82 Trouble in Paradise: Hawaii, Golf, and Postcolonialism

Geneva Sambor

Drew Berrymore, Adam Sandler, and Rob Schneider star in 50 First Dates, a comedy set in Hawaii. I was drawn to the film when we first discussed Postcolonial theory in class, mainly because Hawaii has been the fiftieth state of the United States since August 21, 1959. Hawaii exists as a hybrid culture: Asians, a category that includes Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Thai and Filipino immigrants whose ancestors once worked on the islands’ sugar cane and pineapple fields, are collectively the largest group at 37%.
CulturalSurvival.org features writer Trask Haunani-Kay’s article, The Struggle for Hawaiian Sovereignty – Introduction, in which he writes: 
The latest affliction of corporate tourism has meant a particularly insidious form of cultural prostitution. The hula, for example, an ancient form of dance with deep spiritual meaning, has been made ornamental, a form of exotica for the gaping tourist. Far from encouraging a cultural revival, as tourist industry apologists contend, tourism has appropriated and cheapened our dance, music, language, and people, particularly our women. Burdened with commodification of our culture and exploitation of our people, Hawaiians now exist in an occupied country whose hostage people are forced to witness, and for many of us to participate in, our collective humiliation as tourist artifacts for the world’s rich.

Haunani-Kay’s point here is that the Hawaiian culture is significantly diluted within this hybrid-island, capitalist-driven, tourism-centered space of being. Yes, this state of being would indicate secondary colonialism, but would it not also point to the debris of a postcolonial explosion? Anne McClintock differentiates between colonialismpostcolonialism, and hybridity:

To enter colonial space, you stoop through a low door, only to be closetted in another black space-a curatorial reminder, however fleeting, of Fanon: “The native is a being hemmed in.” But the way out of colonialism, it seems, is forward. A second white word, POSTCOLONIALISM, invites you through a slightly larger door into the next stage of history, after which you emerge, fully erect, into the brightly lit and noisy HYBRID STATE.
(McClintock, The Angel of Progress, Pitfalls of the Term ‘Postcolonialism’)

McClintock refers to the hybrid state as “brightly lit” and “noisy” here, which suggests a range of discord and disorder. The emergence of the term hybridity as a postcolonial epiphany attracts attention away from the colonial atrocities the indigenous culture endured, and normalizes the colonial experience. McClintock makes the point in her essay that the term ‘postcolonial’ implies singularity–and singularity overshadows diversity within a cultural narrative.

The golf scene in 50 First Dates  is a spectacular example to explore Hollywood’s representation of the Hawaiian culture as it merges with the ‘new’ cultural norms imparted by the West:

Adam Sandler (Henry) is juxtaposed with Rob Schneider’s Hawaiian persona, Ula, as they take part in the traditional, elitist game of golf. Ula’s shirt is open, he is a disheveled-looking, laid-back version of a Hawaiian native projected by the Western viewer. My central analysis of this scene is devoted to Ula’s conversation about sharks with the golf caddie:

“What’s wrong with that, cuz, sharks are naturally peaceful.”
“Is that right? How’d you get that nasty cut anyway?”
“A shark bit me.”

If one were to think of the U.S. as the colonizing country in this context, Ula’s close relationship with Henry indicates the initial trust of colonization. Ula and Henry’s friendship displays traditional Western qualities of manhood, yet the two characters have completely different origins. Henry is a different kind of colonial shark, but he still passively partakes in the hybrid-narrative. Colonial residue remains in the ocean, and the sharks will continue to bite again and again.

Lastly, Henry’s sexualization of Drew Berrymore (Lucy) as she walks toward him in traditional Hawaiian dress is dictated by a Westernized view of beauty. Henry does not dream of a indigenous Hawaiian woman, he instead envisions a white woman walking on the beach. Henry even goes so far as to refer to Lucy as a ‘local when he is surrounded by Ula and his children, who are of Asian descent.

I suppose my remaining questions surrounding postcoloniality in Hawaii are, who has the authority to dictate what a local or native Hawaiian is when Hawaii exists as a hybrid culture? Will Hawaii ever emerge as a new culture altogether that is separate from its original culture? Has this already happened?

Hawaii’s reputation for being a vacation hot-spot plays a significant role in the native Hawaiian narrative:
[NOTE: The video features inappropriate language]


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The Student Theorist: An Open Handbook of Collective College Theory Copyright © 2018 by Geneva Sambor is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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