I must say I missed the Neighborhood, even from the sunny confines of Las Vegas. I would’ve posted earlier had there not been a ghastly fee for internet access. On the whole, I can’t complain–Mr. D would like to thank the nice folks at the MGM Grand Resort and Casino for their excellent attention. Just as a note: stay away from Yoshe at the blackjack tables. She can fleece you with a string of 21’s in no time flat.
No matter how many times I go, Las Vegas continues to amaze me. It epitomizes the best and worst of American society. I will have skeptics, but I truly believe that to understand the America of the early 21st century, look no further than a once-barren truck stop in the Mojave Desert, now one of the fastest growing cities in the United States. If ever there was an America in miniature, this would be it.
Like early American cities, Las Vegas’ sprawl is due to the relentless drive of unbridled capitalism, in this case fueled by the gaming and tourism industry. In an area where the original meadow (Las Vegas means “the meadows” in Spanish) was long since swalled by the desert, there exists an explosive energy of constructive and destructive forces driven by innate passions and desires. Much like the New York of the 20th Century, Las Vegas is driven by the future. Modernity means bigger, taller, faster, more exciting resort destinations that take up every inch of available real estate. The main drag, Las Vegas Boulevard, or “The Strip”, is now so choked with development that hotels must now reach higher and higher, eventually to dwarf the 1,149-foot Stratosphere tower, the tallest free-standing tower in the United States.
Another similarity to early America is both the use of unique design and imitation. If visitors think that the faux-landscapes of New York-New York, Paris Las Vegas or the Venetian are simply elements unique to Las Vegas, they are sorely mistaken. Nothing is more American than the imitation of elements from the European past: look at Washington’s neoclassical buildings if you don’t believe me. Furthermore, sometimes design imitation is taken to new levels of innovation, such as the Luxor, an Egyptian-themed hotel shaped like a gigantic black pyramid.
Who inhabits these glass and steel monoliths? Apparently, all of America and a good part of the rest of the world, too. The “Oceans 11, 12, 13” movies have done much to spread the Vegas myth. Las Vegas’ mystique is driven by a uniquely American mindset that anything is possible. The biggest mistakes were telling “Bugsy” Siegel, Howard Hughes, Kirk Kerkorian, Steve Wynn, or the Maloof brothers–all pioneers in the Vegas story–that it couldn’t be done. The casinos, restaurants and nightclubs today are monuments to possibility. The possibilities themselves are as American as the buildings–anyone can be treated like a king. Anyone is one slot machine pull away from millionaire status. This is where the small can feel like a big shot–at least until the plane ride home.
Things aren’t always so rosy in Sin City. It’s nickname is part of the mystique–and part of the problem. In an America where more and more families are driven to vacation together, Las Vegas’ “adultness” can be very off-putting. The city’s casual attitude toward malfeasance, vice, gluttony and general indulgence is not exactly fodder for family entertainment. Countless times, I’ve seen a happy family walking down the strip, and seen Junior looking down in astonishment at the cards of undressed women advertising their “services.” Like I’ve said in previous posts, I’m no prude. However, Vegas is not for families, enough said.
The downside of unbridled development is that you get what you pay for. Las Vegas’ transportation infrastructure is woefully inadequate for the city–try driving south on the Strip between Treasure Island and the Bellagio and you’ll get my point. As you go north into the city proper, tourist meccas often collide with appalling squalor, as I witnessed in the shantytown located just north of Charleston Boulevard, if memory serves. Indulgence, especially Vegas indulgence, is ultimately self-destructive–doesn’t this sound like our own America and its consumer-driven culture. As Las Vegas grows, it faces problems many American cities have already faced at least a century ago: crime, poverty, corruption, transportation, civic infrastructure, and environmental concerns. Priority one is the last one: Las Vegas is in a desert, after all, and water is scarce.
Yet if you see it for what it is, then Las Vegas is certainly an enjoyable experience. It’s a place I love to visit, though I doubt I could ever live there. After all, who can subsist on half-price buffets and comped rooms all their life? Well, not for lack of trying.
I’ll try to get a Flickr account going to show all the pictures from our trip. For now, enjoy the view from our suite. Awesome.
Videos for The Classroom: John Cleese on Soccer vs. Football
I found this on my friend Mark Himmelsbach’s blog–titled, oddly enough, the Himmelsblog. It shows British comic actor John Cleese from “Monty Python” fame in a clip from the documentary The Art of Football from A to Z. In this clip, Cleese explains his own theories behind the difference between soccer and football, thus drawing a comparison between British and American culture in general.
This is a great clip to use in high school classrooms, even in upper elementary classes as well. Some questions for further discussion:
(1) Do you find Cleese comparison of football to “advertising jingles” and soccer to “jazz” accurate?
(2) What is Cleese ultimate assumptions about American culture, based on this clip?
(3) Is he accurate about those assumptions?
(4) What assumptions do we make about British, or even European, society and culture? Why do we make such assumptions?
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