I seem to be undergoing culture clash within myself. Or more accurately, my selves. My pidgin-speaking, storytelling alter ego, Tita, is an old-fashioned local girl who longs for the low-tech lifestyle of old-time Maui. I guess I've adapted to the new millennium more comfortably than Tita has.
Computers play a huge role in my daily life. All of my performance material and Sharing Mana'o columns are written on my PlayBook or my laptop. Tita still keeps a handwritten journal. I've done away with paper calendars for both of us, storing our appointments on my BlackBerry, and I probably do more emailing and texting than actual talking. Not the case with Tita, of course. I'm not a full-fledged geek, but I know my way around the Internet well enough.
I don't surf the Web for the same reason I refuse to let Tita watch even one episode of those Korean dramas - I know we'll get hopelessly hooked. I try to limit my online activity to serious research, fighting the temptation to get swept up in the social media swirl or the latest viral video. I find it more efficient to watch Tosh.O and let Daniel keep track of that stuff for me. For those who don't watch Comedy Central, Daniel Tosh hosts a weekly half-hour show featuring clips from the Internet. It's truly amazing, the things people will post online.
Years ago, someone suggested I Google myself periodically (gee, that looks even worse than it sounds!) "just to see what's out there about you." Later, during a visit to Phoenix, a stranger approached me to say he'd seen me on YouTube. So I searched around online and, lo and behold, there I was, or rather, there was Tita.
I recognized the piece right away; it was from a 2006 appearance at a Maui AIDS Foundation benefit. Dean Wong had asked me to co-emcee the Miss K gender illusionist pageant with him, so Tita was all decked out in showgirl feathers and rice bag shorts, with glittery platform rubbah slippahs. It was an outrageous costume, even for Tita, and it looked even more bizarre on YouTube, taken out of context. Peta Mni, who used to live on Maui and worked at Akaku and Hui Malama Learning Center, had shot and uploaded the eight-minute video in which Tita explains the origin of Hawaiian Creole English and promotes pidgin pride. It had been online for over a year by the time I found it.
I have to admit, even as a professional performer, I was a bit startled to realize that a little slice of my life had been recorded and shared with the world, without my knowledge. And it was downright unnerving to read some of the comments posted by strangers. In fact, I couldn't bring myself to read them all.
Then last month, out of the blue, I received an email from Peta himself. He's at the New School in New York now, where he participates in a fascinating blog called The Viral Media Lab, "a collective of media producers and message makers exploring the ways viral media generates meaning, transforms culture and inspires social change." He sent me a link to a recent post he wrote about his video and the passionate debate it spawned. After reading his blog entry, titled "Language as Virus," I revisited the YouTube video and was amazed to see it had over 139,000 views. I guess that qualifies Tita as viral, although it's really more like a sniffle when you consider the Honey Badger got 48 million views in a year.
This time, I read all of the hundreds of comments, ranging from arguments over linguistics and declarations of cultural and ethnic pride to snide remarks on my costume and character. Thankfully, most of the posts were positive, and the meanies were quickly jumped on by many proud defenders of da kine. Here are a few of my favorites:
Y is this lady so mad? - mookalitis
She no stay mad, Aunti just tell um how it stay - ladykuvar
You guys ever wonder if obama talk pigin when no more cameras around? - Kittman 05
Punahou grad; I doubt it. - tiyenin
. . . it not a choice eitha brah, it one lifestyle. - DeckuZora
Dude she looks like a peacock - mcspazi
So far the video has over 300 likes and 20 dislikes. I wasn't the only one who took note of that.
Eh!! Who da munkehs dat wen dislike da video . . . dose ****s i tell you. - JuiceBag808
20 people like one slap - HawaiiRebel
I invite you to check out both the "Hawaiian Pidgin 101" video on YouTube and The Viral Media Lab. But don't tell Tita. I don't dare allow her to post a comment.
* Kathy Collins is a performance artist, broadcaster and freelance writer whose "Sharing Mana'o" column appears every Wednesday. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.