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The Contemporary Pacific 14.2 (2002) 505-508

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Staging Tourism:
Bodies on Display from Waikiki to Sea World

Staging Tourism: Bodies on Display from Waikiki to Sea World, by Jane C Desmond. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999.ISBN0-226- 14375-9; xxv + 336 pages, photos, illustrations, notes, bibliography, index. US$30.00.

This ambitious book crosses so many boundaries that it is a bit dizzying. Primarily a history of the commodification and packaging of Hawai'i for the tourist industry, Staging Tourism connects bodily and performative metaphors to underscore what Desmond refers to as the "physical foundationalism" of the tourist industry. In her analysis of Hawai'i tourism, especially of the evolution of the hula girl icon, Desmond crosses disciplinary boundaries between the humanities and social sciences. She also breaches the species barrier by comparing the exhibition of human and nonhuman touristic performances, [End Page 505] both of which she traces from colonial contexts. Her investigation into animal performance is used to argue that bodily essentialism is the core of western ideologies of race, gender, and empire, which converge in the predominantly visual practices of tourism. Desmond attempts to unpack culture- and nature-oriented tourist performances, from hula to Shamu, to expose the power relationships they embody.

StagingTourism isdividedinto two unequal parts: Staging the Cultural, and Staging the Natural. Desmond's elucidation of the dominant culture's shifting but continual emphasis on the culture/nature divide sets up the fundamental premise of the book's argument and its principle organizational strategy. Part I, on cultural display and comprising six chapters, is considerably more developed than Part II, a merethree chapters on nature displays. Culture, it initially appears, is clearly weighing in over Nature. Desmond's goal, however, is to demonstrate the connective ideologies between displays in both realms. She deftly foreshadows her discussion of the subordination and appropriation of nature in her history of cultural display and refers back to Hawai'i tourism throughout the nature section. Dangerous captive Shamu the killer whale works as ploy for the more complex primitivism tropes invoked by the exoticized, erotized image of the hapa-haole (mixed race, part white) hula girl. Introductions and conclusions stress similar ways in which bodily difference (brown body, flippered body, performing body) becomes the marker of not-us-and-therefore-exotic (thrilling, titillating, reaffirming) identity for predominantly white, middle-class audiences. Parts I and II reiterate Desmond's central point: the non-white, non-middle-class, even non-human body is the stage on which the "white imaginary" of authentic culture or nature (or both) is projected and performed.

Part I, Staging the Cultural, begins with a trip to Germaine's Luau in Honolulu. This popular tourist attraction is used to illustrate a number of tropes in the packaging of Hawai'i tourism that Desmond later covers in more detail: nostalgiaand timelessness, eroticism and sensuality,exoticism,the hapa-haole look, and the hula girl as the central embodiment of all of these traits. Through narrativizing and performance that play to the audience's fantasies of Hawai'i, preconditioned by touristic advertising, Germaine's Luau creates the illusion of an Edenic natural setting in which inhibitions can be safely set aside. The markers of present-day Honolulu are erased. The ensuing five chapters trace the historical development of this manufactured image of Hawai'i and examine its connections to American ideologies of race, gender, empire, and commerce. Desmond analyzes the roles of early photography and postcards, performances at theWorld's Fairs, the mainland hula craze, and the popularizing of Hawaiian music in relation to Hawai'i's colonization, annexation, and statehood, but repeatedly returns to her emphasis on culture. She analyzes the construction of Native Hawaiians as"ideal natives," with the hula girl and the beach boy or surfer as the ultimate embodiments of this idealization, and explores how the representation of Hawaiians as [End Page 506] tractable and neither black nor white —the ultimate colonized subjects for a race-conscious America—functioned as a projection of white anxieties about expansion, immigration, multiculturalism, and modernity...


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