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Pursuit of Paradise? US-American Audiovisual Touristic Presentation(s) of Hawai’i in the Second Half of the 20th Century

“For millions of people around the world Hawai’i is a dream destination – the vacation of a lifetime.”[1]. Starting with the end of World War II Hawai’i transformed from an exclusive holiday destination available to only a small segment of the US-American population into an accessible dream destination of an increasing part of the US-American society. Growing structures in tourism as well as improving infrastructure on and on the way to Hawai’i made travelling to the islands more comfortable, shortened the travel time, and cut the costs. In the interplay with growing prosperity, an increasing interest in journeys overseas and the deep rooting of Hawai’i within the memory of the US-American society the archipelago came to the wide public’s mind. Finally, the proclamation of Hawai’i as 50th state on August 21st, 1959 furthered the US-American population’s desire to explore the new part of the U.S. and experience the ever growing magic of the islands. Hawai’i turned into one of the most popular leisure themes of the US-American population. The island state’s conception as symbol of paradise solidified and Hawai’i functioned as a projection space that amalgamated the people’s desire for leisure, exoticness, adventure and nativeness. However, as well as focusing on the islands as counter-image and vanishing point, the US-American tourists looked at Hawai’i with a sense of superiority and sense of mission. The archipelago was perceived as playing field where there cumulated the society’s longings “[…] to play and possess.”[2]. Hawai’i evolved into a “[…] manifest destination […]”[3]of the United States. The term ‘manifest destination’ not only implies a justification for the ongoing military, political and cultural exertion of influence based on gendered and racialized conceptions, but also points to the transformation of Hawai’i into an eroticized commodity of the tourism industry. Thereby, the US-American tourists did not merely act as marveling guests and admirer of paradise, but acted as cultural agents and consumers of the imagination of Hawai’i as paradise and dream of the South Seas.

Therefore, the PhD project focuses on the US-American tourism from the mainland to Hawai’i in the second half of the 20th Century. It aims at analyzing the audio-visual presentation(s) of Hawai’i found in advertisements by the tourist industry and companies, in newspaper and journal articles, guidebooks, travelogues, and tonal sound concepts. Numerous facets of the island state such as Native Hawai’ians, traditional Hawai’ian culture and cultural expressions as well as nature and natural landscape are taken into account. In dealing with issues of cultural manifestations the project makes use of several thematic subcategories like religion, music, language, dance and food and drink, just to mention a few.

Starting point is the overarching question: What kind of touristic image of Hawai’i do the primary sources evoke? Therefore, prominent interpretative patterns, keywords, images, symbolisms, and forms of representation that shaped the touristic presentation, must be identified. Special emphasis is put on the content of the images drawn to point out which specific aspects contributed to the presentation and perception of Hawai’i as paradise and dream of the South Seas.

The PhD project tries to provide a first approach to fill the gap between the conscious promotion of the conception of Hawai’i as paradise and the question of the impetus of the pursuit of paradise. Only a simultaneous analysis of textual and audiovisual sources stresses the importance of sensual experiences in creating and maintaining Hawai’i as place of longing thus making possible to understand and retrace the development of Hawai’i from a hidden island somewhere in the Pacific Ocean to a dream destination and symbolization of paradise and dream of the South Seas.     


[1] Mak, James Developing A Dream Destination. Tourism and Tourism Policy Planning in Hawai’i. Honolulu: The University of Hawai’i Press, 2008, p. 1.

[2] Hogue, John S. Cheeseburger in Paradise. Tourism and Empire at the Edges of Vacationland. American Quarterly, 63 (1) 2011, pp.203-214, 204.

[3] Gonzalez, Vernadette Vicuña Securing Paradise. Tourism and Militarism in Hawai’i and the Philippines. Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2013, p.23.