115th Annual Conference - Honolulu, Hawaii
Friday, November 10 - Sunday, November 12, 2017

Moving Image Representations of Agriculture on O'ahu: Comparing Two Eras  

Monique Mironesco, University of Hawaii, West Oahu

This paper traces the development of cultural representations of food systems in Hawai'i.  Industry representations define the settler colonial plantation context as the dominant agricultural history of Hawai'i.  Pineapple and sugar industrial films portrayed plantations and agricultural fields as sources of jobs and identity creation in Hawai‘i in the 1940-60s.  Current educational/advertising films continue this tradition, contributing to a skewed representation of agriculture on O'ahu.

Proposal: 

Using moving images from 1940s-1960s, this paper traces the development of cultural representations of food systems in Hawai'i.  Industry representations define the settler colonial plantation context as the dominant agricultural history of Hawai'i, advertising its accomplishments through educational films shown in schools at all grade levels.  Pineapple and sugar industrial films portrayed plantations and agricultural fields as sources of jobs and identity creation in Hawai'i and celebrated the paternalistic plantation system, alongside a complete denial of the subordination of plantation laborers, or the erasure of kanaka maoli (Native Hawaiian) knowledge of tropical agriculture. Using the 'Ulu'ulu Henry K. Giugni moving image archive, this paper critiques the representation of plantation life as "benevolent" since it ignores the Native Hawaiian emphasis on ecologically and socio-politically just principles of agriculture.  Contemporary industrial films from Monsanto and Pioneer Hi-Bred Corporation continue to reinforce this erasure and perpetuate similar colonial plantation values in a present-day context. The purpose of analyzing moving images is twofold: it enables us to understand the representation of plantation life as “benevolent” and an economic driver for the state of Hawai‘i as well as provide a basis from which to argue for changes to reflect sustainable values based on ecologically and socio-politically just principles given that these cultural representations are not based in current, or even past realities. Sociopolitical and economic factors are reflected in the continued land use policy that still reflects plantation mentality: bigger is better. Large corporations are able to lease large tracts of land and are taking advantage of incentives to do so.  For example, Monsanto and Pioneer Hi-Bred are the largest “farmers” on O‘ahu, though none of their acreage grows actual food. Instead fields are used for experimental genetically modified seed corn crops.  In turn, Monsanto has come out with its own public information campaign to promote its work in Hawai'i - using similar visual imagery to the industrial plantation films - wide panning shots of the fields, people working together in a seemingly happy environment, with a voice over that reinforces the benevolence of the corporation, providing jobs, tax revenue, and scholarships for future workers.  The updated industrial films are almost identical in content to the longer versions from the 1940s-1960s.  Both argue that they grow more than food, but that the economy is dependent on them.  Sugar wasn’t food, and neither is seed corn.  The legacy of industrial mono-cropping large plantation agriculture, with all of its problematic aspects, remains entrenched in policy makers’ attitudes toward agriculture in general.  

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