Issue 23: Charm
Published August 2015
This issue celebrates the kind of people who love even when it doesn’t make sense, who share an ever-shrinking piece of paradise wholeheartedly and without pretense.
During the Industrial Revolution, charms, often cast by master goldsmiths, were considered a sign of wealth. As technology advanced and jewelry became mass-produced, the popularity of these trinkets added onto bracelets or necklaces grew among the middle class, peaking in the United States after World War II, when soldiers brought charms home from European cities. Today, they have become the gift du jour at young girls’ birthday parties the world over.
When I first thought about doing a charm-themed issue of FLUX, I imagined the stories we’d feature would be those enchanting countenances filled with an oh-so-endearing, magical quality; akin to a charm bracelet, each story would be one that exhibited a unique facet of Hawai‘i.
The stories were meant to fill us with the same warm, fuzzy feelings we get when we pass through small towns and remark, “Oh isn’t that sweet.” The problem, I began to realize, was that I don’t know anyone above the age of, say, 10 who actually wears charm bracelets. And if they do, the ones they wear are, most often, only fanciful from afar. Up close, it’s easy to see their tawdry nature. The story of these charms is ultimately the story of Hawai‘i, a destination enjoyed by the wealthy in the early 20th century, when air travel to the islands first became possible. In post-WWII years, Hawai‘i became a mass-marketed destination presented as a “paradise” filled with aloha spirit and natives whose hips swayed in unison with palm trees. Tourists returned home with plastic lei and fake-grass hula skirts. Subsequently, residents and increasingly savvy visitors backlashed, calling for a more authentic Hawaiian experience. Cue pancake tours at our favorite hole-in-the-wall breakfast joint and double-decker busses pulling up at the farmers market. This year, the number of visitors to Hawai‘i is expected to climb to a record 8.5 million, up 2.5 percent from last year.
Try as we might, we can’t seem to shake the image that has defined us for more than half a century. Hawai‘i is the most beautiful place in the world, but it has its fair share of problems, too: Homelessness has reached monumental proportions; affordable housing for young adults is the worst in the country; traffic is only slightly better than Los Angeles and San Francisco; we live in a place rated as the worst state to make a living and the worst place to do business.
And yet, in spite of it all, local people—from valets to weathermen to surfers to senior citizens—still find reasons to smile in a place Anthony Bourdain calls on his recent trip to the islands for his CNN show, Parts Unknown, “both the most American place left in America (in the best and worst senses of that word) and the least American place (in only the best sense).” Resilient, perhaps a bit bullheaded at times, we find some way to climb to the top of the only list that matters: the one about our quality of life. Charm can be a fleeting concept, but there’s something enduringly charming about the kind of people who love even when it doesn’t make sense, who share an ever-shrinking piece of paradise wholeheartedly and without pretense. After all these years, after decades of being the backdrop in someone else’s movie, we’re finding the best way to remain charming is to be ourselves, the kind of people who, upon closer inspection and despite Hawai‘i’s shifting landscape, stay golden.