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Donn, Vic and Tiki Bar Authenticity

This study explores the social history of the tiki bar and its emergence as a social category. Piecing together
fragmented materials, we sketch a socio-historical narrative that describes several quirky, idiosyncratic
individuals, but shows that the tiki bar nonetheless became 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 institutionalization as a category occurred without endorsement by the state or any professional body.

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