On a recent Friday I eagerly attended “The Story of Everything” at Hawaii Theater, a multi-media show written and performed by Hawaii poet laureate and slam poet extraordinaire Kealoha. I enjoy his work, as well as that of Taimane, the insanely talented ukulele virtuoso I expected to figure prominently in the show.

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She did not. That was disappointing, as was the length of the show (almost three hours including intermission), that Kealoha took most of the spotlight (relegating the other talented performers to supporting parts) and his all-too-frequent reboots due to forgotten lines. Those observations would normally merit discussion over cocktails, not an opinion piece for Civil Beat.

It was the finale — a look to the future — featuring an extended, three-part love-fest for Michael Jackson’s music and transformation — that left me gobsmacked.

Video runs on a large screen monitor at Daniel Inouye International Airport.
A video playing on a large screen at Daniel K. Inouye International Airport. There are those who question whether the airport should be renamed. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

After introducing the MJ monologue, Kealoha acknowledged that Jackson might be controversial, opening the door to what could have been a discussion of his flaws and failings, how to learn and do better, how to hold ourselves accountable. Instead, he launched into enthusiastic, dance-filled, moon-walking, multi-media praise of MJ’s genius and his cultural impact.

The monologue minimized the widely known allegations of pedophilia, blowing dog whistles to cast doubt on their veracity. He even managed to work in a cheap laugh line about Jackson morphing from black to white — decidedly not funny and shocking on too many obvious levels to articulate here.

One might say Kealoha went from bad to worse.

The audience sucked up the awkward air. A few considered heckling, but didn’t of course. Some quit clapping, waiting for it to end.

Blessedly, it eventually did. Some of us bolted for the door. Others applauded wildly.

Rape Culture

The previous night, I’d sat at Hawaii Theater spell-bound, listening to Roxane Gay — acclaimed author, Ivy League academic and cultural critic — talk about women and equality and rape culture. It was her first visit to Hawaii, she told us — a stop-over en route to Australia for speaking engagements — and she was surprised, she said, to see our airport named for Sen. Daniel Inouye. Some women in the audience nodded.

Author of the book “Bad Feminist,” Gay acknowledged the struggle that comes when we try to balance the contributions of political and cultural geniuses with their reprehensible acts — even admitting that the book title comes from that struggle, loving the music and damning the behavior. She’d always loved MJ’s music too, she told us, but she’d given it up, concluding that it’s our personal and collective responsibility to hold the humanity of the victims higher than the brilliance of the perpetrators.

Yes, I know. Neither Inouye nor Jackson have been convicted of any crimes. They are both alleged perpetrators. But is that really our bar for naming rights and adulation?

Why not name the airport after Mark Takai or Dan Akaka or Patsy Mink, all of whom served us well? Or what about astronaut Ellison Onizuka, a man who gave his life in search of the stars?

When putting together a show called “The Story of Everything” and wanting to center it around music, how about looking to entertainers like Aretha Franklin or Beyoncé or Jay-Z? Or anyone, really, whose legacy isn’t rotted by despicable acts.

Is it arrogance or ignorance that perpetuates this cycle of adulation and power over humanity and dignity? How many times do we have to hear the stories and see the damage left behind?

We are known by the company we keep, and right now, that company casts a dark and ugly shadow.

My mother always told me that we’re known by the company we keep — that hanging around with questionable people casts a shadow on us, diminishes our character. I keep thinking about that, what a visitor like Dr. Gay — or anyone really — sees when they arrive here.

An airport named after someone widely accused of serial rape. A sold-out performance by top-tier local entertainment spreading love and aloha for a man widely accused of being a pedophile. Local government bigwigs under federal indictments for everything from drug rings to stealing from keiki and kupuna to incompetence to massive cover-ups. And let’s not even begin to try to explain rail to them.

On the way home after Kealoha’s twisted “Story of Everything,” my daughter made this observation: “I thought this was going to be ‘The Story of Everything’ about the Kealohas (Katherine and Louis Kealoha). Now that would have been a good show. That would have been worth seeing.”

My mother was right. We are known by the company we keep, and right now, that company casts a dark and ugly shadow. Surely we can do better. Our future depends on it.

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