Donn, Vic and Tiki Bar Authenticity

Donn, Vic and Tiki Bar Authenticity

By
Glenn R. Carroll, Dennis Ray Wheaton
Consumption, Markets and Culture.
2018, Vol. 21

This study explores the social history of the tiki bar and associated phenomena from its origins in the 1930s up to the present. In doing so we aim to contribute to theory on consumer research about social categories and authenticity. Piecing together fragmented accounts and materials, we sketch a brief socio-historical narrative of the tiki bar.  The narrative describes several colorful, quirky and idiosyncratic individuals, but shows that the tiki bar nonetheless becomes established as a widely recognized part of American popular culture.  At no point did the tiki bar represent an accurate manifestation of Polynesian culture or food, despite its popularity, growth and cultural embeddedness; the tiki bar thus fails any kind of basic test of objective or nominal authenticity, which concerns the provenance of an object. The tiki bar does eventually generate its own institutionalized social category, and many tiki bars fit the category and thereby possess type authenticity. The case is interesting theoretically because the tiki bar’s authenticity status changes across its history and because its growth and institutionalization as a category occurred without explicit endorsement by the state or any professional body or regulator. We speculate that evolution the tiki bar was driven by a peculiar set of conditions and status dynamics.