The false idols of America's south seas fantasy


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Fantasy? It’s just as real as any Disney property found in an enchanted room!

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How come complaints of “cultural appropriation” rarely comes up when it comes to Poly Pop? Not that I’m lodging any now, but why doesn’t it?

No big visible population of Polynesians around to object?

And it occurs to me: It is mostly about the props, not the people. The occasional fire dancer maybe, but Tiki culture is mostly about leaf roofed cabanas, statues, funny drinks and the like.


Discussion of Polynesian religions is seriously wrong. It was not ancestor worship as usually understood … as in China, frex. The island aristocrats believed that they had power (mana) because they descended from the gods. They were the ones with the impressive genealogies (such as the Kumulipo). Commoners could remember a few generations only.


This is so much a part of my childhood. In my town there was a restaurant with a tiki theme, although the menu was just standard American Chinese - moo goo gai pan and the like. But the menu offered drinks served in skulls with deadly warnings.

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Could they really be aliens?

There was one of those near the SIlver Spring Metro stop in the 1980s. It was a little run down. As we walked in one evening the waiter was doing the Heimlich on a fat lady and I swear to god she coughed up what looked like an entire pork chop which she had apparently been trying to swallow whole like an anaconda.


Close, this was Arlington, near what is now called Ballston. But I think they closed in the 70s when they renovated the vintage mall it was in.

The Tonga Room at the Fairmont Hotel on Knob Hill is a classic. It has a lagoon which used to be the hotel’s swimming pool. The Fairmont itself is worth a visit because it is a grand old hotel and one of the few building that that survived the earthquake of 1906.

My big kahuna CEO is a major Tiki guy (not-a-mega-millions-CEO)… It is always fun to visit his home because I get to sample his latest rum acquisitions and check out the latest tiki statue that he has commissioned. His wife is a graphic designer who kinda loves that Atomic Tiki vibe, so I guess that they bonded over that… There are always a few folks at his gatherings that he has met via his Tiki-bar adventures and they are always fun, but give off the same vibe that I get off of others that are a bit obsessed with an artificial “culture”. It is the same as when I visit my friend who is involved with medieval/renaissance stuff except there I am tasting different meads and checking out her new tent for the Pennsic Wars… All just different flavors of Nerd – Tiki-Nerds, Medieval-Nerds, etc (as a rigorously traditional Geek-Nerd, I find their failure to be authentic quite disturbing).

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‘The Heimlich’ ought to supplant twerking as the latest Reprehensible Dance.

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They all sound authentically drunk, at least.


As a traditional Geek, I only imbibe the finest Romulan Ale analogues…

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I remember that place, I ate there once…

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In my experience, folks who are a “bit obsessed with an artificial culture” tend to be more thoughtful and responsible about it than the tailgating yahoos* wearing halfassed Indian headdresses and doing the Tomahawk Chop at ballgames. The people who ran the Tiki bar I used to frequent seemed to have a deep appreciation for it, while fully understanding that complicated frozen umbrella cocktails are not an accurate representation of authentic historical Polynesian culture.

* Yahoos, of course, being a truly artificial culture.


Saturday afternoons I used to go a couple blocks over to the Thai Market, the thrift shop, and Atlantic Guns, all of which seem to still be around.

Native Americans have local representatives and are politically connected enough that their opposition is well-known.

The Polynesians are far away and no one has heard any complaints, so it must be ok. Besides, we are only appropriating their culture ironically.

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Because you’re not exposed to the people who do indeed critique it?

And because people who are into “Tiki culture” are often white geek leftie types - the last time someone made a critical comment about Tiki bars on my FB friends list, a whole bunch of folks who would normally drop everything and run for a chance to be an ally about, say, white-on-black racism or transphobia or etc. completely lost their minds and got themselves so worked up into an orgy of self-righteous snark that it was completely insufferable.

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