Cultural sensitivity and the media

`Ano`ai kakou… My office has recently received several complaints from beneficiaries outraged about a commercial using our Hawaiian language and iconic Hawaii landmarks such as Waikiki Beach and Diamond Head to promote their alcoholic beverage.

The commercial portrays a “local” couple who have set up a cooler on Waikiki Beach (in view of Diamond Head) in the middle of the day to openly consume alcohol.  The commercial ends with the phrase “E ‘imi kou wahi kahaone/Find your beach” appearing across the screen.

It is my understanding that the company’s local distributor was looking for a “fun and effective way” to promote their beer and they were trying to maintain elements of their national advertising campaign (“Find Your Beach”) while including “strong geographical cues that would suggest this commercial was a local production that was focused on reaching local audiences.”

However, after viewing the commercial, I found it to be offensive, misleading and culturally insensitive for the following reasons:

(1) DRINKING ALCOHOL ON WAIKIKI BEACH IS ILLEGAL – Everyone knows you can’t set-up a cooler on Waikiki Beach and start drinking.  Not only is it blatantly illegal, it irresponsibly gives the mistaken impression that this type of behavior is tolerated by the local community.  Let’s hope that any tourist who saw the commercial doesn’t get the wrong idea.

(2) WAIKIKI BEACH IS FOR FAMILIES – The reason why alcohol is banned from Waikiki Beach is that Waikiki is primarily promoted as a family destination and attraction.  No parent wants their child to have to watch young adults dragging huge coolers through the sand and partying drunk while half naked.  Waikiki Beach is not a spring break party destination like Cancun (and we would never want it to be).

(3) NEGATIVE STEREOTYPE – Portraying locals drinking on the beach in the middle of the day also promotes and perpetuates the negative stereotype that all “local” people (Hawaiians) do all day is get drunk on a beach.

The beer commercial is reminiscent of the controversial 2006 ad in a magazine that depicting King Kamehameha’s statue holding a glass of champagne to promote cruises to Hawai’i.  While the beer commercial is nowhere near as offensive, it nonetheless shows that there is a lack of cultural sensitivity within the media, both here and on the mainland, and that OHA must be vigilant and vocal in speaking out against them.

I highly recommend that any ad agency or marketing firm thinking about using the Hawaiian language, culture, or historical figures in their advertisement to show some basic courtesy and take the time to consult a respected Native Hawaiian Cultural Practitioner first.  At the very least, they could call OHA and we will be happy to assist them.

I have sent a letter to the beer company’s local distributor asking that they please show some consideration and courtesy to the Hawaiian Community by immediately ceasing all future broadcasts of the beer commercial.  I also asked them to remove the commercials from video websites such as YouTube.

Let your voices be heard on this subject.  If you have comments to share, please write to our editor or call the local distributor.  Aloha Ke Akua.

How the state ripped the heart out of Waikiki:

DLNR values the dollar over Hawaiian-owned business, despite the fact that tourism is dependent on our unique Hawaiian Culture and Aloha spirit


Source: September 2006 Ka Wai Ola o OHA Column

`Ano`ai kakou…  Barry Napoleon established Hawai’i’s first beach concession in 1952 on the sands of Waikiki Beach.  Although competitors moved in and the beach boys jockeyed for position, the tourists still saw the best O’ahu had to offer.  Surfing lessons, canoe rides, or just plain talking story, the Waikiki Beach Boys personified the spirit of aloha.  Then, Barry experienced first-hand how the state only gives lip service about our “aloha spirit.”

Barry said that from 1982 to 1984, he paid $400 a month to Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) for an 8 by 12-foot space in front of the Hilton Hawaiian Village.  The DLNR took control of the beach concession stands after they saw the profits that could be made and began selling permits.

Problems for Barry began when he complained to the DLNR about alleged criminal activity out of his mainland competitor’s concession.  Three days later, the DLNR revoked his permit and confiscated his equipment, saying he had violated the conditions of his rental agreement by encroaching on several inches past his allotment of sand.

In 1985, he found a new home at the Waikiki Shores.  Barry was paying the owner $15,000 a month for ground-floor space fronting the beach.  The DLNR found out and evicted him.  Barry won a temporary restraining order so he could prove his permits were valid.  The DLNR ignored the court order and again confiscated his equipment.  Without his business, Barry could not earn enough money to press his case.  Earlier that same year, his two nephews tried to reopen a beach concession.  The state quickly tore it down.  Barry Napoleon was 65 years old at the time. He had spent the better part of his life on the beach at Waikiki and now the state took his livelihood in favor of mainlanders.

Eleven years later, it seems that DLNR is back at it again.  On July 26, 2006, Mary Vorsino of the Honolulu Advertiser wrote that after 29 years and thousands of students, Clyde Aikau closed his surfing school and concession stand at Duke Kahanamoku Beach in Waikiki and ended the only business he’s ever known.  Clyde, the brother of legendary surfer Eddie Aikau, was forced to let go of his 10 employees, which he hopes will find work as surf instructors with Hilton Hawaiian Village.  The Hilton is taking over the concession stand.  It is unbelievable to me that DLNR didn’t even give Aikau the courtesy of a break in the rent because of his expertise and tenure.

Vorsino quoted DLNR Chairman Peter Young as saying that Aikau has only himself to blame.  “We did not tell anybody what rent to suggest other than a minimum, and then it was competitive,” Young said. “We would hope they would evaluate their respective business plans and bid responsibly.”

I was shocked at the callousness and insensitivity of Young’s comments.  Where is his sympathy for struggling Hawaiian-owned businesses?  Like the tragedy with Barry Napoleon, DLNR seems to be once again putting the almighty dollar ahead of protecting the real reason people come to Hawaii – our unique Hawaiian culture and the Spirit of Aloha.  Marketing campaigns can’t sell what doesn’t exist.

I believe that OHA needs to investigate whether we should take control over the beach boy concessions at Waikiki Beach.  OHA could then ensure that the beach boys are culturally sensitive and that preferences are given to Hawaiian owned businesses.  After all, the beaches are considered submerged lands and are, therefore, ceded lands.

Tourists from around the world remembered Barry and other beach boys like him for one simple reason: they were genuine.  They were Hawaiian.  Let’s bring that authenticity back to Waikiki Beach.  Imua e Hawai’i nei…