FreshMeat #1: Blue Hawaii, or Viva Las Vegas

FreshMeat #1 from Steve Portigal

               (oo) Fresh                  
                \\/  Meat

Pass it on!

What is the connection between quality and authenticity?
And is it really a small world after all?
Do you ever watch other people when you go on vacation?
Perhaps it’s an occupational hazard, but I find myself
constantly curious about the people I see. Did they
choose this place for the same reasons I did? If not,
what brought them here?

This seems to be a fun exercise although it’s rare to
get any answers. It does provoke self-analysis, which if
you’re me, is a good thing to do on vacation.
I found myself in Waikiki a little while ago. It’s
totally a tourist area – a few blocks with hundreds of
hotels, surf lessons, beaches, palm trees, cafes, and
restaurants. Other parts of Hawaii are considered by
some as the “real” place to go – in fact I have to fight
the need to apologize for choosing Waikiki as my

While there, I thought a lot about previous trips to Las
Vegas, which is another area that exists solely for
tourists to come and consume manufactured tourist

Vegas is typified by the Venice casino, a recreation of
its namesake (indoors), with clouds painted on the
ceiling and gondoliers who use professional audio
equipment for their singing. To me, it’s crap. Most of
the Strip is (increasingly) this sort of crap.

In Waikiki, two guys in an SUV pull up to the beach at
6:30, then leap out clad in a brand-new bright red and
gold nylon traditional toga-like outfit (obviously, it
looks nothing like a toga, but the point is, there are
no pants to it). One takes a conch shell and stoically
blows into it three times, turning 90 degrees each time.
The other scampers around carrying a burning stick and
lights all the built-in torches along the beach.

Now, this struck me as cool. Obviously, this was
completely manufactured for tourists who want to think
they’ve had some kind of authentic Hawaiian experience.
It was goofy, but I pointed out to myself that at least
it was derived from something real. To me, this form of
revisionism seemed less dangerous, less offensive, and
less crappy than mini-versions of Paris, New York, or

Is it simply the fact that Vegas passes itself off as
opulent indulgence (successfully, it seems) that presses
so hard on the inauthentic button for me? Or is the
context of Hawaii so powerfully wonderful that no amount
of Disneyfication can eliminate it? And why is it that
the guys dressed up like Klingons at the Star Trek
Experience were the most genuine thing in all of Las

Clearly further study on these locations is required. My
current hypothesis is that it is the vacationer’s intent
(gamble, relax, indulge, party, nature-immersion, etc.)
that tints the sunglasses the appropriate shade of rose.

Postscript: If you’re interested in Hawaii from a
cultural and historical point of view, check out The
American Raj
by John Gregory Dunne, in the May 7, 01 New
Yorker. He looks at the multiple ethnic groups and
cultures (the Navy being one of them) that make up
Hawaii, and does a nice comparison of Pearl Harbor (the
event), Pearl Harbor (the movie), and the sinking of the
Japanese fishing boat by the Greenville.

Postscript 2: A recent NYT travel feature “Honolulu
Proves Clichés Can Charm
” provides more description of


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