Lt. Gov to SNL About Hawaii Skit: That’s Not Funny!

Travel Blog  •  Pam Mandel  •  03.12.09 | 2:29 PM ET

According to Hawaii’s Lt. Gov. James “Duke” Aiona, “Hawaiian Hotel,” a Saturday Night Live skit (video below) in which two grass-skirted, uke-playing, hula-dancing, minimum wage entertainers abuse guests at a hotel restaurant is not funny.

The skit “went too far in its negative depiction of Hawaii’s native people and tourism industry,” Aiona said. He added he wouldn’t let “such distortions go unchecked” when the economy is doing so poorly.

There’s more reaction in this AP article on Huffington Post.

Dig a little deeper still and you’ll find that there’s some truth in the attitudes portrayed. So much so that earlier this year, the Native Hawaiian Chamber of Commerce held a special presentation to discuss the issue:

The Hawaiian words Hawai’i and Aloha are the two most powerful marketing brands in the world recognized by people living in the most far flung places on earth. Ho’okipa, the act of welcoming and hosting guests, is so fundamental to Hawaiian culture and routinely extended even to strangers. Why then, are Hawaiians so disdainful and distanced from Hawai’i's largest industry?—Native Hawaiian Chamber of Commerce

While on Moloka’i last year, I got to talking with some hospitality staffers about their jobs, the tourism industry, and what they thought about tourists. One of the guys was just happy to be working. “What else am I going to do, bag groceries at the market?” The other was more circumspect about tourists coming to Hawaii. “Depends on why they’re here,” he said. “If they want to learn about Hawaii’s people and history and culture, they’re very welcome. But if they just want to sit on the beach and drink Mai Tais, they can go to Florida.”

More from the AP’s article:

Jonathan Osorio, a professor at the University of Hawaii’s Center for Hawaiian Studies, said the skit accurately addressed how many in the islands work for low wages and how Hawaiian culture is sometimes packaged for tourist consumption without concern for its authenticity. It also accurately showed how many tourists who visit are ignorant of these realities, he said.

My reaction to the skit? Funny. Painful. And probably, like most sharp humor, based in truth. Judge for yourself:

Pam Mandel is a freelance writer and photographer from Seattle, Washington. Her work has appeared in a variety of print, radio, and web publications and she's contributed to two guidebooks, one on British Columbia and one on Hawaii. She plays the ukulele, has an internal beacon that is surprisingly capable of locating the best baked goods in town, almost any town, and speaks German with a Styrian accent. Learn more on her personal blog at Nerd's Eye View.

9 Comments for Lt. Gov to SNL About Hawaii Skit: That’s Not Funny!

Eva Holland 03.12.09 | 3:01 PM ET

Hmm. I’m not sure if the skit is really a “negative depiction of Hawaii’s native people” so much as a negative depiction of the government, industry, etc that regulate/fail to regulate things on the islands. It’s no slur on the people to suggest some of them aren’t thrilled with the current state of affairs.

ps: I love the Rock.

hawaiiangirl 03.12.09 | 6:50 PM ET

i thought this skit was funny, and i didn’t find it offensive at all, people need to understand the concept of humor

big island girl 03.12.09 | 10:33 PM ET

In my experience, many people who live here feel that way about white people who live here.  They’re very nice to tourists, but when they find out you LIVE here, the gloves come off.  It doesn’t matter their families sold off property to the highest bidder, we’re the bad guys for having the money to BUY it.

It’s OUR fault there are meth labs and junked cars in every front yard.  It’s our fault there’s no work ethic and education is a joke.  It’s our fault the local government and the justice system is corrupt here.


Crime stats are artificially low because people don’t bother reporting crimes when every criminal has an uncle or a brother on the police force or on the bench.  When I was a victim of a crime the cop kept assuming I was a tourist and didn’t want to take a report, discouraged me from following up and didn’t take any evidence.  Wouldn’t want to hurt tourism. 

What hurts tourism the most is the ugliness people discover when they get here.  The racism, the trashiness, the lack of work ethic, the way you can’t get any service anywhere unless you go to a lousy chain restaurant with mainland employees who know what it’s like to work for tips, the phony Aloha where people smile at you because they want your money but in reality they hate you because they blame you for the commercialization of ‘their’ island when they’re the ones who have whored it out in the first place.  Greed is what killed the islands in the first place.

The sugar cane people got greedy and priced themselves out of jobs so the sugar people now get their product from Indonesia.  People started selling land to the highest bidder and now they cry that all the whites and Japanese own Hawaii.  If you don’t want the mainland to view Hawaii as meth labs and junked cars, get rid of the meth labs and the junked cars. 

Nobody did this to Hawaii without Hawaii’s complicity.

lono-ika-makahiki 03.13.09 | 5:46 AM ET

that’s somewhat correct. in truth, i’m haole myself and haven’t really experienced any of the racism except in the early years of public school.

the thing that pisses off most locals is the fact that the islands are embellished as this wonderful fairytale place. but there is accidental death of tourists and crime here. insult some big portuguese or philipinos in aiea and you get really messed up.

i notice that things aren’t too bad down in waikiki-aside from foreigner lack of information; its the money thats driving the smiles. pay 2.50 for a 20oz bottle of soda and you’ll see for yourself.

Hawaiian Born 03.13.09 | 3:45 PM ET

I was born in Hawaii, I live in Hawaii and I am Hawaiian. the reason why we are so disdainful and distanced from Hawai’i’s largest industry is because the tourists come here for the wrong reasons.

to the user big island girl: Do you even live in Hawaii?!? Come down to Waipahu!?! you’ll find no racisim over there. The only racist place is Waikiki. You think we whored out our island? The White man took over Hawaii illegally. they did not have any right to overthrow our queen.

Lono-ika-makahiki: you make a good point, thank you. The only thing that really pisses me off is when tourists have a false perception of Hawaii! they think that we live in grass huts and BS like that and this skit just makes more stereotypes!  Its true, I hate most haole people because of this…

big island girl 03.13.09 | 10:29 PM ET

Absolutely the white man stole the islands from the queen, you’re correct, but when Hawaii first became a state there was a movement, supported by some Hawaiians, to do away with the old ways, and it is some Hawaiians who have sold off what was left to the highest bidder.  Yes, much was stolen, but what has become of what was left has been destroyed by many, and not just the white man.

There are so many races at fault, and I’ve never seen racial divides like the ones I see here.  Yes, I do live here, on the Big Island.  There are places here where children of 1 race don’t associate with another race simply because that’s how they are raised, it’s like stepping back into time in the Deep South, except it isn’t just white people who hate. There are a few people who like everyone, but there are far more who don’t trust any race except their own, and the misconceptions abound.  Most white people aren’t aware the white man stole Hawaii, as you mentioned.  Most people of all races are unaware of how the US made the Marshall Islands uninhabitable, which is why we relocated people from there, and there are wild stories told about how the government gives them a ‘free ride’ which is far from the truth and leads to more racial hatred.

Nobody bothers to try to understand where the other races are coming from, they just blindly hate.  It makes the whole concept of Aloha such a joke. :(  To many people here, aloha just means ‘give us your money and we’ll say some pretty Hawaiian phrase until your back is turned, then we’ll talk a lot of trash about you after you’re gone.’  It’s only something to sell to the tourists.  Hawaii wants their money but hates the fact they need to rely on them for their economy.

Fine, but if you hate tourism so much, build some other industries.  Make changes, or suck it up, but don’t hate the people who are paying your bills when you contribute to the very situation you are complaining about.  We hate the racism in our house, and we make a point of trying to teach our children why so many of the races are angry, but we also don’t make excuses for people when they’re just plain wrong.  It’s wrong to lay all the blame on someone else when you’ve had a hand in creating a situation, too.

All you can do is try to treat everyone with respect and work for change, but you don’t have to accept it when someone tells you every ill in Hawaii is your fault.

pam 03.15.09 | 7:10 PM ET

What’s these comments pass along to me is that the tourist/Hawaiian divide DOES exist, that it’s not a defacto love fest. I’m troubled by the racial divides expressed in the comments here and though I’ve never experienced anything but aloha in the islands, I’ve heard otherwise from other travelers. I do think that a basic understanding of not just Hawaiian history, but of current struggles by native Hawaiians to gain recognition (see my previous post about OHA and the Supreme Court) would help visitors (and maybe residents too?) to have a more sensitive approach while traveling in Hawaii.

big island girl 03.15.09 | 7:15 PM ET

It would also help if people would stop attacking each other physically and calling each other names based on race.

That goes across the board to all the races.  There are ugly incidents in the islands that are downplayed so tourism isn’t affected, but military families and others who live on the various islands are quite aware that they happen all the time. 

Treating others with respect and minding your own business is no guarantee you won’t be a victim of race based violence here.

TambourineMan 03.28.09 | 3:40 PM ET

I’m shocked, SHOCKED I say, that SNL actually did an amusing bit. With the exception of the Fey/Palin stuff last year, that show is the pits.

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