Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Day 109: Banal Reflections

view out the window at sunrise

Reflective, impermeable glass abounds on the Vegas strip. Out the window of our 16th floor window I see two giant golden glass hotels towering over the desert. At night, golden lights run up their sides and the glass disappears into the darkness keeping what happens on the inside, in. This morning the sunrise illuminated the windows in a way that evoked imaginary visions of El Dorado.

Still, even in light of these impressive glass displays, if Las Vegas is a reflective mirror of America's most uninhibited, sinfully secret dreams and desires, we simply aren't all that interesting. I was expecting the spectacular, maybe even the mesmerizing, but so far I am finding this place to be a manifestation of mainstream culture and creativity reproduced on a larger scale. This scale doesn't make it more impressive- just underwhelming. I thought the spectacle of Vegas would have an edge to it, some sort of creative flair- like Liberace once did. But contemporary Las Vegas seems to just fall flat, tall and wide. There isn't any kind of twist, its just a super-sized version of the most banal qualities of contemporary American life and entertainment.

The city and its buildings aren't built for human enjoyment. It is all just show- basic services all have price tags and urban/hotel planning is chaotic (more annoying then disorienting). I haven't seen many people smiling or letting lose as I might have imagined. My projected imagination was that there would be a tangible element of risk, scandal, and edgy flows coursing through the city. That somehow the energy of Vegas' fabled expansion, coupled with this desert mecca's impossible geographic location would give it a magnetic charge. In reality, everyone seems normal, suburban, bored and looks as though they just flew in from the midwest. The design isn't sinful, opulent, or extravagant, it is discount Disney. This isn't the Las Vegas that filled me with wonder as a child on my first visit, more than 20 years ago. I mourn the loss of the imaginary Vegas. I guess this imaginary force might be what keeps people coming back, even though the reality is long gone. Or maybe I imagined it myself earlier in life and it was never here.

In any case, I turn to Baudrillard to conjure that lost spirit, ever seeking the mysterious and sparkling mirage city existing at the edge of the ever elusive desert horizon,

"There is nothing more beautiful than artificial coolness in the midst of heat, artificial speed in the middle of natural expanse, electric light under a blazing sun, or the artificial practice of gambling in lost casinos....Death Vally and Las Vegas are inseparable; you have to accept everything at once, an unchanging timelessness and the wildest instantaneity. There is a mysterious affinity between the sterility of speed and that of expenditure. That is the originality of the deserts of the American West: it lies in that violent, electric juxtaposition."
- Baudrillard, America

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