Hawaii is one of the ultimate faux escapes. It is exotic and yet not at all dangerous. We can go, sample the “local” culture and come home, refreshed. And yet, how much do we really care to know about the local culture? The answer according to CityLab is not all that much.
The travel essay, as a form, is particularly fraught in places where indigenous groups were displaced by colonialism. Theodore Roosevelt’s writings on Africa, for example, were deeply influential in shaping global perceptions of a place that he described as having “the spectacle of a high civilization all at once thrust into and superimposed upon a wilderness of savage men and savage beasts.”
In other words, we are there to see what we want to see, what is really there. Borges recognized this in his essay about when the west discovered the east. The west did not want to understand the east. They wanted it to be exotic. Exoticism was and remains the ultimate escape.
The appeal to a sailor on the Bounty of an exotic south pacific island is obvious. Life onboard versus life in a seeming paradise. And yet the appeal endures even though modern life is far less harsh than the sailor’s daily routine surely was. Our comforts would be as exotic to that sailor as the flowers on the island. And yet we need to escape, just as he did.
The reason goes to the heart of what we crave in life. The stuff that dreams are made of, as Humphrey Bogart said in The Maltese Falcon.