The Hard Sell of Paradise

Hawai'i, Hollywood, Tourism

By Jason Sperb

Subjects: Film Studies, American Studies, American Culture, Popular Culture, American History
Series: SUNY series, Horizons of Cinema
Hardcover : 9781438487731, 360 pages, March 2022
Paperback : 9781438487748, 360 pages, September 2022

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Table of contents

List of Illustrations

Introduction: Touristic Visions and Virtual Tourists

1. Save That Gag for the Tourists: The Hawaii Tourist Bureau and Post-tourism Narratives of 1930s Hollywood

2. Twilight of the Past, Island of Utopia: December 7th and the Contradictions of War Nostalgia

3. You're Still Talking about Class? Adapting for Statehood in Diamond Head (1963)

4. Founded on Truth but Not on Fact: Pastiche Narratives of Modernity in Adaptations of James Michener's Hawaii (1959)

5. Business or Pleasure: The Touristic Contradictions of the Elvis/Hawai'i Experience from Blue Hawaii (1961) to Aloha from Hawaii (1973)

6. Shoot All Winter, Show All Summer: Frontier Mythologies and the Hipster Tourism of Surf Documentaries

7. If You Can't Find It, Don't Write It: Genre and Competing Notions of Realism in Hawaii Five-O (1968)

Conclusion: Hawai'i Bound

Selected Bibliography

Traces the complex and contradictory representations of Hawai’i in popular film and television programs from the 1930s to the 1970s.


The Hard Sell of Paradise examines how mid-twentieth-century Hollywood, negotiating the rhetoric of the tourism industry, offered a complex and contradictory vision of "Hawai'i" for its audiences. From the classic studio system and elite tourism of the 1930s to a postwar era of mass travel, TV, and new leisure markets, the book explores how an eclectic group of populist media reflected the language of tourism not only through its narratives of leisure, but also through its complex engagement with larger cultural and historical questions, such as colonialism, world war, and statehood. Drawing on rare archival research, The Hard Sell of Paradise also explores the valuable role that tourism partners such as United Airlines, Matson Cruise Lines, and the Hawaii Tourist Bureau played in directly and indirectly influencing such films and television shows as Waikiki Wedding, Diamond Head, Blue Hawaii, The Endless Summer, and Hawaii Five-O.

Jason Sperb teaches English at Oklahoma State University. His previous books include Disney's Most Notorious Film: Race, Convergence, and the Hidden Histories of Song of the South; Flickers of Film: Nostalgia in the Time of Digital Cinema; and Blossoms and Blood: Postmodern Media Culture and the Films of Paul Thomas Anderson.


"The author mines rich archival materials and also builds on relevant scholarship … A good resource for those interested in popular culture, tourism studies, and Pacific and Oceanian history as well as film studies." — CHOICE

"This is a scrupulously researched historical analysis of the representation of Hawai'i in popular cinema and media. Weaving a compelling narrative about Hawai'i's history as well as its function and transformations within the national imagination, Jason Sperb demonstrates how colonialism, national interest, and the culture and tourism industries have underwritten Hawaiian iconography and myth—and how these myths operate to superficially resolve and allegorize the thorny contradictions of modern Hawaiian history. A particular strength is the book's thoroughgoing attendance to class dynamics and labor history and their relation to the production of racial ideologies." — Nathan Holmes, author of Welcome to Fear City: Crime Film, Crisis, and the Urban Imagination