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Friday, 10 January 2014

What Happens in Vegas Happens Everywhere Else, Too

I've spent the past week in Las Vegas for work, and ever since I touched down I've been trying to make sense of the city. Naturally the experience has been a little skewed by all the tech people running around the city, and the fact that most of the hotels I ventured into were catering to the tech show to a greater or lesser extent. But it was still pretty revealing, for what it says about what America wants in terms of entertainment.

This was my first visit to Vegas, which seemed to surprise a lot of people I talked to. My conceptions of the place have typically revolved around James Bond movies and gangster movies, although I'm aware that there's a different side to the city for the people that live there (for instance, I really liked that the original CSI was set there, instead of LA). But the city's status as "Sin City" also loomed large in my mind as I got there - Las Vegas has been promoting itself lately as the city where you go to misbehave, helped by movies like "The Hangover".

So I was a little disappointed to see how middle-of-the-road and Disneyfied a lot of it is. Most of the music on offer - whether live performances or piped into the casinos - hails from the last couple of decades, and I recognized almost all of it. The rest of it seemed to be weird light entertainment of the sort that you'd associate with Las Vegas and nowhere else.

The other thing about it was how it's turning into a high-end shopping destination: I heard two separate conversations on the same day about how people aren't coming for the attractions anymore (dubious or otherwise). It fits into this trend of filling every large American city center with the same luxury stores, and effectively cutting out people of more modest means. Just as in Times Square, Gucci and Prada shops may have crowded out the adult theaters and strip clubs, but it's also turned the Strip into something you could see pretty much anywhere else in the US.

Speaking of strip clubs, even that aspect of Las Vegas has been sanitized and turned into something "respectable". Before flying out I read an article in Time Online that said Las Vegas has finally realized that women exist for more than the pleasure of men; that may be true to some extent (and about time), but the strip clubs have turned into burlesque shows, because it's now considered empowering for women to get lap dances from (female) strippers. And the legit, gross strip clubs have just moved one block over, to the street behind the Strip.

I'm not saying Las Vegas should go whole hog and turn into Patong, in Thailand ("the most wretched hive of scum and villainy", as my friend Kyle once put it). But I did kind of regret that I didn't go visit the place back in college, before it got turned into Manhattan.