Wednesday 24 January 2018

Before Tiki: The Romance of Hawaii in the Golden Age of Travel

Tiki culture - the fantasy world of thatch-roofed bars, Hawaiian shirts, and whimsical ceramic mugs - was largely a product of post-World War II American leisure society, when soldiers who served in the Pacific returned home to build and benefit from an unparalleled economic boom. With more money and more time off than their parents could have dreamed of, reminiscing of faraway beaches and palm trees, Americans took to the road during ever lengthening vacation days while building oases for themselves at home during the off-season. Advances in transportation could bring them virtually anywhere, whether by America's developing system of highways or the flyways of the new Jet Age. With Communist Cuba off-limits, an exotic, tropical destination was placed right on Americans' doorstep when Hawaii joined the Union in 1959. The fad for anything and everything evoking Polynesia, Oceania, even Africa and the Caribbean, exploded like an atom bomb, from Walt Disney's Enchanted Tiki Room to Martin Denny's smooth Jazz to the ubiquitous at-home Tiki bar.

Walt and Jose welcome guests to the Enchanted Tiki Room. Photo: Disney.

Americans had already been primed by Polynesian exotica for several decades before WWII. The roots of Tiki culture are found deep in the DNA of America's relationship with the Pacific, in the very first tropical supper clubs that would become Tiki pioneers, in lavish Hollywood musicals, and in radio programs broadcast from the ballrooms of Hawaii's most glamorous hotels. Despite French and English interests in the South Pacific - New Zealand, for example, and Tahiti - it was the Americans' unique relationship with Hawaii that fostered the development of Tiki culture... Not as cultural appropriation, but rather, as an expression of genuine Americana.

Resolution and Adventure with fishing craft in Matavai Bay (1776) by William Hodges.

Wednesday 10 January 2018

Walt Disney World's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

A film as important as Disney's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea meant that it has always had a presence at Disney's theme parks, in one way or another. A walk-through museum of the film's sets was originally planned for the Opera House on Disneyland's Main Street U.S.A. before finding a home in Tomorrowland in 1956. Disneyland Paris stepped up the concept by floating a full-size Nautilus in Discoveryland's lagoon, allowing visitors to descend into it and examine Nemo's ship for themselves. Tokyo Disneysea took it even further and created the Mysterious Island: Nemo's volcanic base, with a full-sized Nautilus at dock and two rides based on 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Journey to the Center of the Earth.

Arguably the most archetypal was Walt Disney World's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea submarine voyage. When the Magic Kingdom opened in 1971, it imported Disneyland's 1959 classic Submarine Voyage, one of the original park's most popular attractions. To differentiate the two, this trip through "liquid space" was transferred from Tomorrowland to Fantasyland and given a brand new overlay. Instead of the atomic navy submersibles of the 20th century (which were themselves no longer as futuristic as they were in 1959), these became the iron-rivet crafts of the 19th. Where Disneyland allowed guests to ride in a replica of the USS Nautilus, Walt Disney World allowed guests to ride in the Nautilus.