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After a couple of trips to Vegas, some observations may be in order for the uninitiated, and those left wondering — why?
My first trip to Vegas was in the mid 80s when I passed through by motorcycle, saw a few lights, a few people & was disinclined to stop. I made a second trip in the early 90s with my nephew whose approach was similar. We were left wondering where all the attraction was.
My recent trips — June 1999 & June 2000 — were far more informative, and perhaps unearthed the reasons behind why people go there at all. Having found out, I am satisfied; I need not go there again.
Vegas is famous, at least in my mind's eye, for the concepts embodied in Sinatra singing at the Sands Hotel. Fortunately, both icons are gone now, but that enduring vision, coupled with the knowledge (but not representation) of slot machines, defined Vegas, and in spirit, still does. R&R at the blunt edge of Art, license and benign sleaze.
Average Americans go there to gamble. Some have a bad habit about this; most probably just spend the same few bucks in slots that they would otherwise spend on some ball game, show or fancy restaurant. Other Nationals — and a goodly number there are — go there to experience Vegas, to find out what it is all about, to be part of the melange — and form part of the eternal package tour, without which the Hotels would probably not profit. The same package tour which is this cultural experience of America. Vegas becomes it's own reason.
The term disneyfication is better exemplified in Vegas than anywhere in Disney's World. What has happened in Vegas is that the architecture is being continually renewed. Each year's crop being more intrusive than the last — taller, bigger, brighter — and of course newer, this being the definitive American adjectival attribute of attraction.
But this architecture — 'casinos' which were mostly hotels with gaming rooms — has evolved, for sure. Already evidence can be seen of what may happen when there is literally no more room for growth on the respective lots. It internalizes. Today's modern construction is all attraction, in the facade sense of the word. Great acreages — staggering by the European concept of building space — are consumed, encased by a single structure, the heart of which, like a good Cathedral, is open. The catacombs are the casino halls. The icons multiple.
And these cathedrals of the desert have their cloisters and ante-chambers which house the last-decade-chic European labelmakers of the most expensive of clothing items and accoutrements, including the fashion meal. But in true Vegan, nay, American style, they are cheek-by-jowl with a few fast-food places and gift stores selling often expensive, and frequently tacky items. Each obscures another, perhaps not unintentionally.
Just as the newness and scale and daring stucco begin to feel as if the disneyfication genre has been moved forward a notch, especially as the fake European marble sculptures begin to approach the certainty of the originals, suddenly there is thrust upon us, swamping every sense known, some bizarre, highly expensive and graciously offensive animatronic device which beats in every brain cell with inanity and senseless mechanical precision, and reassures us that the core qualities of disneyfication are preserved intact.
A good example of what appears to be a conceptually off-key development can be found in Downtown Vegas. Every night, every hour on the hour, a whole street is turned into a neck-breaking spectacle as the sky above that street, which has been covered over in a vaulted tunnel-roof of electronic relays, erupts into spectacular light, sound and vision. As if in deference, even the adjacent all-glare motels and hotels put out their lights for the duration of the show. And what an electronic ingenuity it is! It is as if a whole computer screen had been elongated and thrown up in a curve overhead to form the ceiling for the whole street. Mass communication at its most graphic and potent. But what does it communicate? Apparently some cartoon characters dancing to Motown hits of 30 years ago.... and no more.
The old adages are still true — more people on the streets at midnight than midday (but at 100 degrees all day, that is understandable) — the place is a 24/7 activity. Yes, there are singing rocks on the sidewalks. Yes, people do wander the streets, legally, at all times of day & night carrying cocktails, leaving their empty glasses on every street fixture. I was one. Many of them appear at least inadequately, often inappropriately and occasionally bizarrely dressed. Yes, there is constant, free live entertainment in the street, albeit for the minimally imaginative or intelligent. Yes, the streets are often brighter at night than during the day. And I would not be surprised to learn that Vegas consumes more electricity than New York, or that Vegas has more US coin in circulation than New York, etc., etc.
The traffic is amazing. There are more 'limos' per street mile than any other place I have seen, including any airport. They are glorified taxis, and often work out cheaper to hire. There are new olde worlde trams which are buses, having no apparent context for their appearance (except Vegas itself, the gestalt). They carry the now usual full-frontal-and-sides placard advertising for the latest 'strip' attraction, totally destroying any original planned deception of their purpose and origin. This latter concept is the broad brush which we can safely apply to most of Vegas. Nothing is what is what it was planned to deceive you to be. Every facade has been overpainted, augmented, annotated and revised. Nothing of the original fake has its own space to be anymore.
But this is not new; this is classic postmodernism. All it needs are the literal deconstructivists to archaeologically dig the place, if you will pardon my own bit of postmodernist ire. Where, I began to wonder, would I go to buy groceries?
Sinatra? Well, his role has become transformed into a continuous, loop-locked public outpouring of beaty 'hits' from the 60s and 70s. Wayne Newton still has nightly shows, as does Tom Jones. Little Richard and Chuck Berry were performing this week. I guess that the Vegas marketeers have been busy in deducing that their prime audience is going to have this period of musical background as their formative years. But it seems exclusive, reinforcing the desert-enclave (or is it siege) mentality of Vegas (or is it Vegans). It is as if the town is trying to shut out other newer forms of reality and create the almost-never-never land of time suspension in what has become the new Golden Age (or should that be Gilt Age — or even Guiltless Age) - the youth years of today's American monied classless.
And money. Of course it is all about money. But the funding of new Hotels (in reality slot-casinos with superstructure) is a corporate enterprise — no construction projects could be so expressly financed based simply on the not inconsiderable takings of a Casino, or Nevada's liberal Taxation laws. It is mostly 'foreign' corporation money to be sure. What else would those playboys of the eastern-oil world spend their money on? And of course every aspect turns a calculated percentage profit steadily over time, and so keeping time changes in abeyance maybe explains the time-warp feeling of Vegas. The 'feel young again' illusion at a 'bargain' price. Then go home, maybe taking the reality of Vegas with you as American lifestyle!