I often begin new blog posts with an apology for not blogging more often. This time is no exception. Some days, for a host of reasons, I wish I spent more time developing a consistent online voice rather than burying myself in the rigors of academic publishing. But for the most part I find the latter is more substantive and more rewarding (and, ironically, more urgent), and so I keep plugging away. A very few of you may remember that when the blogging bug first bit academia around 2005-2006, I tried to be as prolific as the next writer. But after a couple of years, though traffic numbers were OK, it felt strangely empty--as fleeting and inconsequential, frankly, as most of the ephemera which passes across our collective screens each day. So, I turned back more or less exclusively to traditional publications, which (for better and sometimes for worse) feels much more lasting.

First, I posted chapter excerpts from Flickers of Film over on FB. You can check them out here (likes and shares are always welcome). The book itself, in case you missed it, is now available through most all internet vendors. That epic Flickers of Film post here is still one day coming. We'll see.

Ironically, after all that above, the point of this post is really just to give an update on the Hawai'i project, which is drifting along. Some of the older summaries in following those links are no longer up-to-date. For now I'm not going to concern myself with revising it until I revisit the introduction some time next spring/summer (and I can openly say that I'm not at all happy with the title anymore, but haven't thought of a better one yet). Here's the one I'm going with in the time being:

My current project, Strangers in Our Own Land: Tourism, Race, and Postwar Nostalgia in Images of Hawai’i in Mainland Media, 1930-1970, explores the historical construction in US popular culture of Hawai’i as a romantic tropical paradise and preeminent tourist destination for American travelers in the pre- and post-WWII and post-Statehood periods. Drawing on theories from the fields of tourism, media studies and critical race theory, it charts both the representations of the Islands in Hollywood media, and the central role of industry partners such as the Hawaii Tourist Bureau, the Hawaiian Pineapple Company, Matson Cruise Ships, and United Air Lines to help shape those images. It engages both textual analysis and research into such historical documents as trade papers, industry correspondence, writers’ guides and other archival materials. Rather than see such carefully constructed narratives and symbols as little more that deceptive myths, ambivalent audiences and highly reflexive media often knowingly negotiated such fantasies through a dialectic of embracing irony and desiring authenticity which I argue often shape touristic discourses. While recognizing popular mainland depictions of Hawai’i as highly constructed, there nonetheless remained a yearning for cultural difference and the pre-modern which defines many such excursions. More importantly, then, this complicated relationship with Hawai’i as a “destination image” in turn has useful ramifications for rethinking more established discourses on the colonial histories, nostalgic connotations and rhetoric of racial utopia/tension which traditionally frames scholarship on the subject.
It works for now--one thing I've learned as a writer in the last 3 or 4 years is to not bother writing the introduction until I've finished the complete first draft. Only then does what I want to say really come into focus--and in turn helps focus the inevitably heavy rewriting that comes afterwards. Maybe that's not the way others work best, but its been extremely effective for me. 

So (with the above caveat about rewriting, additional research, etc.), at the moment I have completed four chapters on the project--roughly speaking, 1) 30s Hollywood reflexive touristic depictions, 2) Hawaii Five-O and 60s tourist rhetoric, 3) the Elvis period, and 4) amateur filmmaking and "pure" surf films (i.e., The Endless Summer).

This month I am moving on (appropriately, but also pure coincidence) to what I'm calling for now December 7th "nostalgia films"--From Here to Eternity, In Harm's Way, and so on--and the contradictions of a war-based nostalgia, which runs throughout a lot of these Hawaiian-themed texts, but is something I've yet to tackle head on.

The two remaining chapters after that will be on James Michener's body of work (South Pacific, Hawaii) and media representations of the transition to Statehood in the 50s and early 60s.

Onward and upward.

js