Monday, February 29, 2016

Hawai'i Research Updates

Today, I finished a draft of the last of the seven body chapters for Strangers in Our Own Land: Tourism, Race and Mainland American Media, 1930-1970. Two of those chapters still are missing some minor last minute writing, but otherwise a first draft is just about finished. The bigger caveat is that I have not written the brief conclusion yet (on Brady Bunch and pastiche), and more importantly the introduction. As I've noted in the past, I've learned to save the intro chapter for last, when I have a much clearer picture of what I want to say.

Strangers in Our Own Land 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 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 It engages both textual analysis and research into such historical documents as trade papers, industry correspondence, writers’ guides and other archival materials.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, these 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. 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 and tension which traditionally frames scholarship on the subject. 

As I step away from the individual chapters, my next goal in the coming week will be to revisit some of the major theoretical works on Hawai'i and/or tourism (now that the heart of the first draft is done) in order to better nail down the larger argument of the project. The only other work I plan to do in the near future is heavily revising the Hawaii Five-O material in anticipation of SCMS at the end of March. Once the introduction's done, I hope to revise the entire manuscript at some point in the near future, with the benefit of both more research and the hindsight of time away from the project.

Here is the most up-to-date Table of Contents:

1) Save that Gag for the Tourists: Industrial Reflexivity, Genre and the Hawai'i cycle in 1930s Hollywood--this chapter rethinks the notion of Hollywood as simply repeating advertising rhetoric of the time that sold Hawai'i as a pre-modern, romantic paradise. Instead, the studios--often using the convention of the "backstage musical"--playfully reflected on, and at times challenged, these narratives in films such as Waikiki Wedding (1937). It also looks at how the Massie Affair, and the tradition of the "South Seas romance" intersected with these representations.

2) The Time Elements: December 7th, Mediated Memory, and the Contradictions of War Nostalgia--although there is some attention to depictions of the US military presence in Hawai'i during WWII, this chapter primarily explores the collective memory of the events of December 7th as mediated through American film and television. Using such devices as the historical epic and the time travel narrative, these stories reveal fascination contradictions about memories of the attack and of America's participation in WWII--a longing less to return to life before the war, and more a desire for the tragedy itself as a means to sustain that longing--the necessity of horror to maintain the illusion of innocence--as well as the need to somehow both relive but also change the past.

3) "You're Still Talking about Class?": Adapting the Islands for Statehood in Diamond Head (1962)--this chapter approaches the topic of statehood primarily by analyzing the film adaptation of Peter Gilman's popular novel, Diamond Head (1960). The story of a wealthy and powerful white family, led by King Howland, that dominates the industrial and political landscape of Hawai'i, Diamond Head focuses on the challenges they confront in the face of both the coming statehood and a scandalous interracial marriage between their daughter and a local Hawaiian. While the original book focused on the complex intersection between politics, race and labor on the Islands, the film adaptation exclusively emphasized the racism of the interracial drama--using the family conflict to situate Hawai'i's claim to statehood as primarily being a question of whether or not the Islands' reputation for racial tolerance is compatible with the US's somewhat hypocritical claims to democracy and freedom. And, in the process, the film version reflects a neoliberal desire to erase the complex class and labor questions which intersect with racial ones.

4) Founded on Truth but Not on Fact: Pastiche Populism and Historical Revisionism in the Adaptations of James A. Michener--this chapter analyzes the popular historical epic Hawaii (1966) and its less successful sequel The Hawaiians (1970) as key examples of populist American media that negotiate the complex historical questions--those which increasingly emerged in Mainland consciousness after statehood--regarding the legacies of genocide, colonialism, rebellion and annexation that defined America's initial presence in the Hawaiian Islands. More than just revisionism, however, the films try to offset an acknowledged historical guilt over these ugly histories with a celebration of the forward-thinking discourses of multiculturalism and modernity. America's ideals become reaffirmed by depictions of resiliency and adaptation in the face of inevitable (capitalist) change, which necessitates sublimating the destruction of the native Hawaiian people and culture.

5) Business or Pleasure: Working Leisure and Discourses of Immediacy in Elvis' Blue Hawaii, Girls, Girls, Girls, and Paradise, Hawaiian Style--this chapter focuses on the role that Elvis' star persona played in the construction of Hawai'i's popularity in the mainland media of the 1960s and early 1970s. A visible symbol of postwar consumer culture, Elvis' multimedia presence was crucial to reconstructing the aura of romance around Hawai'i tourism rhetoric, while the highly-reflexive films themselves (often explicitly about the tourism industry) played out the baby boomer teen fantasy in the post-war period of finding a way to balance labor and leisure--i.e., to never "grow up."

6) Shoot All Winter, Show All Summer: Frontier Mythologies, Consumer Culture and "Pure" Surf Cinema--focusing primarily on the popular surf films of Bruce Brown (Endless Summer, Slippery When Wet), this chapter looks at the explosion of amateur and quasi-amateur surf movies--as well as its increasing incorporation into Hollywood (Gidget Goes Hawaiian, Ride the Wild Surf)--to highlight the importance of non-theatrical cinema, taste subcultures and the baby boomer desire for new frontiers still to explore, to Hawai'i's continuing popularity.

7) The Hard Sell of Paradise: United Airlines, Hawaii Five-O (1968) and the rhetoric of 1960s Hawaiian Tourism--the final chapter explores the popular late 1960s crime program in the context of discourses on the Hawaiian tourist experience that foregrounded its exhausted, "mass-packaged" nature, in which companies such as United tried to reinvigorate a sense of difference and novelty. Meanwhile, one of the airline's partners, Hawaii Five-O, emphasized the authenticity of location shooting and procedural research, and the urgency of "tourist-in-peril" narratives, to reflect both a shift in TV production strategies and a touristic desire to return a sense of novelty to the mass packaged Hawaiian vacation of the post-war period.

No comments: