- Presenting Paradise
Here is a book which commands attention from many audiences. It addresses that most important question facing postmodern cultural studies: the question of the survival of minority cultures and of the individuals who reside within these cultures.
We are accustomed today to thinking of “minorities” as groups that have been divided off and dominated along lines of race, gender, age, or sexuality. Other “minorities,” united by a language, a system of exchange, or an investment in particular cultural practices or rituals, are often overlooked. The archetypal struggle of the Hawaiian people, whose identity is, among other things, closely bound up with dance, and whose hegemonic antagonist is nothing less than American culture as a whole, is thus potentially a very instructive one.
In Paradise Remade, Elizabeth Buck sets out to relate the recent cultural history of Hawai’i in a new way. Though grounded in Marxist theory, her overview draws upon many other paradigms, and seeks to adopt at least in part the point of view of the indigenous population itself rather than that of the colonizers.
Not surprisingly, imperialist and neo-imperialist ideologies are at the center of Buck’s argument. She takes apart the dominant myths of corporate tourism (Hawai’i as “paradise”), showing how this paradisal discourse came into being and what its social effects have been. But Buck is also concerned to examine the relatively recent counter-colonization effort by Hawaiians to recapture their history and culture. She describes the religious, political, and economic relationships which were integral to the practice of the sacred chants and the Hula, providing a case study comparable to those available for other indigenous peoples from the Canadian Inuit to the Australian Kooris.
This book, then, is not only a theoretically grounded historical description, but also a valuable contribution to postcolonial studies, and perhaps, most importantly, a manual for change for anyone who cares about the rights and values of indigenous cultures. It is a case study in power and domination for which the Hawaiian islands serve as a “location”—just as they have for many a Hollywood film. The book uses a reproduction of a production still from the Betty Grable vehicle Song of the Islands (1942) as a (literally) graphic illustration of this trend. Together with photographs of tourist brochures and sheet music (Rudy Vallee’s 1934 hit, “I found a little grass skirt, for my little grass shack in Hawaii”) to illustrate these aspects of popular culture, the etchings and photographs of historical and contemporary Hawaiian life complement the text. Because so much of this material is still readily available worldwide, the book can offer a more concrete case study than has been possible for scholars of other groups such as the Australian aborigines or the native inhabitants of the Amazon.
In her introduction, Buck makes the point that the practices of historiography are never innocent. Following Fernand Braudel of the Annales School, she distinguishes between the traditional kind of history “where great men appear as organizing things,” the history of conjuncture that examines major social and material expansions and contractions, and structural histories. She points out that traditional history, as dominant paradigm, privileges observational facts and data and the reliability of sources at the expense of theory and philosophy, and fails to recognize that the data of history is inscribed by ideology.
Starting with a description of the Kodak Hula Show which has been entertaining tourists and selling Hawaiian culture for over fifty years, the author proceeds to investigate one of the functions of myth. Her description of how the tourists are provided with “photo opportunities” in a regimented way is not without a gentle humor, yet the lesson that this procedure is the prototype for today’s worldwide tourist industry goes unspoken. She does not spell out the salient fact that tourists in Alice Springs in Australia’s heartland, or in Venice in the center of European history and culture, are today mimicking this Hawaiian model. Interested readers, will, no doubt, be able to make parallel observations to suit their own contexts. The ideological...