In recent days, Dallas’ Manhattan Project Beer Company has been called to task for its atomic-based nomenclature, in particular, a beer called Bikini Atoll. The brewery claims that by naming its product after an atoll in the Marshall Islands, it’s building awareness. But many people disagree, in particular, Pacific Islanders. One approach to the outpouring of public objections would be to listen and learn. After all, who better to speak authoritatively on the myriad associations conjured by a product named Bikini Atoll than Islanders in the Pacific?
The brewery, unfortunately, has doubled down and will not drop the name. Another perspective to consider is the audacious act of commodification that precedes the most recent one and the kind of multiplier effect this exerts on Pacific Islanders, in particular, Bikinians.
First, Bikinians are not named after a swimsuit or swimsuit style; it’s the other way around. They have nothing to do with one another other than a Western attempt to capitalize on the excitement of the day—an extended A- and H-Bomb testing program in the far reaches of the Pacific. It was four days after the first test at Bikini Atoll that French designer named Louis Réard plucked the word “Bikini” out of a newspaper headline and wed it to his skimpy swimsuit. Before the “bikini,” there was the more modest “atome.” Could there by anything more incongruous than nuclear explosions and swim wear? Perhaps not, but a beer enjoyed stateside named after an atoll that is uninhabitable, and its people, Bikinians, permanently displaced, is insulting enough on many levels.
What is heartbreaking beyond words is that the Bikinians were asked by the U.S. government to leave their atoll “for the good of mankind,” with promises that the nuclear bomb testing would bring peace to the world. The Bikinians said they would give up their atoll temporarily for such a cause and agreed to relocate with the promise they could return when testing was finished. It’s a promise that has never been fulfilled because the extensive testing resulted in the atoll and all its species—including humans — contaminated beyond repair. Relocating Bikinians to nearby atolls in the Marshall Islands didn’t work either because testing that exceeded predicted yields meant the radiation poisoning followed them wherever they went.
If Bikinians say “no” to naming a beer after their beloved atoll, the least we can do is respect their views on this issue and consider more elevated ways to educate the public than reckless commodification.