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William C. Altreuter
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Thursday, October 06, 2005

I am in Las Vegas, at a conference, the first time I have ever been here. It is, I think, the most un-ironic city I have ever seen, and I am finding that somewhat unnerving.

It is difficult to describe what I mean. The hotel I'm staying in has a half size replica of the Eiffel Tower in front of it: the inside endeavors to replicate a French street scene (avec slot machines, craps tables and blackjack). Down the block there is a miniature Statue of Liberty next to a mock-up of the Brooklyn Bridge. Past that is a gigantic concrete Sphinx, with parking under it. Anywhere else this would be tacky, or kitsch, or camp, but in order to be those things these monuments would have to be referring to the originals in some way. These do not-- the scale takes this out of the realm of miniature golf and turns it into something altogether different. It is said to be a big theme park for adults, but although the variety of available vice is certainly adult in some sense, the fact that it is available, and promoted, and exists in this absurd setting takes any taint of sin or sophistication right out of it.

Most of the local people I have spoken to-- the ones that have been here for a long time-- don't care for it. It used to be fun, I'm told, but now people just come to gawk. My cab driver took me past an elaborate fountain which had a throng of people just standing looking at it. "You think any of them came here to gamble?" he asked. It used to be that maybe a guy would come here with his wife, and maybe she'd play the slots, or do something else, and he'd hit the tables, or maybe do something else, but it's not like that now."

Maybe so. Maybe it was different in the Rat Pack days. Right now what it looks like-- the Strip, anyway, is a patch of desert that they scratched out with a view towards putting up a series of garish hotels. When a hotel gets old, they blow it up and build a bigger one. It's hard to summon the aesthetic criteria to say what it is-- since there is no irony, it seems almost immune to criticism.

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