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Fleeting Substantiality: The Samoan Giant in US Popular Discourse

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Title:Fleeting Substantiality: The Samoan Giant in US Popular Discourse
Authors:Henderson, April K.
Pacific Islander
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popular culture
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LC Subject Headings:Oceania -- Periodicals
Date Issued:2011
Publisher:University of Hawai‘i Press
Center for Pacific Islands Studies
Citation:Henderson, A. K. 2011. Fleeting Substantiality: The Samoan Giant in US Popular Discourse. The Contemporary Pacific 23 (2): 269-302.
Abstract:In this article I draw examples from the broader terrain of academic and popular literature, news media, television, and film to explore questions regarding representations of Samoans, and especially Samoan men, in the United States. The mediated accessibility of Samoans, via televised sports and entertainment, combines with their relative geographic and demographic inaccessibility to produce popular images of a population that the vast majority of Americans know very little about. Such representations are gendered in particular ways, such that the archetypal Samoan body in US popular discourse is now masculine, rather than feminine. I discuss how popular representations of Samoan men may be similar to representations of black men—the latter so central to discourses of race in the United States—as well as how are they different, particularly in light of the discursively slippery histories of representing Pacific peoples as both noble and ignoble “savages.” The main narrative component of discourses about Samoan men, body size, is critically engaged; additionally, the article argues that the added element of (indigenous) culture—thought to be outside or anterior to Western modernity—grant to Samoans an exoticness not normally granted to black Americans. This essay attempts to expose, engage, and examine these active processes of representation and myth creation—what visual theorist Clyde Taylor might term mythogenesis—to better understand the discursive terrain that Samoans negotiate, often ambivalently, in the United States.
Pages/Duration:34 pages
Appears in Collections: TCP [The Contemporary Pacific ], 2011 - Volume 23, Number 2

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