Everything old is new again! As someone whose corpulence is directly related to stressors I can tell you I am relieved to say goodbye to skinny jeans and welcome flowing garb, oversized tees, and parachute pants back into my wardrobe. Oh, who am I kidding? Just look at my profile picture! I love me some old-timey elegance. I’ve been quietly obsessing about The Duke of Windsor’s Bathrobe circa 1953 for about 2 years now. Suffice to say, that I can appreciate me a solid aesthetic. I can also appreciate nostalgia. When I was a kid in Mexico City, my family took me to a magical Polynesian themed restaurant called Mauna Loa where I had my first taste of sweet and sour pork. The place was a mid century dream in the heart of Mexico DF with waterfalls, bamboo, and the corpses of various exotic fauna. It was amazing and it triggered a lifelong love affair between me and far flung pacific isles.
Fast forward to my adult life where the obsession that started at Mauna Loa is translated into a home Tiki Bar. A very well curated Tiki Bar. None of this generic stuff. Replicas from the Bishop Museum , local art from Tonga, a flag from America Samoa, and yes, the mugs and kitsch trappings of “Tiki culture”. With Hawaii 5-0, Don Ho, and Haitian nobility interspersed among the bamboo and greenery, my little corner of paradise was ripe for a Genesis style fall.
And so rolled in the forbidden fruit. Over the Summer, in one of the many Tiki forums that I track for decorative and rattan furniture purposes, the question was asked:
“Is this harmless fun, or is it insensitive cultural appropriation?”
A totally valid question. One that I had been wrestling with for a while. I mean, if you are part of a Tiki, retro, vintage, midcentury modern, roaring 20’s, or “Dapper” community, you should be inspecting the impact of all aspects of your hobby on the world. You should become, a pseudo expert on all the aspects of the time and place you love so well. Do the aesthetics and memories you treasure match up with your values? You might be surprised to find that your vintage herringbone Hugo Boss suit was designed by Nazis and made by slave labor in a concentration camp. Your slick Italian spectators may have more in common with the Italian occupation of Abyssinia than a genteel day at the races. Or maybe you just don’t care if you wear a Nazi suit.
So what was the reaction? A civilized discourse? Bahahahaha! Of course not! It’s the internet! What happens when you confront an audience of fragile white men in their forties with the reality of how their “good natured” hobbies are impacting communities of color?
“It has nothing to do with Polynesian culture”
Yes it does. You know it does.
“It’s how the sailors during WW2 interpreted it!”
So segregation era interpretation of another culture, right? We should probably look at that.
“Why do you social justice warriors have to ruin everything?”
Why is your ego so fragile that you can’t even discuss the impact of something on communities of color? Delicate, delicate, snowflake.
You’re a socialist which means you are for mass murder!
Not mass murder. Just the selective torture of comment section trolls.
Eventually the thread was deleted and the anger subdued, or at least went back into hiding. But the damage was done. For me at least. The viciousness of the primarily white male crowd stuck with me. They suck. Tiki sucks. Every time i see a Tiki mug I think about the flaccid, pasty, profiles that furiously attacked the conversation. Then November rolled around and there’s new vintage stuff. Like vintage racism, internment camps (AKA private immigration prisons), and having to discuss whether or not we should talk to Nazis instead of just punching them in the teeth.
I’m not enabling this. Any of it. I will not be a proxy to your vague racism and nostalgia for 50’s style white supremacy just so I can feel good about my investment in mid-century kitsch. Your warped memories and appreciation of an aesthetic is not more valuable than the struggle of Pacific Islanders, and the fact that it is not even up for discussion in those circles makes me sick to my stomach. I can’t trust the Tiki “community “ to address this issue in civil conversation because there is no arguing with white supremacy there is only resistance. In the same way I can’t trust Civil War re-enactors who choose the Confederacy or worse, WW2 re-enactors who wear Hugo Boss.
I know there are a lot of good, honest, people out there who enjoy dressing up in flowered shirts and drinking elaborate drinks who have given this no thought. You have the privilege of choosing whether or not you add to this conversation about how Pacific Islanders and Polynesian culture is portrayed. I choose to err on the side of “I’m not qualified to opine”. So it goes in these dark days where POC like me and my family are under assault. I would rather sacrifice my privilege for the humanity of others than drink another tropical drink in the company of fools. Or as my wife put it “I don’t want something in my house that will be considered blackface in a decade.”