Friday, December 19, 2008

Sin City

Apologies for my absence, but finals week, painting my home office, finding out I've been docked a serious amount of student loans, and general holiday chaos has made me feel that if I posted it would be too rambley. I have major TMJ right now. So, with the holiday cards finally addressed (yeah, consider them really early new year's cards), and my office in a somewhat usable state, I am finally back at the keyboard. I will have pictures of the office when it is totally done. For now, I look to the future. Very soon I will be back on my way into the desert, on the 15 freeway, to my "happy place." The banner is a special event just for the next week. I hope to write a couple installments on the pleasure capital of the West. This is just the first:

What is it that compels me (or, to be honest, us, since M. is in this just as much if not more than me) to keep going back to the same place for fun? Some people just don't get why anyone would enjoy Las Vegas. But I have been interested in the history and mythical symbol of Las Vegas for quite some time. People see it very differently. Some see it as a sign that this culture is going to hell in a handbasket, or as a shared illusion that distracts us from our own power, still others as a mythical symbol of the possibility of remaking yourself and finding unparalleled success and hapiness. I am not sure just how I see it. My students seem to think that looking too closely at something might ruin the fun, but I have always found that to be the stuff that makes me love something more. A true love. One that knows the flaws and yet still desires.

Sin City

This sign was posted in a Las Vegas hotel circa 1941

You can let things (like your morals) slide in Las Vegas if you wanted. On one side of the desert you have the chaste and pious Salt Lake City, looking down its nose at Las Vegas, always characterized dramatically as whore. Occasionally a gigolo or a thug, but most often, a whore. Even contemporary History Channel documentaries about Vegas refer to the city as "she," call her a "shady lady," the "enchantress of chance," "treacherous," and "fickle" and cast aspersions on her character. Because the ultimate in sinfulness isn't usually characterized as a sinful man (unless it's the devil), but a sinful woman. You know, a beautiful delicate flower soiled by the outside world. People talk about Vegas like they have a major case of the Madonna-Whore syndrome. She's either Lady Luck, or a dirty tramp. I think that just like a real lucky lady or dirty tramp, she's a lot more complicated than anybody knows.

It's a "den of sin" and a place where you can let your hair down. What happens in Vegas, as they say, stays in Vegas. The slogan tries to exploit a long standing idea about the town; that it is a place where you can not be yourself for a while, and so if you do something out of character, it doesn't really count and nobody is going to call you on it anyway. After all, you are an anonymous tourist out for a good time. You can enjoy gambling, alcohol, and prostitution all without guilt. In Las Vegas, it's legal (well, prostitution isn't legal in Las Vegas proper anymore, but very close by). The anonymity and expectation of maintaining anonymity for others allows for people to be perhaps their truest selves, whatever that means. Apparently, it usually means being obnoxious. But it is a getaway where you can pretend your real life doesn't exist for a minute. A break from reality.

Every now and then when your life gets complicated and the weasels start closing in, the only cure is to load up on heinous chemicals and then drive like a bastard from Hollywood to Las Vegas ... with the music at top volume and at least a pint of ether. -Hunter S. Thompson

You can get lost in a trance at the tables, slots, or video machines. The shiny lights and happy vibes around the casinos make it easy to be a wallflower or the center of the universe. Just like everyone else you can be the most special person around. A fantasy of decadence and "free" drinks. I try to explain to my students that their forms of escape aren’t really escape at all. That they are never really enjoying mindless entertainment. While I'm playing video poker or the slots, I'm also chatting with M. about our lives, watching people do what people do, thinking about card strategies. But I also forget about time, don't watch a lot of television, spend a lot of quality time with my guy and feel like a lady. It's a mixed bag of feeling carefree, reckless, and fun without wrecking the car or waking up the neighbors with all the noise. I can't explain the feeling, but I enjoy it immensely. I've never really thought about it as a sinful place, but maybe that says more about me than you care to know.

Maybe next time I'll talk about how Las Vegas is totally fake, but it wants you to know that it knows it's totally fake and is totally OK with that.

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