By Rich Figel
A couple of nights ago, local TV newscasts showed clips from the latest Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition shoot on Kauai, and trumpeted the great publicity it would bring the Garden Isle. Gee, I thought those clips were meant to promote the magazine and "making of" TV special that will follow, which no doubt millions of men will watch because they're interested in the background scenery. Uh-huh.
As it happens, I have a family connection to the SI Swimsuit franchise. My cousin, MJ Day, is the Senior Editor of the magazine. She worked her way up from assistant, and lives in New Jersey, where I'm from. That's right -- MJ is a she as in nee Mary Jean Figel, the daughter of my father's brother. When she first began working for SI, her folks seemed proud and excited. But my dad's side of the family is fairly conservative, and let's be honest... the Swimsuit issue is basically soft porn for boys and guys who won't buy hardcore mags. I'm not saying that's a bad thing necessarily, since they do lavish money on the production values and shoot in exotic locations, including Hawaii.
However, let's not pretend the chief intent of the magazine is to highlight the swimsuits or destinations. It's about showing off beautiful women in outfits that are more "off" than "on" the models. Sometimes they dispense with actual attire altogether and use paint to create the illusion of swimsuits on nude models. It's art! Not that I'm prudish or going to turn the channel when the "making of" special comes on. I'll be watching for the interviews with my cousin (at least that's what I'll tell my wife when she sees it in our DVR queue of saved programs).
While I'm sure MJ earned the position through hard work, the cynic in me suspects SI chooses women as the top editors to diffuse criticism from feminists that contend they are exploiting females. The other day on Facebook, I saw comments to that effect from a young woman who wrote that the cover shot for the 2015 issue was "disgusting" because the model was peeling down her bikini bottom as if to display her most private female part (the FB comment put it much more bluntly in words I can't print here).
I haven't talked to my cousin in several years. Last time she visited us in Kailua, we chatted about what a wonderful job she had. MJ was traveling all over the world to help set up the SI shoots, going to glamorous fashion-related events, hanging out with superstar models. She was living the Dream. Yet if she was a male, we'd probably be snickering about how hard it must be to be surrounded by so many gorgeous, sexy ladies in so little clothing. Double standard, anyone?
What I really meant to write about though was the proliferation of Hawaii-related TV content that makes me feel like we're being overexposed. On the Food Network, Guy Fieri has done multiple episodes of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives (a.k.a. "Triple D") here, which included chefs we've featured on my Career Changers TV show. More recently, the Mystery Diners "sting" operation show set up their hidden cameras at Cha-Cha-Cha Salsaria in Hawaii Kai, Rock Island Cafe in Waikiki, the Hawaii Yacht Club, and Chef Chai's new restaurant. I'm surprised those episodes didn't get much notice from the local media, since the premise of the series is these are establishments that are being unknowingly ripped off by their employees or customers.
When I first began watching Mystery Diners, I thought it was real. The more I watched, it became apparent these were staged "re-creations" being acted out by actors and the actual owners, who I surmise do it for the "free" publicity of being on a nationally-broadcast TV show. If you Google around, you'll find numerous links to claims that much of the show is fake and that the producers encourage the restaurant owners to embellish or make up stories of misconduct. The stuff in the Oahu episodes was so bad it was funny! Sadly though, my family went to Cha-Cha-Cha and the service was so slow and inattentive, I wish that had been filmed for the management to see instead of the alleged unauthorized boat food delivery scheme they portrayed.
Over on HGTV and the Travel Channel, there are currently a plethora of shows and specials that have been filmed in Hawaii too. In fact, a fabulous $100,000 Dream Vacation in Hawaii package is the big prize in "The Trip 2015" giveaway by the Travel Channel, and they sent a gaggle of various show hosts to film an island-hopping hour-long promo for the islands. Which I prefer to what HGTV has been doing: using TV shows to literally sell Hawaii property to Mainland and international buyers.
First, there were occasional House Hunters episodes that followed couples as they shopped around for new homes in Hawaii. Then, the Hawaii Life real estate company begat their own series, which starts off with the promise that anyone can own a home in Paradise -- you just gotta want it! Right. There's also Building Hawaii, which is about a transplanted couple that has a home remodeling/construction company on the Big Island... which is not to be confused with Buying Hawaii (Travel Channel, I think) in which people seek out properties in remote island places off the grid.
I do have to say that seeing the relatively "low" prices for Neighbor Island homes, has made my wife and me consider selling our comfy little Kailua townhouse and moving to the Big Island or Kauai some day. It worries me though that as more affluent people from the Mainland and Asia are lured here by these type of TV shows, the harder it will be for locals to hang on to what little remains available for those who can't afford million-dollar mortgages. Sigh.
For daily viewing times of my Career Changers TV show, visit our website. You can also view segments from past and current episodes on the CCTV YouTube Channel, which now includes a Hawaii Food category at the bottom of the page.