This article investigates the phenomenon of “Hawaiian Fevers” in US popular culture during the Progressive Era. Examining the careers of “hula” celebrities Toots Paka and Doraldina, I examine how both dancers sought to legitimize their appropriations of Hawaiian culture through performances of timelessness and wildness that established iconography of Hawai‘i as an otherworldly territory. The racial masquerade of this performed Hawaiianness eased white identification with embodiments of “going native” while also promising transformational access to a leisure-class paradise. Examining the press rhetoric surrounding both dancers, I consider how cross-race performances of hula instructed American women on how to be adeptly modern postindustrial imperial subjects. In fantasizing Hawai‘i as the restorative otherworld foil of the United States, these celebrities and the hula craze in which they participated reveal how the United States authenticates its own imagination of itself as a modernizing missionary of industrial imperialism.
“More Hawaiian Than Hawaii Itself”: The Hula Craze and US Empire in the Progressive Era
Briand “Brinni” Gentry (she/hers) is a PhD candidate in the department of Film, Television, and Media at the University of Michigan where she is working on a dissertation that examines how and why Hawai‘i and Hawaiianness became a ubiquitously durable shorthand of utopian paradise in US entertainment cultures at the turn of the twentieth century. Using an approach that blends historiographic methodologies with critical argumentation and media theory, her research examines the role an imperial imaginary of otherworldly paradise played in mediating, shaping, racializing, and configuring affective fantasies of escape from the dissatisfactions and anxieties attendant to industrial imperial capitalism.
Briand Gentry; “More Hawaiian Than Hawaii Itself”: The Hula Craze and US Empire in the Progressive Era. Feminist Media Histories 1 October 2023; 9 (4): 81–107. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/fmh.2023.9.4.81
Download citation file: