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Plastic Paradise: A Swingin' Trip Through America's Polynesian Obsession Previous Broadcasts

KQED Plus: Mon, Aug 14, 2017 -- 3:00 PM

In the 1940s and '50s, the return of American GIs from the Pacific and the runaway success of James Michner's Pulitzer-winning Tales of the South Pacific (adapted into the famous musical) created a craze for all things Polynesian. This 'Tiki' culture - so named after the large, wooden sculptures popular throughout Polynesia - included candy-colored, rum-infused cocktails with names like the Shrunken Skull and the Deep Sea Diver, crazy Hawaiian shirts, exotic instrumental music fused with space-age sounds, and a nonstop party scene inhabited by self-styled nonconformists and swingers.
Today, the spirit of Tiki endures among a new generation of Polynesian pop adherents, including painter Tiki Tom, musicians King Kukulele and the Haole Cats, cocktail anthropologist Jeff "Beachbum" Berry, and Tiki historian Sven Kirsten. This program explores this fascinating, little known, and surprisingly enduring subculture, culminating with a visit to the annual Hukilau celebration, a gathering of Tiki enthusiasts from around the country held every June at Fort Lauderdale's famed Mai-Kai Restaurant, itself one of the last great holdovers from Tiki's golden age - waterfalls, Polynesian floor show, and all.

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