kukla_tko42 is hitting me up for research onto details about how to make her faux Polynesian (tiki) ceremony for Elf Fest more authentic. Some of the details are disturbing her um-friends and other friends based on safety factors, practicality, cost. Me, I've got another issue with it, and that's her growing sense that this is going to be an authentic spiritual experience for at least some of the audience (as she mentioned in her journal a couple of days ago). This disturbs me a little, because tiki is at the upper limit of the amount of fake in fakelore. But I'm pretty sure that I shouldn't try to stop her.
Let me explain the term, first. I got it from Michael Niman's People of the Rainbow, a sociological study of the Rainbow People, the subculture that puts on the annual Rainbow Festival and other related local events, not to mention various protests for Native American rights. Many Rainbows believe that they're a fulfillment of an American Indian prophesy. It has since been proven, beyond all shadow of a reasonable doubt, that the prophecy in question, is a fake. But it's a fake prophecy that motivates a great deal of spiritual development and many acts of charity. Anyway, because of its fake origin, many Rainbow old-timers refer to this founding belief as "fakelore," a neologism compounded from the words "fake" and "folklore."
Well, tiki is even faker than that. No, really. Tiki starts by making the same stupid assumption that Margaret Murray made in Witch Cult in Western Europe, namely, it assumes that all Polynesian cultures and their pre-Christian religions are basically alike. Not even close. Our images of what tiki ceremonies look like mostly come from 1940s movie musicals. The composers and choreographers had never been to the south Pacific. It's 1930s/40s Broadway (and burlesque) choreography with a hint of hula, set to a music that's influenced by a mixture of Hawaiian, Caribbean, west African, and Big Band sounds. It's a post-WWII fantasy, a reaction to the "Return to Normalcy" period where Puritanism was being shoved down everybody's throats. It's Broadway and Hollywood, in a world where nobody remembers a world before Puritanism, trying to imagine one, to envision one -- to fake it.
Faking it was perfectly good enough for their purposes. They weren't trying to start a new tradition, a New Religious Movement. They were creating escapist fantasy. Much of it wasn't even intended to be timeless escapist fantasy. Some of these movies were filmed on the cheap even by cheap movie standards, meant to be an afternoon's entertainment and then meant to be forgotten. But it struck a nerve in some people, the same way that the Beatniks did, the same way that Malibu and Fort Lauderdale teen surf culture did, the same way that hippie love cults did. To paraphrase what Sven Kirsten wrote (in a longer quote I've already mentioned a week ago), it's the same impulse that in a bolder age, at the height of the heterosexual sexual revolution, led to the founding of Neopaganism. Some people had a vague sense that monotheistic Puritanism constituted a kind of "wrong turn" for civilization. But others were just looking for a fantasy vacation from it, before returning to it in the morning, and well, that's tiki.
But how fake can fakelore be before it's so cheesy fake that it's deserving of contempt? As far as I know, there isn't a single religion on the planet that can stand up under microscopic historical and scientific scrutiny. The line between real religious history and fake religious history has a fractal dimension higher than 1. In fact, it may be much higher than 1; that line is way past crooked, past jagged, past fuzzy, and all the way up to furry. Nobody denies that Christianity is a sincere religion, no matter what the Jesus Seminar has to say about the historicity of the Gospels. Well, if the Gospel compilers used multiple sources, some of the quite dubious, and almost certainly combining the life stories of multiple messiahs, and that doesn't invalidate the spirituality of modern Christians, what is it that makes it so easy to sneer at Wicca's bogus inherited baggage from Margaret Murray, James Frasier, and Gerald Gardner? Strength in numbers? Longevity? Is that all?
I don't know. All I know is that part of me cringes at the thought that a tiki revival might mean dealing with Wannawannabe Islanders. So far, the surviving Polynesians are being more gracious about it than the surviving Native Americans are about the Wannabe Indians, but I still find it cringe-inducing nonetheless. Let's admit that it's fake, escapist fantasy and just keep it fun, OK? But on the other hand, if there turn out to be lots of people for whom this is a legitimate spiritual exercise, their preferred rebellion against Puritanism, or whatever, why should my scruples stand between it and them? Just smile and nod, Brad, just smile and nod.