Friday, July 18, 2014

Tiki modern

By strange coincidence, the very week I declared that I wanted to blog more about Tiki culture and Exotica, Wired chose to declare that this stuff died long ago:
By the mid-1960s the horrors of Viet Nam made the prospect of remote beaches less idyllic. A growing sensitivity to the poor treatment of indigenous people made many uncomfortable with the idea of drinking from a glass shaped like a native girl. And by the time a cursed tiki caused Greg Brady to take a spill on his surfboard in 1972, the fad was finished.
That's from the very end of the Wired piece, which is called "The Bizarre Rise and Fall of the Tiki Bar". It's neither well-researched nor well-written piece. It casually credits Don the beachcomber with the invention of the Mai Tai, which is an arguable position but a deeply controversial one. The piece is a review of a Taschen book and it is quite possible that everything the reviewer thinks he knows about Tiki.

But let's focus on that paragraph I cite above for a moment. The opening claim is one of those statements that is so confused it cannot even be wrong. To be able to say that with authority, you'd need to be able to read millions of peoples' minds and somehow process their thoughts through a zeitgeist meter or some such thing. What we really have here is a collection of prejudices passing themselves as thought.

That said, the article accidentally blunders into the truth a couple of times. These bits, for example, hover on the edge of profundity.
One of the more interesting aspects of the Tiki phenomena was how it developed alongside the more austere school of mid-century modernism. While the Eames were experimenting with materials of the future, Kirsten believes tiki designers were trying to recreate Eden. As more and more people spent their days in soaring glass and steel skyscrapers, the tiki lifestyle allowed people to enjoy a bit of paradise on their patios.
Despite ending up as a kitschy architectural footnote, the Tiki aesthetic has a surprisingly cosmopolitan and intellectual provenance.
For a long, long time, fans of French modernist painting from the end of the 19th century used to dismiss the PreRaphaelites as nostalgic throwbacks who had nothing to do with the modern world. At the same time, they had to admit that the people behind PreRaphaelitism were surprisingly intellectual and cosmopolitan. Now you may think that comparison is rather lofty. Go ahead and think it, I won't be hurt.

I think there is room to treat Tiki culture and Exotica not as a kitschy footnote but as a different way to be modern without being modernist, a laudable goal in my opinion. More to come ...

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