Notes and Images from Las Vegas
Las Vegas—or at least “The Strip”—reminds me of a movie studio. A massive one. There is so much fakery there. This is not a criticism necessarily, simply an observation. Who thought of creating monumental replicas of some of the world’s most recognizable landmarks in Las Vegas? And why? There is New York in Las Vegas. There is Paris in Las Vegas. Egypt in Las Vegas. Is that Chicago too? I saw a building with the Coca Cola bottle with the glass elevator, right next door to a Coca Cola store and that looks like the World of Coca-Cola I saw in Atlanta years ago.
Here are some aspects of the city that make me think of an enormous studio lot: nothing is really what it seems to be and it’s all a facade. Enter one building and you’re in Italy – there is the Trevi Fountain. Over here the Coliseum. From New York, there is its skyline. Not the entire thing but the Chrysler building, the Empire State building, the Statue of Liberty and some others—all near the Brooklyn Bridge, over which you can walk. And all squished together instead of being miles apart – next to a roller coaster! And what is inside these buildings? They are tall, but are they as tall as the originals? Hotel rooms and casinos in one building! I --found it all rather peculiar—and I had a vague sense that I was in a city I had visited but not exactly, and that there were lots of other cities crowded nearby.
During this visit, I went into a pyramid (actually a hotel in the shape of a pyramid, and saw the Great Sphinx—well, at least the Las Vegas version. I saw the Eiffel tower and the Arc de Triomphe, and almost expected to see cyclists competing for the Tour de France. (Although my neck does not strain to see the top of the Eiffel tower as it did in France, I'll grant that the Vegas version is tall and seen from all over the city.)
I know that some prostitution is legal in Nevada and that Las Vegas is referred to as Sin City, but I found the open “sale of women” shocking. Even before New York's 42 Street was cleaned up, I think it would have blushed at Vegas. Scantily clad women appear to be for sale all over the city. In side walk newspaper kiosks, women are available by type: blond, Asian, college age, 40, 50, and 60. (I didn't see Black or Native women offered in any of them). Advertised on t-shirts of male and female hawkers (my term), establishments promise Girls Girls Girls in 20 minutes. "Girls" are advertised on these t-shirts and on flyers that the hawkers hand to passerby. To get your attention, many Girl hawkers flick their promo cards together—a sound I came to despise the more I heard it as I walked around the city. Similar promos are also found on vans rolling around the city. If these aren’t examples of the commodification of women I don’t know what is!
One evening as my colleagues and I returned to our hotel, we ascended escalators at an entrance we had not used before. In fact, one colleague was sure that we were at the wrong establishment! As we tried to orient ourselves, I recognized that we were entering into the hotel’s casino. Casinos in Vegas are not surprising, but our collective jaws dropped when we saw two young scantily clad women gyrating on, around, and near a pole!
We stopped to watch the women and like any other card-carrying sociologist, I watched people watch the dancers. Actually, I was amazed to see that other than me and my colleagues and one table of young couples, nobody else was watching this performance—not even the men sitting at the bar on which the women were performing. I wished I had time to do further observations to learn the rules for watching pole dancers, because there must be some. (Notice this 31 foot stripper statue; customers of the bar enter the establishment by walking between her legs.)
Ah, but Las Vegas is more than make-believe versions of other cities. As we wandering into the lobby of the Bellagio Hotel, I was struck by the chandelier of glass in the lobby. (See picture below.) I thought it looked like the work of glass sculptor Dale Chihuly and this was confirmed when I found a Chihuly retail store in the same lobby. At 15-25 feet, Fiori di Como is Chihuly’s largest work and has over 2,000 pieces.
Just beyond the lobby, we walked into the hotel’s Chinese New Year (Year of the Dragon) exhibition. The dragons were 25 feet tall! I was particularly thrilled with the “children” in the exhibition made of thousands of carnations, chrysanthemums and other flowers. In total, the exhibition included 22,000 flowers, more than 600 trees, and 25 foot dragons.
So what do you make of Las Vegas? Like much of what we study, there’s a lot to think about: issues of gender, sexuality, deviance, and consumption. Certainly, it holds a treasure trove of delights worthy of sociological study.