Trigger warning: This piece contains graphic descriptions of sexual and colonial violence.
Hatred is one of the most misunderstood processes at work in the world today. Cops are killing young people of color while simultaneously maintaining they’re not racists and do not hate the people they’re killing. A growing number of men watch pornography claiming they do not hate women. Millions of tourists visit Hawai’i annually – despite pleas from native Hawaiians to stop – and feel they are so far from hating Hawai’i, it’s their favorite place to visit.
While the real, physical world is burning at an ever faster pace, I could care less what those responsible feel in their hearts while they destroy. Maybe it’s true that a cop holds no hatred in his heart as he releases a flurry of bullets into another unarmed black person’s body. Maybe it’s true that a man feels no contempt as he orgasms to images of women being beaten in simulated rape scenes. Despite boarding giant fossil-fuel burning jets to see Hawai’i, despite supporting an invasive government responsible for genocide in order to keep Hawai’i’s borders open, despite paying money to industries that desecrate Hawaiian ancestors, maybe tourists to Hawai’i really do think they love the land they’re helping to destroy.
Then, again, maybe individual members of the dominant culture are more like the Nazi Eichmann who claimed no personal hatred for the Jews he was responsible for loading on cattle cars before they were exterminated in gas chambers.
Make no mistake, the dominant culture hates Hawai’i. If it didn’t, why is it killing species at a faster rate in Hawai’i than anywhere else in the world? If it didn’t, why is it dropping bombs on her islands? If it didn’t, why does it maintain an illegal occupation over the objections of her people?
What counts isn’t how a person feels, it’s what a person does. Settlers may feel an affinity for Hawaii, but when Hawaii is under attack as it has been for a century and a half, what counts is the material reality actions produce. When the planet’s life support systems are under attack, when, in other words, life itself is threatened to within inches of existence, material consequences are much more important than an emotional state.
In this Protecting Mauna Kea series, I want to encourage tangible support for native Hawaiian sovereignty in settler communities. In order to do that, I think it is necessary to understand the hatred expressed towards Hawai’i by the dominant American culture.
Before arriving in Hawai’i, I read and heard from several native Hawaiian scholars about the pornification of Hawaiian culture. I’ve learned right away how true this is. Just like men are conditioned to overlook hatred of women early in their lives through pornography’s propaganda, settlers are conditioned to hate Hawai’i through the pornification of Hawaiian culture.
I flew Hawaiian Airlines to Hawai’i, for example, and the complimentary in-flight snack included a candy called “Aloha-macs.” This product, by a company called “Hawaiian Host,” is self-labelled as “creamy milk chocolate covered macadamias – the original gift of aloha.” Hawaiian Host and the dominant culture seek to transform an ancient indigenous wisdom – aloha – into a candy, sugary trash, something to consume.
As soon as we boarded the plane, I noticed the video monitors displaying clips of beautiful, dancing Hawaiian women. I thought immediately of Haunani-Kay Trask’s brilliant essay “‘Lovely Hula Hands’: Corporate Tourism and the Prostitution of Hawaiian Culture” where she explains how tourism converts cultural attributes into pure profit.
Trask writes, “…a woman must be transformed to look like a prostitute – that is someone who is complicitous in her own commodification. Thus hula dancers wear clownlike makeup, don costumes from a mix of Polynesian cultures, and behave in a manner that is smutty and salacious rather than powerfully erotic. The distance between the smutty and the erotic is precisely the difference between Western culture and Hawaiian culture.”
Of course, before the pornification of Hawaiian culture the hula dance was a sacred expression. Again, Trask is enlightening, “In the hotel version of the hula, the sacredness of the dance has completely evaporated, while the athleticism and sexual expression have been packaged like ornaments. The purpose is entertainment for profit rather than a joyful and truly Hawaiian celebration of human and divine nature. The point, of course, is that everything in Hawai’i can be yours, that is, you the tourists’, the Non-Natives’, the visitors’.”
Pornography is an expression of hatred. A simple search of any popular porn website shows women being labelled “bitch,” “slut,” “cunt,” and “pussy.” Videos and images are arranged into categories like “blonde,” “brunette,” “Asian” on one end all the way down to “teens” “gang bangs” and “fisting” on the other end. “Fisting” involves inserting a fist or fists into vaginas and anal cavities. The production of pornography destroys the bodies of women, poisons truly mutual sexuality, and adds to a toxic masculinity that is killing the planet.
I know that many men will be angry with me for trashing their favorite pastime. I know, too, that many tourists will be angry with me for trashing their favorite fantasy. The truth is porn is killing our (men’s) sexuality and the tourist industry is killing the possibility that visitors will ever have a mutual relationship – free from oppression and subordination – with Hawaiians. Worse than this, however, pornography and the pornification of Hawaiian culture normalizes hatred and contributes to a violation imperative that is destroying Hawai’i along with indigenous lands around the world.
There are those who argue that porn is empowering for women, just like there are those who argue the tourism industry is empowering for Hawaiians. I do not believe this is true. This logic is the same logic that placed the phrase “Work will make you free” to greet prisoners over the gate at Auschwitz. No one – besides capitalists and coal mine owners – argues that coal mining is empowering to the miners. No one – besides capitalists and factory owners – argues that sweat shops empower sweat shop workers.
Proponents of porn and the tourism industry will say, “If porn and tourism are so bad, why do so many work in these industries?” But, when the war against women rages on, when native Hawaiians are still systematically dispossessed of their own homeland, survival often demands they take whatever work they can find. I can hold this position and hold no contempt for individuals working in the porn or tourist industry. I’m not interested in blaming individuals, but identifying root processes at work, so we can better work for the liberation of all.
I remember the first time I was shown pornography. I was ten. An older, male distant family member was flipping through the channels and stopped on an adult film. It was the first time I saw a naked adult female body – or, I guess I should say, mostly naked body. I remember clearly that she was dressed in a strange belt-like garment that wrapped around her breasts and opened over her vagina. Looking back, I understand the garment was clearly designed to highlight the only body parts valued in pornography.
My relative looked over and said, “Don’t tell your parents about this,” and continued watching.
The next time I was shown pornography was only a year or so later. I was at a family friend’s house and this time the person showing me porn was a boy only a few years older than me. Where in the first instance, all my ten-year-old eyes had seen was a highly sexualized representation of a woman’s body, in the second instance I saw the entire act of penetration. This was the first time I had ever seen or imagined sexual intercourse.
Speaking of hatred, I hate that my first experience with sexual intercourse of any kind was through a camera lens, showing a woman who couldn’t possibly have consented to my personal viewing of her, in a voyeuristic experience mediated by a patriarchal perspective. Even now, 17 years later, I remember the way the actor’s bodies were arranged. The woman was pushed over the armrest of a couch, splayed out, open for display while the man withheld every part of his body for contact except for his penis which was thrust forward. There was no love, no passion in the physical contact. The man never reached to embrace his partner. The two never kissed, never caressed each other, never even looked at each other.
The camera lens zoomed in to feature penetration. This, of course, was the whole point – penetration, invasion, domination. Or, to recycle Trask’s line and to apply it to porn, everything in a woman could be mine, a viewer’s, a man’s.
In those moments, my sexuality was poisoned. In each case, older males I knew and respected, showed me pornography. The question,”What does it mean to be a man?” was being answered with porn scenes. In sexual education classes in junior high school, these were the only references I had. In fact, pornography was shown to me a full ten years before I first had sex. Fantasy was imprinted in my mind well before reality ever had a chance.
This is happening to Hawai’i, too. Americans are bombarded with propaganda encouraging an entitlement to Hawai’i. Postcards with picturesque Hawaiian beaches are on refrigerators around the country while Americans fail to remember the atrocities committed to cripple Hawaiian resistance. Movies are made about Pearl Harbor glorifying the doomed bravery of white sailors while Americans forget the native Hawaiian dead who never consented to an American naval presence in the first place. Resorts are filled with American tourists while these tourists fail to consider the Hawaiian homeless those resorts created.
And now, in the latest effort to humiliate Hawaiian culture, corporations want to build a massive telescope on Mauna Kea. The connections to pornography are too clear to be overlooked. Mauna Kea – the most sacred place in Hawaii – is being penetrated, invaded, desecrated by the Thirty Meter Telescope project. The only way for proponents of the TMT to complete this project over the resistance in Hawai’i is is to believe in the propaganda spread through the pornification of Hawai’i. To invade Mauna Kea is to demonstrate the belief that everything in Hawai’i is theirs, the scientists, the Non-Natives, the invaders.
The TMT is an expression of a hateful fantasy. They want to build a means to watch other planets far, far away while this planet is burning. They want to fantasize about homes light years away, when the home we love is being destroyed.
Of course, that’s really the point, isn’t it? They don’t love their home. They hate it. That’s why they want to build this telescope.