Tiki Is Not Kitsch…Not Now, Not Ever!

The Tiki Jungle Room at Wendy and Dan Cevola's home

kitsch /kiCH/

adjective: considered to be in poor taste but appreciated in an ironic or knowing way

Let’s talk about hipsters…

Their whole shtick is to be into things that are clearly in bad taste and like them ironically. I’ll never forget seeing hipsters on the streets while I lived in Brooklyn. Girls were wearing Peggy Hill glasses from the ’80s and guys were wearing Mack Truck hats. If I had a nickel for every ironic t-shirt I saw, I would still be able to afford to live in New York!

Ironic Hipster Glasses
Ironic Hipster Glasses

I never really got the joke if there was one.

I don’t understand why anyone would spend time and effort to pretend to be into something when they’re clearly not. Eventually, the ironic hipster fashion just became their fashion. The joke was on the hipsters. It all reminds me of line from Kurt Vonnegut’s novel Mother Night: “If you pretend to be something long enough, you will become it.”


The whole ironic hipster trend would be considered kitsch. Tiki isn’t.

Jorge and Liz Romero Frankie's Tiki Oasis
Jorge and Liz Romero Frankie’s Tiki Oasis

There’s a misconception that people are into Tiki ironically. This is the farthest thing from the truth. People like Otto Von Stroheim and Sven Kirsten have been into Tiki since the ’90s! Otto started a fanzine called Tiki News and went on to organize Tiki Oasis, which thousands of people attend yearly.

Otto Von Stroheim's Tiki News
Otto Von Stroheim’s Tiki News

Sven has written several books on Tiki and Polynesian pop. Tiki is no joke to these fellows: it’s their lives!
Tiki Pop Book

The idea of a Tiki bar is to create the illusion that you are relaxing on a beach somewhere in the South Pacific. The more bamboo and thatch, the better.

Don The Beachcomber back room Tiki hut
Don The Beachcomber back room Tiki hut

The famous Tiki artist Dawn Frasier actually called Fiji her home while I was still in high school!

Sophista-Tiki Dawn Frasier in her Tiki modern living room
Sophista-Tiki Dawn Frasier in her Tiki modern living room

How is wanting to or actually living on a Polynesian island ironic or in bad taste? I think it’s cool, really cool!


Speaking of cool, check out this guy…

Justin at The Diller Room
Justin at The Diller Room

This is Justin. He’s the Tiki bartender at the Diller Room in Seattle. I find it very hard to find anything ironic about Justin’s style. And speaking of style, women’s Tiki fashion is very retro, stylish, and full of class.

Sweetie Suz

JoJo Feo
JoJo Feo

How is dressing and looking amazing kitsch? It’s not.

When I saw pictures of places like the Mai-Kai…

The Mai Kai

and the Tonga Room…

Where the band plays at The Tonga Room
Where the band plays at The Tonga Room

My first and only thought was wow! I need to go there, now! I have thrown down tons of cash to travel around the country checking out Tiki bars. If I was living the Tiki lifestyle ironically the joke would be on me—and my bank account!

Is Tiki kitsch? No. No way!

If you think Tiki is considered bad taste, it might just be you.

Ray with Jenny and Mark at Tacoma Cabana
Ray with Jenny and Mark at Tacoma Cabana

3 thoughts on “Tiki Is Not Kitsch…Not Now, Not Ever!

  1. Tim Shuller

    Amen! I always try to explain to people that Tiki is an attitude, a lifestyle. Nothing ironic or trendy about it. Understand and respect history but most of all have fun! We were Tiki before it was cool and we’ll be Tiki when it slips back into the underground.

    • Ray Wyland Post author

      I think it’s funny. I’m in my 40’s I’m way past the point of trying to impress anyone or trying to be cool. But the important point I want to make with my post is that I don’t think Tiki is kitschy, I think it’s cool, really cool!

  2. KitschyQueen

    I think those who call tiki “kitsch or kitschy” may hold the word Kitsch to a more positive connotation. Kitsch is also defined as “Pieces of art or other objects that appeal to popular or uncultivated taste, as in being garish or overly sentimental.” I focus on the sentimentality aspect.. I pride myself in my kitschy collections of anthropomorphic fruit people, and lady head cases, if someone describes my novelty print vintage 50s dress as kitschy I take that as a compliment. Tiki is not synonymous with the word kitsch.. but there is room for kitsch in Tiki. Why must we try to define this fun world for others? I don’t like my tiki in a box, even a hand carved witco box.

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