Monday, July 21, 2014

Losing an unreal world

I won't pretend to know why Tiki culture rose to such prominence after the second world war or why it was revived early in this century. What I'd like to suggest instead is one reason why some people, myself included, were and are so attracted to it. In short, the thing about faux-Polynesian culture is that it is a lost world.

Lost? Yes,  because  it was a fantasy world for so long. This was the land of faraway accounts, a place you might read about but never hope to go to. For a long, long time, the culture of the pacific islands was sold at second hand. It became a place that people read about and their imaginations filled in the details. You were very unlikely to go so you read about it as an armchair destination. At most, you might go see a musical about it. That unreal world was the least of the things that were forever destroyed by war but it was destroyed.

The second world war and the economic and technological boom that followed it made it realistic to think that we might go there. Even if you never do go, simply knowing that you could has forever changed the way we see such places.

Back when travel in Japan was severely restricted, people used to make gardens that were designed to evoke famous landscapes. Most of the people who saw such gardens, and even their creators, would never see the sight that the garden was meant to evoke. Think of how that changes the way you conceive of a place.

European medieval culture had similar imaginary lands, think of Lyonesse. It was a place that was not real and yet that you could imagine as real. Lyonesse would have none of its attraction if you couldn't imagine Tristan and Isolde as really existing. Outside of science fiction, we have nothing like that any more.

One reason, then, for the appeal of Tiki culture was that it offered an imaginary paradise. No one really thought the Polynesian islands were anything like what you saw in a Tiki bar; realism wasn't the attraction.

An unreal world is a very important thing for some us. 

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