Take a moment to ponder what you know about Hawaii, maybe you’ve been there for vacation or even watched a movie where the setting took place in Hawaii. Think about what kinds of things come to mind when thinking about Hawaii. Does a paradise escape with girls in hula skirts, people surfing, people wearing Aloha shirts, and un-touched lands come to mind? If you have only watched a movie about Hawaii, or visited for a short time, these kinds of things may be the first things to come to mind because of the way popular culture projects life in Hawaii. As someone who has been born and raised in Hawaii, these depictions are humorous and flattering at times, but far from the truth.
Popular culture and media such as 50 First dates, Lilo and Stitch, and Beyond Paradise, depict Hawaii, as well as its residents in a way that pales in comparison to the truth by false depiction of wealth, lifestyle, physical characteristics, intelligence, and the exaggeration of the Hawaiian culture and its use as a commodity.
In movies such as 50 First Dates and Lilo and Stitch, the amount of people who are wearing Aloha shirts, which are collared shirts with floral designs are countless. If I were not from Hawaii, I would think that Aloha shirts are a Hawaii resident’s favorite things to wear. Not to mention the numerous scenes at Luaus, which are parties where men and women dance hula and there is Hawaiian food served along with other forms of entertainment. These are the kinds of things that are being sold to tourist who have no prior knowledge as to what the culture is like in Hawaii. In the article Lovely Hula Hands by Haunani Trask, she calls this corporate tourism and she states that selling what is thought to be “Hawaiian” culture such as Luaus and souvenirs is called “the prostitution of Hawaiian culture.” Trask goes on about how the cultural practices being sold as entertainment to tourist is watering down our real values and the real culture of Hawaii locals. In all of my life living in Hawaii, I have only been to one Luau in which I was advised to wear an Aloha shirt. This experience at the Luau happened only due to a family friend who wanted to go to a Luau because the hotel, which she stayed, recommended that she should go. Never in my short life has another friend or family member who was born and raised in Hawaii, insisted that we attend a Luau, because as locals we know that these entertainment attractions are made from corporate companies to attract tourist. These huge corporate companies market and advertise Hawaii as a carefree paradise and profit from creating authentic Hawaiian experiences, or so they say. These activities that corporate companies gain from include; surfing lessons, swimming with sharks, and Luaus. It is quite ironic that although these Luaus are staged specifically for tourists who are visiting, it is the local Hawaiian men and women who work for at the Luaus and entertain. It is so contradicting that some of these native Hawaiian locals who work at these Luaus are helping sell this unauthentic experience. Haunani Trask sheds light on how the “prostitution of culture” in Hawaii is very much alive and similar in other tourist destinations such as Australia, Bangkok, and Tahiti. This “prostitution of culture” is the selling of a destination’s culture, whether it may be Australia, Tahiti, or Hawaii, corporate companies exploit frequently traveled destinations and find ways to profit and gain from tourism. I think it is very important for tourist to understand that there is a difference between appreciating or respecting a culture and mimicking a culture. Penaran emphasizes in her article 10 Things To Know About Hawaiian Representation in Media that “appreciating the culture is fine, trying to mimic aspects of it is not” (Penaran). Trask clarifies that the statistics in the growth of corporate tourism in Hawaii is staggering because more than 30 years ago, “Hawai’i residents outnumbered tourists by more than 2 to 1. Today, tourists outnumber residents by 6 to 1; they outnumber Native Hawaiians by 30 to 1”, which is an outrageous ratio (Trask). The impact that tourism has put onto Hawaii is staggering. According to Trask, right now there are 6 tourists for every Hawaii resident. That ratio gets even bigger when counting native Hawaiians; there are 30 tourists for every native Hawaiian living on the state of Hawaii.
In movies such as 50 First Dates and Lilo and Stich, the first thing you notice is the Hawaiian music and beautiful untouched lands where people are having fun and enjoying life on the beach. In 50 First Dates, the settings included very vacant lands, old diners, dirt roads, and very undeveloped parts of the island. 50 First Dates was first aired in 2004, which makes it a fairly new movie. In 2004, the Hawaii I was raised in looked nothing like the landscape in the movie. In contradiction to popular cultures depictions, Hawaii is fairly well developed with big corporate buildings, fancy huge dream houses, and many real pavement roads. In the book Images That Injure, it is said that “the land itself has similarly been portrayed as ripe and ready for the Westerners picking” which dates back to when the westerners found and took Hawaii from the native Hawaiians, and then westernized the land and took advantage of the vast resources (Tom Brislin, 2003, 106). For some reason even in 2004, the directors of 50 First Dates portrayed Hawaii in this way, which made Hawaii seem “ripe” and untouched, ready to be built on. It seems odd that the movie was filmed in Hawaii but many of the scenes were in remote areas, which portrayed Hawaii to be an undeveloped state. This makes me wonder if the directors of the movie who aren’t from Hawaii, disregarded how the rest of the island looked like, to appeal to the larger crowd who doesn’t know what Hawaii is like. I’m not going to lie, the way popular culture portrays Hawaii would make me want to live there, if I wasn’t already and but for entertainment purposes the movie is hilarious and appealing but inaccurate. In the movie Lilo & Stitch, Hawaii is also depicted as being a paradise where everyone knows how to surf these big waves two times the size of the surfers. In reality, surfing is not as common as one would think and those who do know how to surf would stay out of the water when the waves were as big as they were in the Lilo & Stitch.
In the movies 50 First Dates and Beyond Paradise the local people of Hawaii were portrayed to be un-educated and not as smart as the westerners in the movie. In the movie 50 First Dates, the workers at the restaurant and friends who were perceived to be Hawaiian, were depicted as being not as quick witted and smart as the westerner Adam Sandler. In the book, Images That Injure written by Paul Martin Lester and Susan Dente Ross explain one of the common depictions about the people of Hawaii, which is “self-inflated men who preen and strut but are easily fooled by superior western intelligence” (Tom Brislin, 2003, 106). Many people are unaware that Hawaii was illegally annexed by the United States, and because of this overtaking there is this stigma that the Westerners are more intelligent than the native Hawaiians. In the movie Beyond Paradise, the local friends of the main character Mark Thompson were Hawaiian and they were depicted as being less intelligent and un-educated based on the way they talked, and the way they acted up inside and out of class. Their friend Mark Thompson was a Caucasian man from California who was portrayed to be educated, book smart, but naïve. Mark was the one to help the three friends take school and life more seriously with graduation coming up and at the same time, the friends were teaching Mark how to have fun and how to treat people with respect. This movie shed light on the fact that native Hawaiians are just as smart as Westerners, but Hawaiians have a negative attitude toward school and the system. Mark Thompson and his friends were able to work out their differences, and learned that although Mark was Caucasian and his friends were Hawaiian, they were not so different after all.
What it’s really like:
Contradicting to what you’ve might of seen or heard through popular culture, people do not ride their pet dolphins to class and we do not surf to the grocery store. We wear regular clothes just like everyone else, the only difference is that its hot enough to wear shorts and slippers. Life in Hawaii is much like the life in the mainland, people have everyday problems but escaping them is a little easier in Hawaii. People in Hawaii do not wear aloha shirts everyday, not everybody surfs, and we do not go to Luaus for fun. Many adolescents and teens are extremely active and play various types of sports such as baseball, basketball, football, soccer, and golf. All of my friends played sports and I personally played baseball mainly and some basketball and judo. The one thing that truly differentiates Hawaii from other places is the sense of love and “aloha” that people show to each other in everyday life. For example in Hawaii, drivers will sit at the stop sign and both drivers will waive for the other driver to go, compared to the mainland where some people don’t even obey the stop signs. Locals from Hawaii also have die-hard loyalty and will sacrifice for one another, maybe too much at times. A good example is in Beyond Paradise, Mark’s friend Ronnie stands up for Mark when another local was making fun of him, Ronnie fights him and beats him up and the guy ends up actually dying and Ronnie goes to jail. This brings up another point that people in Hawaii are very physical and have a lot of pride and when that pride is tested, people fist fight out of respect. It is hard to comprehend how locals deal with disputes but locals will argue, fight until someone is hurt, and then shake hands after all is said and done. Well most of the time, not in Ronnie’s case in Beyond Paradise. Hawaii may seem like a paradise when you are there for a short time and if you are on vacation with no responsibilities, but as a resident, the reality isn’t all its cracked up to be. There are many problems such as poverty, over population, racism, and also the taking of the land from the native Hawaiian people. The movies Lilo & Stitch correctly portrayed some of the local’s financial problems such as Nani, Lilo’s older sister who has trouble keeping a job, and most of the jobs available were jobs at tourist attractions. Also, Beyond Paradise did a good job at depicting the problems at home that locals have, such as the friends of Mark Thompson who lived in very old houses, had parents who were too busy working to parent their children, and also lived in poverty. Don’t get me wrong, there are wealthy people who live in Hawaii, but there is a greater amount of people who are not, and some have to work two or three jobs to keep up with the increasing cost of living due to the steadily increasing population of Hawaii. Trask wrote about this in her article, she shed light on the growing population of tourist and how many mainlanders are deciding to move to Hawaii. This ultimately takes away from the locals who are battling to stay alive financially. More and more people are moving to Hawaii and the cost of living is rapidly increasing due to the shortage of space available. After all, there is only so much you can build on an island. As Penaran mentions, local housing prices are going through the roof due to the enormous amount of vacation homes, residential homes, golf resorts, and luxury hotels being created to support the booming of the tourism industry (Penaran). Many native Hawaiians are very angry and are spiteful of the tourist because of the fact that many truly believe that Hawaii became the 50th state of America illegally. When Hawaii was becoming a state, the Queen Liliuokalani was captured, taken hostage, and forced to sign documents that would make Hawaii the 50th state. To this day, many locals are actively fighting for the sovereignty of the Hawaiian Islands. There is some racism in Hawaii, it is portrayed in the movie Beyond Paradise when Mark’s friends make fun of him in class for how he dresses and calls him “haole” because he is from the mainland. Some native Hawaiians are angry at most westerners who are tourist or new to the land because they feel as if the land has been stolen from them and now it is being used as an commodity to make money off of the people who stole it and those who owned it in the first place.
There are many depictions of Hawaii, the people, and the lifestyle. It is very hard to visit Hawaii or watch a movie about Hawaii to truly get a understanding of what its like to live here, and this shows in the way the directors portrayed Hawaii in their movies. It is important to keep in mind that whether you live in Hawaii or are just on vacation, it is important to not try to mimic, but to respect and appreciate the culture and traditions of the native Hawaiian people. The makers of the movie 50 First Dates and Lilo & Stitch were not raised in Hawaii and because of that their portrayal of the islands were inaccurate and their depictions may be based on a visitors point on view. The director of the movie Beyond Paradise was raised in Kailua, Hawaii, which is why his independent film was a more accurate portrayal of the life of the locals of Hawaii. This movie was able to accurately portray the good and the bad that goes on in Hawaii such as; racism, poverty, want for sovereignty, loyalty, beauty, and lifestyle of the Hawaii locals while also entertaining the viewers. All three movies in some way differed from my view of growing up in Hawaii because of the different experiences that each person faces based on how long you’ve lived in Hawaii, where you grew up, and also what kind of experiences that each person faced.
One of the learning moments that I gained from taking this class has been learning how to sort through the tons of news that is being put refreshed onto our phone screens. Learning how to take into account that is writing the story, why they might want to tell the story, and also learning to fact check everything before taking the information to be true. I was not heavily educated on media literacy and with the past election and other big news events, which seem to happen far too much, I’ve gained the ability to weave through bias news.
The second learning moments I gained from taking this class have been learning about the different resources at the library. Learning how to use and operate the Portland State library website is essential for my future classes. My ability to find primary and secondary sources from the PSU library have strengthened and being able to locate appropriate sources is very important. Lastly learning that we can get help from the librarian on where to find appropriate sources is something that I will keep in mind when writing future papers and assignments.
Beyond Paradise. Written by David Cunningham and David Walker. Directed by David Cunningham. Kama’aina Film Partners. Pray For Rain Pictures Inc. 1998.
Islander Writers, 12 Sept. 2008. Web. 06 Nov. 2016.<https://manjioca.wordpress.com/2008/09/12/lovely-hula-hands-by-haunani-kay-trask/>.
Lilo & Stich. Dean DeBlois. Chris Sanders. Clark Spencer. Lisa Poole. 2002.
Penaran, Angelica. “10 Things to Know About Hawaiian Representation in the Media (with Images, Tweet) · Apenaran.” Storify. N.p., 2015.Web. 29 Nov. 2016. <https://storify.com/apenaran/getting-started>.
Ross, Susan Dente., and Paul Martin. Lester. “Chapter 13 Exotics, Erotics, And Coconuts: Stereotypes on Pacific Islanders.” Images That Injure: Pictorial Stereotypes in the Media. Westport: Praeger,2003. 103-111. Print.
Trask, Haunani. “Lovely Hula Hands.” Manjioca Uma Brasilian Feminista. Lovely Hula Hands by HaunaniKayTrask Comments. Pacific
50 First Dates. George Wing. Peter Segal. Columbia Pictures Corporation and Happy Madison Productions. 13 February 2004.